cell death and sufjan stevens

my ribcage – the right side – hurts a lot at the moment. this could mean anything – my posture might be out, the cancer could be growing, or it could be responding to restarting chemo.  or it could just be something random, unrelated. it’s a similar, familiar pain, and i’m hoping it is from a response to chemo. if it’s not, it’s not the end of the world, it just means starting new, and frightening drugs. but new drugs always are. so we hope for cell death.

i’m in Sydney at the moment, seeing bands with Vivid.  i saw Sufjan Stevens on monday night, and i’m seeing Morrissey tonight, and Sunday night.  Morrissey, i’ll leave for another day, because my history with him is longer and far more complicated. it needs to wait until after i see him twice this round, and, to be honest, probably the last round i’ll get to see him.

i started listening to Sufjan Stevens in 2007. 2007 is one of the years where the numbers are in neon, and the memories are carved out like memorials in my mind, to particular days, particular weeks, particular months.  it was when mania hit me for the first time, and completely changed my personality.  so, Chicago, with the refrain of ‘i made a lot of mistakes’ stuck with me. i carried that with me   i have a few really solid, potent memories of listening to Come on, feel the Illinois.

H and i drove a lot in his car- a four wheel drive of some sort that i think was his parents, and i think i remember us driving more than we ever actually did.  but i will never forget listening to Casimir Pulaski Day, and The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us, watching his hands wrapped around the steering wheel.  that is, for some strange reason, one of the most vivid memories of our relationship, the way he drove, his hands always relaxed, long fingers, broad palms, something a finger tapping to the music, as he stared out the windscreen.  we drove to Maleny once, a small town outside of Brisbane with rows of shops of knick knacks and novelty candy shops, and ice cream. there’s a place there that makes clogs, and cuckcoo clocks. we stayed the night there, sleeping in the back of the car off the road in the bush, and i remember we ate apples.

i remember seeing Sufjan live later that year with my best friend, when i still lived in brisbane.  H had long since disappeared from my life, amicably, but i did think of him, and the way his hands held the steering wheel when i saw him life that first time.  my memories are vague – this is 8 years ago now, but i remember him playing Seven Swans, and the room was a tempest; it was alive and throbbing and the clouds gathered around us. i remember Lachlan being worried, because i had a particularly intense trauma dealt at the hands of a group of fundamentalist Christians, which i was getting intensive psychotherapy for at the time, but that song – the songs from Seven Swans in general – make me feel some sort of purity in the intensity of faith, of belief, and the experience of the God of Elijah.  i remember there were a lot of songs off Chicago, but the ones from Seven Swans are what i remembered.

Then, in 2011, i saw him again, with my dear, dear friends F & A. we drove up from Canberra, and the whole world tasted like cardboard, because i was gravely ill; the bipolar episode this time swinging into depression. if 2007 had neon lights, 2011 was… well.. i actually can’t wrap it in a metaphor. bad. bad will do.  so all my memories of this time are hidden from me, guarded as my diagnosis.  i remember though that the show was the most technicoloured wonderland. the show ended with us dancing in the Opera House – a serious stern concert hall – that came alive, ALIVE with the people there, as streamers fell from the roof.  i felt briefly, tremendously alive like those colours and the smoke machine.

this concert felt like a cathedral – a search for some sort of meaning as all of us witness the deaths of those we love.  the album he toured with – Carrie and Lowell – was based on the death of his mother from stomach cancer. it is an album about grief and loss and cancer and dying.  it was, of course, the best thing for me – no joke here – to help process it. the song that stands out most from the album – Fourth of July – ends with the line ‘we’re all going to die’, sung softly over and over again.  when i first heard the album it was post surgery, and i was in a fairly difficult headspace. i listened to the song over and over again.   “The evil it spread, like a fever ahead,” – the line that starts the song, is a simple and vivid description of how i feel about cancer, in my own body. i don’t go much for the ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ description of disease, but at times, yeah. cancer feels like a devil invading me, rather than just cells duplicating. and the fever i spend months wrapped in is one  of the main markers of cancer for me.

i was almost frightened of hearing him play the song, but i am always more steeled outside of the quiet of my couch, or our house.  and he didn’t sing it lightly and softly like it played on the album. it was wide and fierce and loud, and even like this, you could see Sufjan pause to wipe his eyes while he was singing it.  it ended, with ‘we’re all going to die’ being sung over and over again, with purple lights running over the crowd, each person, each face lit up in time to the cry, louder and louder. we’re all going to die. i can’t describe why this made me so happy, or so at peace, or so … so just blessed to live a life where i can do this, where i can catch a bus to see bands at the opera house, staying with people i love, seeing people i love, and experiencing something as sacred as one of my favourite musicians singing an album about death and cancer.  the indignity of treatment, and the horror of the scull hanging over my head, that gets drawn back to me every time i feel another convulsion in my ribcage, in my liver, or the tightness that comes and goes from the wound that reaches all over me and stains and soils my body – this feels like nothing when i sit here, and i feel this reality of what i can experience here, staring out a window in Darlinghurst, knowing tonight i am going to see Morrissey for the first of two dates for what may well be his last tour, or my last chance to see him.  that the evil it spreads, like a fever ahead, and yet right now, i am still here, and i am still breathing, and my heart still beats, and my liver still pulls the toxins out from my blood. and maybe my lungs don’t have cancer in them, and maybe i will live to see my dear friend’s child start primary school, but those things are big and breathtaking.

the things i need to live to see add up, and they comfort me. the new series of Orange is the New Black. it’s soon. i’ll make it there.  i made it to the new series of Gourmet Farmer (afloat!) with ease. the milestone now is the new series of The X-Files, and of Twin Peaks. i know, it sounds stupidly trivial to mark time and goals by TV shows, but it is the small things that are the reality of life. these are not major goals, but the major goals i want to achieve are nothing i can even put into words beyond ‘time’.  my goal is time, time, time to feel it pass through me, and to see the number marking my age crawl up and up.  and that’s nothing tangible, and nothing i can feel pleased with, other than the constant gratitude i have for the life i get to live, this precious, privileged, beautiful existence.

the fever right now still lies ahead of me. i am not there yet. right now, i am still here, and i am alive, and am alive with you all, and this remains breathtaking.  and i should probably have some panadol because my liver hurts and it scares me.


About elizabeth

various things.
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One Response to cell death and sufjan stevens

  1. katiedavis says:

    you are a master storyteller. i see you in that car, and the hands on the steering wheel. enjoy your trip x

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