I love writing prompts! Here is my response to Finite Creatures: At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?
Growing up with a younger, more fearless sister, with whom to share a big backyard complete with elevated porch and climbable trees, there was definitely the idea that we would live forever. There was never the remote possibility that we could fall out of a tree, or slip off the railing and be seriously maimed.
The first time I considered mortality was when I was nine, and I was playing at my friend Ashley’s house. My father came to pick me up, which was weird because it was always my mother. The ride home was quiet, and when I got in, my mother was on the phone with her sister crying in the kitchen. My uncle Freddie had died.
Being that it happened when I was young, I somehow re-developed the teen then young-adult sense of immortality. Who cares about driving around recklessly with high school friends? Who cares about those poor decisions made at parties in college?
Twenty-one retaught me about life, loss, and death when a guy I had known was diagnosed with cancer. We had a poetry class together, and somewhere along the line, I fell for him. I wanted to be with him when he was feeling ill after chemo treatments. I wanted to be the one to hand-deliver his notes to his apartment. He, however, would never let me because he thought I saw him as a sick puppy whom I could nurture.
His illness became worse before it became better, and as I watched him get so close to death, I realized how delicate life actually is.
Still somehow, I became jaded after college when I moved to the City. Life became simple, alcohol became fun, friends became partners in crime, and the city was my playground.
Unfortunately, at the age of 24 it was my turn to be diagnosed with cancer. When you are diagnosed with cancer– something that could slowly kill you– that is when life truly will never be the same. It’s hard to watch it happen to others, but there’s an extra weight and slap in the face when it is your own body that is threatening to end everything you’ve ever worked for, been given, enjoyed, loved, feared, and hated.
The path that I followed after the realization that even my own life is delicate was typical. I went back to work after the diagnosis, feeling numb. That night I fell apart, and went to my parents’ house. Soon there after, I picked myself up, put on blinders, and began the stone-face phase. After the holidays in 2010, I realized I couldn’t do it alone, so I contacted Gilda’s Club and joined a support group. After that came the healing.
Now, I still walk the delicate line separating being ok from a nervous breakdown because for the rest of my life there will be tests and reminders that I am sick. This has made relationships hard. I try to approach everything as though it is precious and wonderful, but sometimes being a bitter asshole and pushing everything away feels better.
The Man is helping me significantly with this. He’s the first one since I was sick that has made me feel as though life can be normal and great, as long as you dedicate yourself to it, and don’t vanish when the going gets tough.
But these experiences have taught me that no one experience will teach you about mortality in its entirety. Mortality is a multi-faceted entity that shows the different sides of his existence in the form of life, death and illnesses of yourself, friends, family, colleagues, celebrities, and even enemies.
The death of a prominent uncle taught me about the value of family. The illness of a friend and someone I loved taught me lessons that I still have a hard time vocalizing. Finally, my own illness taught me about the nature of illness in your early 20s, love, friendship, myself, and what I want in life.
I’m sure I’ve learned some lessons on mortality faster than others, or ones that some will never learn, but there is still so much of “mortality” that remains a mystery and hidden.