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Not Quite Dying

A fly executes lazy laps an inch from my forehead, flaunting it’s fly self. I cover my lips with a fold of white sheet so that it will land on an eyelid, my nose, but not these lips that I shall have to kiss whether I love me, or not.

It's a milky hot Sunday afternoon and I am not dying. But I am lying in bed staving off death or any of its lesser handmaidens that may want to whip me into an impromptu dress rehearsal.

Its odd lying here in this room where I am normally sleeping or bustling about, ignoring its built for lounging décor, doing my best to ornament the place with towering piles of laundry on it's mysterious way to the impossible closet across the room.

The wooden fan above circles lazily but doesn’t land, dreaming of more Casablancan places, ivory cigarette holders, seamed stockings, cloche hats and the tang of gin.

Yes, I am lying in bed now like a middle eastern woman, modestly prepared for company, and I have only these next few hours of Sunday day and the sleepless slice of dark before the next day to battle my viral demons.

I smile under my pale, sheet moustache and think about the years I spent just like this, six full years maybe, and another four half sitting and half lying down. I remember the places lying there took me. The fields of battle. The blood on the sheets, the ripped hair, the odd eye snatched out.

I will not, I repeat, will not lie here one sodding minute longer, do you hear – to the merciless, silent air. Will not, and the air did not even tremble. The colour white enveloped my brain, I lay on it, it lay on me, I was the, wound around me, sweat laden sheet, I was the white steel pressed ceiling, I lay flat, I didn’t move.

Sitting was an activity for athletes. I was like a stop light on a busy road. People sped up to me, stopped abruptly revving their engines and exchanging pleasantries, gave me their reasons why they were not me, so this wouldn’t happen to them. We nodded, my head against the pillow, I smiled my wise smile, the light changed and they sped off. I stayed still, caught in a deadly damp web of pain and weakness. That was the era of fight, of fury, gnashing of teeth, my hair wet with tears. My husband held me. I pushed him away.

“I will not. I will not…”

He’d grab for me again, I was hot and slippery, he’d hold me down and whisper in my ear.

“stop fighting it. Stop,,, We love you, we all do. Just as you are.”

And I would sit up redfaced and indignant wound up in bedclothes.

“How can they?”

I’d throw my hands up limply and we’d watch them slap down on the whiteland, now mine, the bleached out color of my banishment.

There were days and years and moods of morning and of mourning, of fighting beyond any weapons, a refusal to die, a refusal to live like this, a refusal to open my eyes to another day in this white wasteland while my family grew up past me.

Christmas, New Year’s parties came and went, the sound of music and laughter on the porch outside my door. My eyes wet and my body raging. I loved to dance. I could not now walk without help. Where is a life before it is over and after it no longer works? What is this nowhere land that people rush through smiling and waving their tickets out at me. I try to snatch at them but they’re too fast for me. I am lying swathed in pale sheets even though it is day and they are flashes of sound and color.

It is over. It is over. The realization that no fighting can win. Overhand, underhand, guerilla, no fighting can win because the enemy leaves no trace of itself, only the signs of its destruction. There is never a face to face.

And the years when all the fight was gone. The very investigation of the depths of hopelessness, the realization of no escape. This is it.

The lack of energy to fight or die. Just merely being and tears sluice down through my hair. This is too difficult. What framework of reference can lend meaning to this cul de sac of a life. Even dying seems proactive. I am a ghost in my own life. My children are growing, they are eating food that I have not prepared, people come and go, they tap down the long passage way to my casement room made almost all of small panes of glass to bring the outside in. I arrange myself against the pillows and smile because they don’t deserve my rage and my despair. They desperately want me to make this pretty and they want to know, their eyes examine me, they need to know that we are different, that they could never ever find themselves where I am. And I smile benignly because when the net dropped it caught only me.

And then the glorious reorganization of concepts, perception and reality. The turning upside down of faithful old precepts. “I am sick and I cannot get better therefor my life is over”.

“My body is sick but I, I am whole, I am alive.

The suffusion finally of gratitude for a life in any shape and form but particularly this one with all its limitations. Slowly I begin to see through my incarceration to something that is mine, that has no edges, is edgeless. The air smells different, like flowers, there are sounds like music and colors, the color green swirls through the bleached out air of my sick room, like a kaleidoscope green and purple, orange and blue. My casement kaleidoscope room.

I give up. I give up. I fall at the feet of these colors, this air, the way life sounds, the throb of it in my chest. I am done. I accept. I surrender. This is it. There is nothing else needed. I am at first and last showered in everything.

Now, nearly 20 years later I know that I’ll get up and go to work tomorrow. I know this will end. I know about resting and the delicate balancing act of staying healthy. With my mouth under the sheet I look at all of this, stupefied with wonder.


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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