I’ve always thought I’d die young.
For most of my childhood, it was an unexamined thought sitting in my subconscious, quietly accepted, yet to be complicated with the arrogance and hysteria of young adulthood. I had no concept of “gone too soon”; unaware of my potential, untainted by ambition; not jaded by hope and dreams. I read Bridge to Terabithia and thought, “that makes sense.” Leslie dying so young, whilst sad, made sense.
Reading Bridge to Terabithia become some sort of ritual for me. I made a point to return to it annually. First, to distract myself from my loneliness as a pre-teen and later, to remind myself what a tragedy death is. As a teenager, I thought of myself as too dark. I have always been a severely emotional person. Over time, it was made clear that that was a character flaw, a failing I had to work to get rid of. I only ever managed to to act uncaring. A lack of emotion is a lie well crafted and fortified. It’s a fortress that needs reinforcing by periodic acts of apathy. It is also a dizzying illusion. My teenage years were spent hiding from myself: a state of being that made my death morbidly blasé. I found that I needed Bridge to Terabithia to remind me that my life mattered, that my death would hurt.
And then I was suicidal for a while. And then I was just okay: content to suffer through what I knew would be a short life. And then, I wanted to live, so much so, it felt like drowning. But still, I was cautiously optimistic. So I settled for twenty eight years. It’s a life, a long enough life some would say. It’s hopeful without being too greedy. I don’t know where this feeling came from, but I’ve always felt like my continued existence was a negotiation with an all-powerful being. I feel like I was born, already having ran out of bargaining chips with this being. My life has always felt like a precarious favour, a merciful privilege that could be withdrawn anytime.
So I guess it was only a matter of time before I turned away from religion and spirituality. You dangle life in front of someone long enough, it’s only a matter of time before they say fuck you. I’m gonna live, kill me if you want. On my harder days, getting a rare form of cancer feels like some god is trying to kill me. But mostly, I think the universe is indifferent to my existence: I’m going to live till I die and in the meantime some terrible shit will happen to me. It’s as healthy an attitude as you can have when you’re going through a life threatening illness. You don’t take it personally. Shit happens, I just happened to be unlucky this time.
And then there are days I feel like a sucker. And it’s like I’m eleven all over again and my life is a book and the only way it makes sense is if I die young. I don’t read Bridge to Teraabithia anymore. I did recently watch All the Bright places on Netflix and I just finished reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Between the movie and the book, so many people die young. And still I thought, their deaths fit perfectly. Heartbreak is the only way these things make sense. I never much liked happy endings but given the events of the past year, I thought I’d achieved a certain level of joie de vivre. But I suppose an acute awareness of one’s mortality for a full year is antithetical to the appreciation of life.
I am trying to live again. I’m trying so hard and I’m mostly failing. It’s a failure I can contextualize and I keep hoping that should make it easier for me to be gentler with myself. For the past several months, all I had to do was get through the day: not by looking towards tomorrow, but by just sitting through the day. I just had to make sure I was eating enough, drinking enough water, taking my medicine, getting enough rest, not worrying too much and so forth. Basic stuff. And even then, I mostly failed. With the exception of taking my medicines, I barely did anything else. And even that is because pain is an unrelenting beast. I often needed help with everything else. If someone didn’t put food in front of me, I’d starve. If my aunt didn’t fight for me to get fluids through an IV nearly everyday, I’d be dehydrated. There are weeks I lived on sucrose solution because I couldn’t keep food down. And even then, I still felt like I was failing. It’s not that I was lazy or that I gave up. I was just unable to do those things. It’s like there was a disconnect between my brain and my body. I didn’t register hunger or thirst as distinct cues. I was either in pain or asleep. I’d feel the pinch of hunger in my stomach and wonder why the pain meds weren’t working. My throat would be dry and I’d assume I was sleepy. Until someone coaxed me into eating a piece of chicken and then it would sort of make sense, but only for the duration of the meal. Every now and then, I’d realise I was hungry but even that wouldn’t translate to getting something to eat. My body, and all its cues, was just something I endured. If I just spaced out, everything would stop hurting for a minute. But still, it didn’t matter, all I had to do on any particular day was not die. It’s an incredibly low bar.
