‘When did she tell you?’

“When did your mum tell you she had CF?”

I’m not sure she ever did or, perhaps, she constantly did, it is hard to differentiate these two things. From the moment I could walk, before I even uttered a sensical word I knew not to touch her medicines or equipment. She told me they were important for her health but dangerous for mine. She would sort through her tablets, explaining what each one was for. That stayed the same most of my life. She would explain that she had to be admitted to hospital sometimes because she is “different to other mothers” she has “CF” and that means “sometimes she is sick and she has to let the doctors take care of her” and this was enough for me. It was enough to me until I was 6 or 7 and my uncle, who also had CF had just received brand new lungs. He was so sick just before the transplant, unlike my mum who was running around after me and swimming every week.

She thought this would be his big break. His freedom. His life. We all did. We rooted for him. A few weeks later he died.

I couldn’t understand any of it. “How could he die? The operation was supposed to make him better? How could this happen?” It was during this period I started to think: “If he died, could my mum die too?” She explained that he was much more ill than she is but there is a serious probability that one day, she too will be that ill. Initially, I was so shocked I couldn’t ask anymore questions, despite my parents best attempts to openly talk about. Eventually, I just stopped believing it. She was too strong, too healthy, too stubborn to ever be that ill.

There were moments that made these words echo in my ear like a cruel joke. Moments when I saw her slip through my fingers and barely just make it back.

Eventually, as more of our friends and family got more and more ill and passed away I realised that maybe it didn’t matter how strong or stubborn or lucky she was.

Those dark thoughts were part of normal daily life and learning to compartmentalise at times was important and often necessary.

-Christina.

Team adulthood

That’s what I thought we would be. You see, my parents were optimists, they raised me to celebrate other women. They taught me to encourage, support and love other women. I guess I was naïve because I had this crazy idea that there would be a sense of community, a sense of solidarity. I thought we would pass each other in our adult lives with a nod of support and acknowledgement. There are enough men in this world who believe we can’t do what they do. With every bone you pick with me you are proving a sexist, chauvinistic man right. You are showing him that we can’t do it. We can’t even act like a team. If we can’t even support each other how can we expect the opposite sex to give us their provision?

I showed up here one day. I had these crazy ideas about my adult life, it would be different from my teenage years. The juvenile angst and animosity would have melted away and we would finally guide each other. We would celebrate each other’s strengths and help work on each other’s flaws. We would be friends. We would be comrades. We would be human beings.

I didn’t realise that there was a rule-book which some of you played by. This rulebook could not be obtained by someone like me, that, I learned pretty quickly. This rulebook was immense. It dictated all of your interactions with people like me. It taught you to tear me down, wear me down, pick holes in everything from my dress sense to my sense of humour. Just when I thought I understood these toxic rules, these laws which you were guided by, you changed them. That’s right, just when I felt like I had cracked the code, the algorithm changed. You despised me for new reasons. Your insults took a new direction, a new dimension. In some ways, the madness was impressive.

I think, you let your insecurities become something that dictated the direction your life took. This theory makes me sad. You see, a long time ago I made a decision to never punish myself for who I truly am. I took a leap of faith and decided to love myself. You hate me because I lack that self-doubt which plagues you. My unwavering confidence bothers you. It shouldn’t. If anything, it should inspire you. Inspire you to be a better you, a stronger you.

When you want to leave the dark side and celebrate each other, you know where I am, probably dancing at my desk with something sugary in my hand at 10:00am.

 

-Christina.

 

Are you getting my letters?

Dear Mum,

 

Is this letter three or four? I can’t bring myself to keep track because with each letter a huge chunk of time has passed. A chunk of time in which I haven’t seen your face or heard your voice. How crazy is that?

I’m angry today. It’s the kind of anger that’s tinged with sadness though so it isn’t very intense. I thought when you left this earth that all the uncertainty would go with you. Isn’t that naïve? You left and so did my opinion on almost everything. I’m stuck in this place I never thought I’d be. The fence. On all things. What am I doing, mum? If there was ever a time in which I desperately needed your guidance it is now. You left me and soon after, so did he. Now, I stand here, shocked like I’ve been in some tragic accident. Winded and bleeding. You see, at first I thought you threw me a lifeline. A loud, unhinged, fun, glittering lifeline. It was right there, handed right to me and I grabbed it with both hands. I was grateful, relieved, I was alive again. I could hear the music and see the blinding lights. I laughed until I cried again and remembered the concept of pleasure.

