Getting there

Time for a serious post (yes, I do have it in me). No stories of Tomb Raider fascinations, no props to other bloggers talking about equal marriage.

I’ve been having a bit of a think lately. It hurt, but I pushed through. Sometimes it happens when you face your own mortality, and while through everything I have tried (and I hope mostly succeeded) to remain upbeat, the thoughts can drown out the positive vibes. As I sit here, in bed in a freezing room in London on a bitter February night, struggling to not throw up because the chemo is getting the better of me, I wonder about it all.

More accurately, I wonder about all those people who don’t have someone with them at times like this. I don’t, but that’s because I choose to. I don’t want my loved ones to see me frail, unable to keep food down, too tired to sleep and too bone achingly exhausted to turn over. I can’t even type: this is being written courtesy of the amazing Dragon Naturally Speaking, perfect so my hands don’t hurt any more than they need to. During the daytimes, when I do venture out the house, I am all smiles. There is no point in feeling sorry for myself, because as far as I’m concerned, I will get better, and there’s no point troubling anyone else with these ideas. Of course it’s difficult. Of course the chemo turns my insides into a mangey excuse for a stomach – they should market it as the new chemical peel, sure it’d get rid of wrinkles pretty quickly (and everything else besides. Who needs a nose/eyes/lips/cheeks – skeletal chic will be on the menu, you’ll see…)

I’m lucky enough to have started with a chunky enough frame to not look like a skeleton. But I am buying new clothes with the money I don’t have just to have trousers that stay up without the sumo-hitch every five minutes. I’ve even resorted to wearing braces instead of a belt. People who see me every now and then comment on how well I look – what they mean is I’m finally looking about the right weight for my height. These are the people who think my buzz cut is a style choice. Turns out, half the people in my old office thought the bald look was a style statement – apparently I can pull it off, which is no mean feat.

There are the well intentioned comments, the pitying head-tilts, the eyes darting anywhere but your face when they realise you really aren’t too well. People don’t know how to deal with this, but here’s the thing: neither do I.

I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me how I am. The truth often gets a short reply of ‘Oh….’ because nobody knows what to say. A lie feels morally wrong. The best response is ‘Getting there’. Some days, this is true. Some days, I want to grab them by the collar and shout in their face: does this look OK? Do I look healthy to you? Should my eyes be red, my teeth be yellow? Should my hair be patchy? Do I look like I can stay awake through this social engagement? Can I really get drunk with the rest of you instead of being despairingly tee total? Do you really think I might be able to get over this?

Lucky for them, I don’t do this.

Lucky for me, I don’t do this.

So for anyone who wants to know how I am – and how I guess most people going through chemotherapy might feel from time to time – here you are:

I feel terrible. I want my social life back. I don’t want the majority of my exchanges with human beings to be with the (amazing) Macmillan nurses. I want my most intimate moments to be with someone I at least fancy, if not love, and not with the sixth doctor of the month. I want to be able to eat the food I love without fearing I’ll taste it again when it comes back up. I wish I could have a machine which drew all of my pain out of me and stored it in a little box – even if I had to endure some of that stored pain bit by bit over a long time, that would be preferable to this constant, nagging bone ache that makes you feel hollow and solid all at the same time. I want to be able to sleep the night through. I want to be able to sleep without waking up in soaking sheets from night sweats. I want peace.

I want peace.

The more I think about it, the less I think peace will come. If I get better, sorry – when, I’ll be itching to get out and do the things I always wanted. Go travelling. Publish books. Learn archery. Learn Mandarin (OK this can be done now but have you tried concentrating with a 3-day migraine?). Take a yacht around the Caribbean islands. Move to a country cottage. Get a dog.

If I don’t, the only way peace will come will be when I die. And I don’t want that to be the next time I experience peace. I don’t want all this treatment to be for a painless death. I want all this treatment to mean something. I want to know that I feel like shit because there is something waiting for me afterwards, in this life. In the life I know exists. In the life I can see happening around me. I can hear it even now, the main road under my bedroom window. The window shakes every time a bus goes past. I can hear a toddler chattering away to her mum. I can hear a dog’s claws clacking on the pavement. This is life. I can see this happening and I want even these simple things to be mine. Without fear of pain, without my tendency to faint being an issue.

So many things that I want. And I will have them. Just, not yet.

Christ, leave me alone

I had a very interesting moment recently. I was walking home, avec une tres jollie belle, after a rather successful date. (I say after. We were clearly mid-date, but that’s not for telling here…oh, alright. We had a really hot, steamy…mug of chocolate before I wished her farewell and moseyed to bed on my own). I have to walk past my local church in order to get to my street, and we were wandering past just as an evening ‘session’ had finished at the church. (Not being of institutionalised faith, not sure what this should be called. Mass? Prayer time? Show?).