And in some ways, I’m still on survival mode. Only now I’m aware that not dying is not the standard you want to hold yourself to. But while my brain gets that, my psyche is yet to adjust. Planning for my future still feels unnatural. Presumptuous, arrogant even. Enjoying my day is quite frankly, pushing it. In the last year, I learnt that not dying is a gift. It’s the bare minimum yes, but also, you take it and you perform gratitude. I live a life of bare minimums now. Not dying was a seemingly far-fetched dream for me for so long, I just don’t know how to live. To really live.
But like I said I’m trying. I am letting myself imagine myself at thirty-five. To affirm myself if for nothing else. At the very least, I, like everyone else, deserves a good day dream. But also, ten years feels like a reasonable bargain. It’s hopeful without being too greedy. I’m setting, hopeful, but not too greedy goals for myself.
For starters, it increasingly feels like a matter of life and death that my sister reads and adores everything Akwaeke Emezi writes.
But more selfishly, I want an archive: a space on the internet that’s dedicated to me. To the mundanities of my existence: my fears, my perspectives, my many feelings on ultimately pointless things. Because people tend to romanticise dead people. A byproduct of love I suppose. But it’s also a form of erasure. And I don’t want to be forgotten. And I certainly don’t want my pain to be romanticised. Because pain isn’t novel. I don’t want to be remembered as strong or brave or graceful in the face of pain. It’s hardly important. This is what’s important to me: my suffering sucked and it fucked me up.
Which isn’t to say that I’m eternally fucked up. That feels like self-pity; not an entirely useful emotion I have found. So I won’t indulge it. But anger, now that’s an emotion I’m indulging. I am so angry, and rightfully so, I believe. And it’s turning out to be useful. Because, the only way this level of anger makes sense is if I believe that my pain inherently matters, that my life isn’t a joke for some god to toy with. Do you see? In parts that my fucked-up-for-now-self is yet to access, I believe my life matters. I believe I’m owed some sort of reparations for being dragged through hell like this.
Which is why I keep watching The Originals. It’s a glorious indulgence of vengeance. In this fictional world, no one is sheltered from violence. Everyone has some form of power and the harm you mēt always comes full circle. You can hurt someone, you can kill them, but you will go about the rest of your life knowing that they will find a way to hurt you back. And even if death saves you, someday their children will come for your children. It’s a way to indulge my anger without actually hurting anyone. Because I don’t really want to live in a world that runs on endless cycles of violence. After all, people like me(Black, female), suffer the most in that kind of world.
But I also have buckets of anger. I’m angry at God, at the universe, at the sun that just keeps rising, the earth that just keeps turning. Like my pain doesn’t matter. It’s like I got punched in the stomach, and the universe laughed and said fuck you thought? I want something, anything, to stop functioning as usual. I want a mutiny in heaven; a star to fall. Sometimes I get so angry, I just want somebody to track god and kill him for me.
But then again, violence in all its iterations and rationalisations is ultimately pointless. After a while, I’m gonna have to find kinder, gentler ways to validate my pain. Nobody, certainly not god, will do it for me.
I don’t know if this is one of those things that time sorts out. I hope it is. Parts of it have to be. I remember after my surgery in March last year, I told my cousin I couldn’t survive another surgery. She said she understood. That when you’re in the thick of it, everything feels impossible. But if I gave it time, I will find that it’s actually possible to get through a lot worse. She was right. A mere eight months later, I went through another surgery, a much harder one. And I survived it. It showed me things, but I survived it. But ghai the pain! For several weeks, it felt like parts of my head/face were being electrocuted. Point is, I survived. So maybe if I give it time, I won’t even notice when life swallows me whole again.
Or maybe this is a spiral winding down, undoing me. Maybe this is a problem that I won’t survive. Maybe this is a moment that I’ll look back at in my final moments thinking I should have course corrected. I don’t know.
But maybe that’s the point of life: you never really know.
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