My mind is a butterfly, flitting from one topic to another. Even music does not hold me together like it usually does; if you ask me what I am playing, I will stare blankly at you, my brain struggling to register the present.
On such days, when my body is definitively breaking down into something else, I experience life differently, almost in vignettes, in moments of stolen lucidity, before my mind decides to sink back into a little pool of black goop.
My tongue is swollen, as are my lymph nodes. These are also the days when I lose my taste; my bulbous tongue mixing up the sweets, sours, salties and bitters, leaving me with a blanket sense of confusion.
Imagine, losing a whole sense, just like that. And then to have it return.
Later in the cycle, if you ask me to describe these feelings to you, I struggle. I do not have words to explain the depths to which my mind descends to, and how it emerges.
Maybe that is the beauty of this human existence, maybe, maybe, it is better not to know.
My last chemo session in the clinic is the least dramatic.
The nurse finds my squiggly vein quite easily, the drugs start entering my system, and I fall asleep. I sleep through both rounds of drugs (the first usually wakes me up because I have a reaction to it, my heart tries to stop beating, my throat starts closing in, there is a rapid rush of heat to my head).
But this time, this last time, nothing. I sleep through it all, and when I wake up, I am still groggy, disoriented.
Three days pass, and all I want to do is to keep sleeping.
In my moments of clarity, I wonder if it is hard for my husband to witness my decimation.
I am usually good about gatekeeping my sorrows so that most of our families do not witness me at my worst.
With my husband, however, the pretence falls apart. He sees me on the days where I am nothing more than a lump of flesh, sitting, waiting for the sun to rise, then set, while my body slowly, painfully, begins the process of reconstruction.
I wonder what it does to him, but I know there is nothing more I can do to protect him, that he too must walk his own path and meet his fears on this journey that we have found ourselves on.
Now, I am too tired to think about this further. I shower, try not to vomit, and fall back into bed.
Sleep is my beloved friend.
It is the last cycle, how do you feel, everyone asks.
Not much, I say. It is difficult to dream of beauty, of the future, of what’s next, when you’re still in the trenches.
I’m still in the trenches, though on the days that I reveal myself to the outside world, most people do not realise this – my personality is on, my bright lipstick is on, my energy is on.
When you have an illness like this, you get smart at masking, at wellness-passing.
The real scars of the illness are in the moments of solitude, when the mask is removed, when the cold water sluices down your ravaged body, when you lift your hand and touch the left side of your chest right under your breast and realise there is no feeling there, it is just flesh, numb flesh.
I think back to my time in Varanasi, just me and the river Ganges and the smell of burning bodies everywhere. I remember my favourite of Ghats, the Manikarnika Ghat, where I learnt that in the end, all flesh is just numb flesh, fed to the fire, ashes falling, falling, falling.
I think of moksha, when the soul is freed from the body, from its wants and needs, and imagine what that might feel like.
To disrobe the numbness, to embrace the utter freedom of surrender.
When I am awake and present, I am scribbling in my notebook about all the different futures I can have. It feels like child play because my reality screams something different at me, when even taking the elevator down to the apartment complex’s pool feels Sisyphean.
Yet, this is the beauty of the written word – its creation and construction has the ability to transport, to transcend.
C once told me that this is my channelling medium; I hold this close to my heart, remind myself that my magic lies in the worlds that I can create here, on this blank canvass.
I see the Magician card in my mind’s eye, the image of a being existing right in the middle, in perfect control, serving as a conduit between the eternity of the above, and the nothingness of the below, manifesting, creating in what appears to be stasis.
I am the Magician during this season, caught in the stasis of my own deaths and rebirths.
I listen to myself deeply during this season, trusting what my insides tell me, even if the outside world is screaming at a completely different frequency. I write to S about this, about the role of labour and the desire for rest, about navigating the complexities of capitalism while preserving our humanity, and he laughs, says, if we could solve this, we will be leading different lives, wouldn’t we?
I nod, smile.
When I feel better in my body, I feel a strange sensation, which I recognise as excitement. The strength I feel physically feels like a spell that I can cast around myself, to dream of multiple futures, all or none of which may ever come to fruition.
But it does not matter, because I am able to dream, and do you know what a feeling it is, to be able to dream again?
I message A frantically, talking about dance classes we can go to (she’s terrible at dancing) and holidays by the sea. She laughs, eggs me on, never says no, and I sigh, thankful for the hearts that remain open for my silliness.
I open the note on my phone titled Future and add to the list.
It is the energetic new year today; the beginning of a new Zodiac cycle with Aries, the Spring Equinox, Nowruz.
If you sit still long enough, you can feel the electricity of beginnings in the air, the myriad of possibilities, the ways in which the paths in your life can converge and diverge.
I sense the electromagnetism in my dreams, snapshots of futures that may or may not be mine. In the morning, I scribble what I can remember into my dream journal, which is now starting to tell its own story, the story of all the lives I have lived and could live, in different planes, on different timelines.
I wish to bottle this feeling of possibility, safekeep it for the days when I struggle to think past the present, when I am hurting with aching bones, when the face in the mirror looking back at me is unrecognisable.
I walk to my desk, sit on my chair, open my journal, and begin to write.
I start to write my life slowly into existence.
Over the years, Arathi Devandran has written for e-zines and publications on a range of issues, serving as a youth columnist, general observer of the human condition, and dissector of the specific experiences of being a South Asian woman in a patriarchal and parochial world. More recently, she has become interested in exploring themes of inter-generational familial relations and navigating the complexities of self-growth through personal essays and autofiction. Arathi is currently working on her full-length manuscript. Her work can be found here.
Disclaimer: All opinions and views here are my own.
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