But then, suddenly, I saw the lights flicker and the music that I once enjoyed seemed brash and a little too loud. I hadn’t anticipated it. You see I thought that it was my life boat, I thought it was the glue that would piece it all back together. I thought, just maybe it was the solution. I realise now that was naïve. I always have been a romantic though, you know that. I wanted this to be it. My silver lining. Now, mum, I’m worried my silver lining will rain on me. I fear that this silver lining is capable of hurting me just as much as the rest of it. Maybe I’ve just been lucky until now. I just don’t know. Are you watching it all? Have you seen the entire thing? Have you seen the exciting beginning and the delicate and sweet climax? Have you seen the end? Is there one? Who am I mum? Is this really me? I pretend to have a hold on it all but it’s slipping away like sand through my fingers.

 

Yours always,

Forever,

 

Christina.

A letter to 2015 me.

Dear 2015 me,

 

Remember the dodgy haircut and bad break up of 2011? Well, 2016 is like that but with an earthquake and tsunami as well. You see, 2016 is the year that almost kills you. It is the year that will hurt you so much that you will want to die. You will want to give up. You’ll think ‘how can I hurt this bad and still have a beating heart?’ There will be days in which you will dance on the edge, flirt with the idea of throwing in the towel. 2016 is your test. I don’t even know where to start. Don’t freak out but that thing that you have been pushing to the back of your mind has happened. I mean the doctors said it would. Your counsellor said it would. Your dad said it would, heck you even said it would (even though we both know you thought it was just a myth or something) well it has happened. She’s gone. But before you freak out, somehow you are still breathing. Your dad will be fine, you will be fine, eventually. You both teeter but you come back. You take some time off from the research but you go back and damn, it is hard. You will flinch every time you hear the words ‘Cystic Fibrosis’. Your heart drops when you have to hear about ‘mortality’ or ‘end-stage disease’ but you normally keep it together. You don’t really ever stop feeling the pain or the confusion but with each passing day you get a little bit of yourself back, the forgotten bits.

Remember that other thing you were constantly torn over? Well, you made a big decision about that too. The difference is, this one feels right, even though it hurts. He knew it all along and you did too. Don’t give that one a second thought, it was a fun and beautiful chapter that naturally came to an end. You will move on without even realising it. You will blink and suddenly be drunk on champagne laughing in a way you never thought you were capable of. 

You might get a few more questionable haircuts and be a bit insufferable for a while but you sort of find your centre again. Who knew you were such a badass? You certainly didn’t. Your birthday is a little ropey but that’s okay. You pull it together like you always do. So, brace yourself, the storm is coming and it’s a bad one. Just hang in there until the rain stops and the winds settle. Don’t forget to breathe. One breath at a time.

 

Good luck.

– Christina.

 

Rubble and ruins.

I hadn’t been there since the incident. I had heard about the wreckage. I heard tales of what was left. The whispers suggested fragments and shards but nothing more. They were wrong. It was more than that. It was destroyed but still beautiful. A new kind of beautiful like a historic, abandoned site. It was a unique piece of art now.

The ceilings seemed higher now and the doorways grander. Everything was bigger and emptier. For a second it seemed like someone else’s house. Maybe I was on a movie set, wandering aimlessly, observing the aftermath of someone else’s fictional tragedy. Or maybe it was just a nightmare. A vivid, surreal nightmare from which I have yet to wake.

The photos were faded, damaged from the storm, the faces not totally visible. The ornaments and frames were scattered everywhere as though they had been intentionally thrown. I stood there, in the hallway, our hallway and I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. With every new piece of damage I noticed the noisy flashbacks flooded my mind.  Me, her, him, the life we once had. So vibrant and intense, full of fervour and colour. Now, the walls grey, moulded and damp. The building, was void of colour and passion. That’s all it was now, a building. A rotting, unstable building.

