at the moment, i’ve found the perfect dealing-with-the-noise strategy: video games. i have a limit – i play for a few hours in the afternoon. there’s something about the immersive environment that calms me – the narrative that helps me follow along – and the puzzles and moving around and shooting things that is helping with my chemo-fuzzy brain. i am letting myself enjoy this as a break from the onslaught in my head of all the questions and the fear.
i have had a gun pointed at my head for some time. the revolver is loaded, and there are 100 cartridges. most are loaded, and a few are not. in the next five years, it’s going to go off. but it’s distant, it’s abstract, and every time i hit a treatment milestone – say, my really good response to chemo, the fact my cancer is operable, an unknown number of bullets are removed. no one knows how many bullets are in there, or when the gun is going to go off. but it will. and it will probably be loaded.
now, i have another gun. a second one. only this one has 95 blank shots, and 5 loaded. i know when it’s going to go off – between 3 and 6 weeks away. and it will probably not be loaded.
despite this, it is more terrifying than the gun that i don’t know about. i don’t forget it. the cold hard metal is pressed against my temple, and i feel it when i walk down the street, when i lie in bed at night under blankets because it’s getting cooler now, thankfully, when i feel that the skin on my fingers is thicker and the back of my hand is no longer so soft. i feel it when i am blasting music on a treadmill under the eyes of my exercise physiologist. and it is important to feel it, and to watch it, and be aware.
but the second gun is waiting to be pulled. it’s not against my head yet. it will be though, pointed point blank at me when i am wheeled into surgery, smelling like that chemical stuff you have to wash in for a day or so before surgery, with the taste of Impact Advanced Recovery still in the back of my throat. my hand will be cannulated, and i will feel it, as the sedative goes in before they start the anaesthetic. they start placing lines in – the central line in my neck, the line in my wrist where they monitor my heart rate constantly for days. that is the metal of the gun. that is the knowledge that i might very well die, and it is three and a bit weeks away until i am on that table, and they remove most of my liver.
i’m also reading a book called ‘no death, no fear’ which is a huge source of comfort for me. it talks about how, though we die, we never cease to exist. the idea of death is a lie, just as the idea of a continued singular self is. i realised this one day on a bus, staring out the window. it was probably on the way to, or back from canberra, and was long before my cancer diagnosis. i thought about the person i was at 20, and who i was, and what i was. i thought about that person, and i realised suddenly that the idea that this person was the same person as i am now was a complete lie. the continuing self, the idea of an essence of what ‘i’ am, is nothing. it crumbles as soon as you look at it closely. i am not that person. i am not sure, right now, that there is any ‘person’ – any one thing here. there are just memories and actions and ideas and a misguided thought of ‘a future’. when did i become ‘me’ – what were the parts that caused me to exist? what are the things that will make me not exist? these are the things you think about with the cold metal gun pointing at your temple.
i bought more books in sydney – we went up to see family, and we’re going up again to see friends (family, really – i consider my friends as much family as my blood relatives) before the surgery. to eat with them and talk and stay up too late discussing religion and books and music and that dumb thing we read on the internet. i am looking forward to this, and i enjoy buying books. when i buy them, i am assuming a future where i can read them. but i am also enjoying the act of ‘owning’ them, and, in a really dark way, the idea of who i will leave them to when i will die. who will like them. who will hold them, and one day, remember me with fondness. i once said that my bookshelves contained the best of me – which i don’t think is true anymore – but it does hold a lot of strange tangents, and marks of my life and things i hold close and things i have let go of. the gaps in what i have are as important as the things i have large numbers of. the things i have, and haven’t read. the way i place them on the shelf, or next to my bed, or in the bookshelves in my room. these all have meaning to me. and that meaning doesn’t exist, and will fade away once i die, but will remain in each volume, and in each hand who holds it next.
i have things i’ll allocate to specific people and the rest, i want people to take what they want. i’ll open it to everyone i know, really – people through facebook, twitter, co-workers, people i see offline. i consider my ‘internet’ friends as real is those i share offline time with, which probably sounds silly to some people. but i have dear, close friends who i sometimes see off the internet, but whom a friendship has been built through words. and these are loved ones. these people matter deeply to me, and when i get to see them, it is a sacred moment, a beautiful gift, and no more ‘real’ than the words we exchange.
a friend just sent me two poems. they have made me feel so happy, and so cared for. every email i get, it reminds me that there might not be an essential self, but there is a set of thoughts and actions, and i am here, whatever i am, and i can experience this, and i get to be alive, and i get to breathe, and i get to walk down the street after i’ve sweated and panted, and stare at the sky. i get to see the possum in our yard run down to look at us, and i get to share my life with incredible people, who all might not have an essential self, or be a ‘them’ either. we are all moments, we are all passing time, and i am so lucky, so incredibly lucky, and cancer will never take that from me. it will take my life, but it will not take the beauty of this life. nothing ever can.