Something strange happened today.
Let me rephrase that. When you live with a Chronic Illness, something strange happens everyday. So, how about-let me tell you about the strange thing that happened today.
Tomorrow is the first day of my Spring semester back to school (whew, that will be another blog in itself), so to prepare, I want to look healthy. “Healthy” to me, considering I can’t do much to control my undereye circles (no really, I’ve tried everything-and if any of you have found something that works, please share your valuable information) my uneven skin tone from lack of sleep and random allergic reactions to foods and medications, my sunken in skin from rapid weight loss-but, I can control some things. I am going to use all my energy to curl my hair tonight. I will put on my organic paraben free sunless tanner (don’t laugh), and make sure to put on makeup tomorrow. Another thing I will do? Get my eyebrows waxed and shaped.
Which leads me to the beginning of this story. I was laying on the table as some stranger poured hot wax on my face (nothing about this is normal) when I heard a familiar voice out in the room where women were getting manicures. It was the voice (alright, an obnoxious voice-how else would I be able to recognize it after all these years?) of a girl I went to high school with. She was chatting away, every other word saying “my husband” this and “my husband” that..and I couldn’t help but think..”Shit, someone married YOU?”
And suddenly, as she talked about saving money for the trip her husband and her will be taking this summer, I felt my face begin to get hot-and not from wax-but from the sadness flowing into my face, and tears coming to my eyes. I felt my eyes water, and tears almost flowed down my face (add Lina’s salon on “the list of public places Laura has cried in”). Suddenly my thoughts were bombarded with “Will anyone ever want to marry me?” And no, not in the way every girl thinks it, but in the way someone with a chronic illness thinks it. Someone who considers themselves a burden. Someone who may be too sick to work. Someone who, at times, cannot dress themselves, shower themselves, or even feed themselves. Who would want to take this on? The hard reality hit, and as soon as the woman was done ripping stray hairs off my face, I booked it to my car. I decided to take the long way home. But I heard a love song that made me wish someone felt that way about me..and decided taking the long way was a mistake. Okay. Time to go home.
I walked in the door to see many items sprawled across the kitchen table, my mother’s face lighting up as I walk through the door. “Grandma wanted you to have these!” she exclaimed, as she held up my favorite blue and white China.
Is this a joke?
No, really. I am asking you-Is this a joke? This is one of those moments you wish a camera was on you so you can turn to it and make a face of disbelief, or turn to someone else who knows what kind of day you’ve had and the thoughts that are going through your head so you can say, “Really?!”
I felt a lump gather in my throat, and I couldn’t speak. Grandma’s house is being cleaned out by her children now. It was decided that she will be staying in the nursing home. I simply cannot clean out Grandma’s home, I just cannot. It’s like giving up. It’s like accepting she will never go back there. It’s like accepting I will never walk in to her house and smell her sauce, like I will never go into her room and smell her perfume. These are things I cannot, and will not accept. No.
My mom handed me a tray my Grandmother kept on her dresser. My heart broke into a million pieces as she handed over the beautiful tray that held her necklaces and perfume. No words could be said. This means more than words that exist in this world.
I brought the tray up to my room and sat on the floor against my bed. I hugged the tray, then ran my fingers over it. I closed my eyes and pictured myself as a child, going into Grandma’s room and putting on her necklaces and perfume. I would twirl around and pretend I was a grown up. I would comb my hair with her brush, and admire myself in the mirror. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be like her. This tray held my childhood. It held my dreams. It held the items that layed on the precious woman that now lays in a hospital bed. It held the items I used to place on my small body and whisper wishes and dreams to myself as I danced around.
Oh Grandma, I want to make you proud. I want to use that China to serve food to my family during special occasions. I want this tray to hold my necklaces I would put on before work, before going to a friend’s birthday party-and, on the day of my wedding. But will this ever happen? Will those dreams I had as a child ever come true? Or will they slip away. I can’t run fast enough to catch them, Grandma. I feel like they are slipping away from me and I can’t keep up. But I am trying so hard. I want my children to come into my room and put on my necklaces. I want to tell them about you. I want to pass on to them the things you taught me-things that sometimes you didn’t even speak, but just taught me by living and being who you are.
I picture that little girl in my Grandmother’s room. I want to reach out and hug her and tell her I’m sorry. I am sorry I may not be able to give you your dreams. I am sorry that something is going to happen to you one day-something that right now you cannot even imagine. It will steal your health, but it will not steal your soul. Please don’t think it’s your fault. Please keep dreaming, little girl.
Please keep dreaming. This is what I would tell her. Is this what I should be telling myself now, too? Please keep dreaming.
That’s what Grandma would tell me. And as much as I wish I could run to her now and cry to her and tell her all my fears-I know I can’t. She is too sick for that now. But I have in my head and my heart the things she would say to me, and that helps me go on.
Will I ever be able to teach my children these lessons? Will I have children? Will there be someone to love me, love me so completely that he takes me with this illness, even on the worst days?
Grandma’s life wasn’t easy. She, like me, had several ovarian cysts in her twenties that caused a lot of pain (it is thought now that, like me, she had endometriosis, but back then they didn’t test for it or know much about it). She wanted many children, and had three miscarriages (and 3 children, successfully) before she had a total hysterectomy at the age of 30. She was diagnosed with arthritis in her late 20’s, a rare form that is depilitatingly painful. I never heard her complaining, though. And, her husband-oh he loved her, he loved her so much. She still tells stories about the two of them and their life together. Theirs is a true love story. And back then, by today’s standards-Grandma was sick. Chronically sick. So, these life lessons Grandma taught me and displayed-is it possible they came from the knowledge of what it means to suffer?
Let’s face it- I would not be the person I am today had I not known illness. I would not have these “lessons” I want to teach my children had I not experienced such pain and come to such an understanding of life, love, and the human spirit. Maybe that little girl in Grandma’s room really did get her dreams-and maybe she will even get all of them. That little girl wanted to be like Grandma. Well, in a lot of ways, I am. That little girl wanted to teach her children life lessons-well, I was given these lessons, from Grandma, and from my own life experience. I keep a journal of quotes for my children to read one day, I keep letters that I write to my future daughter to help her through heartache, and those painful questions about life that keep you up at night. I didn’t start writing these until I became sick. I would not have been able to write these unless I became sick.
These dreams are indeed coming to me, I just had to look a little deeper to see them. And as I look at my own reflection in Grandma’s jewelry tray, I smile at myself, for a split second seeing the tiny face of little me from so long ago. Keep dreaming, I say to her.
It will come to you.