I’ve heard people say “I have a disease that’s trying to kill me” … According to my official, professional diagnoses, I have three diseases that are trying to kill me. The other two are more direct about it than the alcoholism, though.
–a comment I recently made at an AA meeting
No one says my cancer wants to kill me. No one negotiates with cancer, really. I guess that’s the difference. Our addictions and other psychiatric disorders live deep in our minds and souls and brains and hearts and everywhere else we lack the knowledge and understanding to set the boundaries, to post the Keep Out signs that say, That is you, and This is me. Even when our insides are riddled with invading tumors, we never lose sight that You are cancer, I am me. But how much of me is not alcoholism? Bipolar? Borderline? Is it I who can’t get enough of anything? Or my addiction? I who maps the trickles and estuaries that eventually fill the ocean, who examines every particle of shit-laden dirt at eye level? Or my bipolar disorder? I who feels so strongly the dark, bloody tragedy and infinite, fleeting laughter, who so loves (even as I loathe) drama that I manufacture it when circumstance does not supply enough? Or is that my borderline personality disorder? I have a disease that’s trying to kill me. Or I am trying to kill me.
I am thinking of this while I am planning my probably post-nursing life.
I am thinking of this while watching a movie (Biutiful) with my daughter in which Javier Bardem plays a hustler dying of prostate cancer, leaving behind two children and a bipolar alcoholic wife.
I am thinking of this when my daughter asks if I think it’s weird that she doesn’t greet passers by on the street. “No,” I say. “Lots of people don’t do that.” “You do it,” she says. “I do it for the reason that polite people do it … Politeness is not about being nice and inviting people into your life, it’s all about setting boundaries, ‘Hello, how are you? That is you, outside, and this is me, and you’re not coming in.’”
I am thinking of this when my daughter and I discuss my parents’ upcoming 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration. “Even if I got married again today,” I say, “I would have to live to be 90 to even make that possible, and I really don’t want to do that.” Plus, I’m never getting married again, no fucking way, which my daughter thinks is a reasonable enough position for me to take at this particular time, but not forever. But I say, that’s forever. Shoot me if I ever think differently.
I am thinking of this remembering a conversation with a friend from literary grad school. Who wouldn’t want to live forever? she said. “Not me,” I said. Life is pain, with tiny, ephemeral pieces of happiness, like bits of paper escaping a fire, here and gone, and the fire rages and dies, and we’re left with carbon ash for the rest of eternity. Pretty much.
I am thinking how many times I have wished I were dying of something that was not remotely my fault, something that would evoke sympathy, not blame, and allow me to wrap things up quietly, let the rest go in peace, and shuffle off without so much as a cluck of the tongue or shake of the head from the peanut gallery. Of course, as a woman with whom I once shared lives pointed out, everything would likely be my fault anyway, because everything is my responsibility. Smoke, eat junk, don’t exercise, don’t manage stress effectively, don’t put in a Herculean (or is it Sisyphian?) effort in therapy, don’t go to the doctor or the dentist … cancer, heart attack, suicide, it’s all the same.
I am thinking how when I was young, my disease told me,
You’re going to be something extraordinary!
Those other saps are just suckers. The rubes don’t know how to really live.
Everything is shit, but the rest of these vapid fools don’t have the capacity to realize it.
More, more, more is your birthright!
Now it tells me
Yeah, you’re fucked, buddy. Past your prime now.
Don’t touch that penny if tails are up! Unless you know for sure it’s yours. Do you? Do not step on a crack, do not break your mother’s back.
Look at how happy everyone else is. You really blew your chance.
Satisfied, Tantalus? Of course not. There will never be enough to slake your thirst. You’re my bitch.