Now, I wear a very small crucifix around my neck because while I am not of institutionalised faith, I hold hope for a deity and identify most with this shape of talisman. It could be a Wiccan pentagram, an all seeing eye, whatever – it is what comforts me to have as my touchstone and that is my own belief to be held to myself.

I do not expect to be questioned – nay, reprimanded – by members of the church as I walk by. When I say this is a small crucifix, it is precisely that – no more than 4cm tall. You have to look hard for it. An elderly woman and not-so-elderly man were leaving the church, and saw my date and I holding hands.

“Disgusting.” Said she.

We continued on, ignoring the ones who wish not to change with the times (and yet were quite ready to jump into their 4×4, but oh no, technology doesn’t count as ‘changing times’).

“Excuse me, deary. Excuse me.” I was being tugged on the sleeve. I looked down to see the old lady had followed me. “Are you a Christian?” She jabbed at my necklace.

I hate this question, especially from religious types, because it’s a difficult answer to give.

“I don’t believe in organised religion but I hope there is something guarding and guiding me to the be the best person I can be.”

She tutted. She actually tutted.

“You are a disgrace to all things holy.” This was said with accompanying finger-wag.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“No need to apologise to me, you should get inside that church and apologise to God for being such an abomination with this piece of skirt.”

At this point, I could have done one of a few things:

1. Hit her over the head with my handbag, the old lady equivalent to throwing down the gauntlet.

2. Smiled politely, and walked away. (Which is, by the way, the wimp option. Of which I am not).

3. Told her to mind her own business.

What I probably should not have done is this.

I should probably not have launched into a rant about gay marriage, to a woman who clearly could not even comprehend that I would want to even hold hands with another girl in public.

About halfway through, when I was on the point of ‘it’s all about the semantics, really’, the elderly woman starting moaning. As in, actually moaning, like I was tormenting her. Her male companion, who was probably with her as her escort from whatever place of mental peace she usually resided, stepped in.

“Her husband was a vicar.”

“Why does that – ”

“Her son left home not long ago.”

“Again, how – ”

“To be with Pedro.”

Ah.

Turning to the woman, I tried my best I’m-really-sorry-for-you face.  I could have been gracious, understanding. I could have delved into whatever guiding deity I claimed to believe in to find the right words.

But no.

Before I knew it, this came spewing forth:

“Ha. Gutted.”

My hand flew to my mouth, while my date just giggled. (This, dear reader, is why the only hot steamy action was hot chocolate-related. I hate myself for my response which, while entertaining now, was completely wrong and incredibly rude, and was not said to impress or entertain her in any way. Lady, if you’re reading, feel free to call me…in a few years).

I tried to backtrack, to apologise, but it wasn’t working. So I bowed (actually bowed), backed away and left this poor, judgemental and confused old woman to be led away by her sniggering companion. (He too, found this hilarious).

If I see her again (likely, she’s a regular), I’ll be sure to apologise. But it did make me think a lot about the whole gay marriage argument. I realised that my view might not fit entirely with others of my persuasion – because I actually understand the Church’s protection of the sanctity of marriage based on the traditional use of the term.

What I do NOT agree with, is how it currently stands – hetero couples have marriage, same sex couples have civil partnerships, but neither can have the other. I understand the tradition and semantics behind marriage within religion – and consequently the difficulty in having a religious ceremony when (most) religions believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Why not give straight people the option for civil partnerships? Give us ALL some equality by recognising that marriage no longer has to be within a religious context in order to be recognised by the state. I do not believe in organised religion, and one of these reasons is very much because I could not reconcile my orientation with holy scripture; I realise that in order to follow (most) organised faiths I would need to deny much of what is in my very nature. I tried being straight, for a long time, but I have absolutely no interest in men. To deny myself would be denying the essence of being on this earth – to live, to enjoy life and to be free.

At the end of the argument, what it all boils down to is semantics. Marriage is associated with religion – fine, they can keep it. But at least give hetero couples the opportunity to not be locked into a religious contract if they do not wish to do so, and provide us some equality at the same time by making civil partnerships universal. (It should be noted, particularly to non-UK readers, that we DO have ‘civil ceremonies’ for hetero couples, which are non-religious, but as I understand it, the union thereafter is still referred to as a marriage; civil partnerships are not, for the sake of definition by the state).  There is deliberate segregation of hetero and same sex couples by the state by this simple wordplay, and it needs to be resolved.

Otherwise how else am I going to explain to the old lady why Pedro and her son are still living in the States?