I only became aware of the insufferable temperature when the biting, winter wind passed through as though there weren’t any walls at all. The hair on my arms stood, alarmed and the frosty air hit my lungs in a way that shocked me. That was the heart-wrenching moment that assured me this was not a nightmare. It was more than that. How could reality be so lifeless? How could someone with a beating heart feel so little? The air was heavy with sadness, my sadness, hers and his. The sadness of broken hearts, broken promises, broken faith and broken people.

There was a silence. A deafening, horrific silence. The kind of silence that heightens your other senses, torments them, taunts them. The kind of silence you never want to experience. The kind of silence that might only last seconds but feels like hours. Was this it? Am I done now? Are we done now? Is there more? Will I ever see in colour again?

My ear-splitting thoughts were interrupted. My heart skipped a beat. I swore I was the only one there. I was alone, I was sure of it. I gasped as though I had been holding my breath. I was choking now, choking on the oxygen that was now filling my lungs. Panting heavily my tears began clouding my vision but it was louder than me. Louder than the wreckage. The gentle music took over. The light melody in the distance was carried by the harsh winds. What was it? Who was it? I was sure I was alone. I was sure that silence would kill me but now I can’t even remember it. My hands were shaking, my body warming as though the shock was fading. It was a tune that sounded familiar. Perhaps I had heard a similar tune before, or perhaps it was the exact song that haunted my daydreams and fantasies.

-Christina.

Dear wise woman. 

Dear wise woman,

It has been a year since our last encounter. A year since you touched my heart and reminded me of who I am. I did not realise it at the time but you were right. On that cold, bitter October day you knew me better than I knew myself. I was looking at my life through very tinted glasses. You were looking at my life with a wealth of experience and wisdom. I didn’t even notice the warmth, compassion and empathy you had for me. I failed to see that you were a woman who had been there, done it. You had lived that moment I was in. You had been there once before and you could see it all with 20/20 vision. You told me I could do it. You told me I could pursue a PhD. You told me I could finish my last year at University, no matter how sick my mother was. You told me I would make it work. You told me I wasn’t thinking clearly. You told me I needed a break, not a permanent one. I was convinced you were wrong. I thought you couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through, what I was feeling. You didn’t know me.

How wrong was I? You spoke like a true mother that day. I look back on that dark day and I don’t recognise myself. I was scared. I was lost. You tried to guide me. You did your best. I see that now. Thank you. Thank you for everything. It is because of you I am back in College. I hope to one day have a more prestigious title than ‘Miss’ and that is down to you. Women like you are rare. Women like you are the women made to be mothers and teachers. One day, I want to be a woman like you.

Your kindess may have gone unnoticed in that stressful moment but it is recognised now. It fills me with warmth and empowerment. I am grateful. Thank you for everything. I hope one day I can be the wise woman advising someone as lost and hopeless as I was that day.

I will never forget that moment.

Big hugs,

Christina.
   
 

When your life has the same intensity level as a Grey’s Anatomy episode.

What’s the most dramatic thing that could happen to someone? Disaster? Near-fatal injury? Disease? Death?

That’s kind of the premise for many highly-charged, itense, television dramas, isn’t it? I mean there are other things in there, great love, dramatic romance, loss, huge, life-style changes but the general theme is the same: change and drama. Sometimes I think my life is a bit like that. What would my life be like if I didn’t have the turbulence of my other’s disease? What would my life be like if I didn’t have to recieve updates on her constantly changing condition and the next course of action? What would it be like if we didn’t have to leave our holiday days earlier to get her to a hospital? What would it be like if some of my days weren’t tainted with distraction and making sure the rest of my family is okay? Mentally and physically? What would it be like to just wake up, eat my breakfast and think about what nail colour I might wear today? Would I be bored? Would I just think that was normal? Would I think that an episode of Grey’s Anatomy is over-dramatic and unrealistic? Would I realise how important love is? Would I realise that life is this rare, precious thing that could be unexpectedly snatched from you at any second? Would I worry less? Would I worry more?

What if?

Right now my life is highly charged, it is hectic, it is dramatic but I am happy. I am grateful for all that I have. I am grateful for my life. I am grateful for all of it. Is that normal? I get on with it. I still laugh at jokes and watch far too much television. What is normal anyway?

-Christina.

You know how when you were a little kid and you believed in fairy tales, that fantasy of what your life would be, white dress, prince charming who would carry you away to a castle on a hill. You would lie in bed at