that never dies
I broke away from Sandra and started slowly to move. It was late at night on Good Friday, I took the wedding ring off her finger, returned home and threw myself on the bed. I had entered a world made up of dry fog, soundless. I was finally out of hell.
I think my destiny took its course one summer when I was a child. I took refuge in the outdoors with my mixed-up friends who my mother detested and humiliated all the time, calling them stupid imaginary creatures. I spent my days living like Ulysses – moving from island to island, trying to outwit my mother – writing and drawing what I saw without ever putting into words what I dreamt. The summer break wasn’t a short one and I suddenly found I was grown-up, useless, good for nothing.
Then I met a beautiful girl with black hair and married her without even finding out that her hair was actually red.
After our honeymoon we lived mainly in my world, until a certain day.
Change of plan
Friday May 5th. Everything changed that day.
After work I met up with Sandra for lunch at our usual snack bar. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, she was fresh from the gym and the shower, wearing jeans and a white shirt.
We were planning to leave for Austria for a few days, for a change of scene and a walk on the grass in bare feet, near a lake.
We talked about her left arm. It had been swollen and red for a week and she was worried about it. I suggested going to A&E. It was to have been a quick visit.
Her smooth, black hair continued to caress the left side of her face and she was looking at me the way she did when she wanted to make love.
That day she moved as she always had, as if she was afraid of nothing, she was sweet, she hugged me and her smile was wonderful.
That day my mental images were clear, the sky was blue and my diaphragm relaxed.
Two hours later, I found myself staring at the feet of a female doctor walking towards me on a white plastic floor.
Sandra’s X-ray had revealed a shadow on her chest.
The doctor told me: We’re admitting her to the Pneumology ward for all the tests”.
“Is it in her lungs?”.
“No, between her lungs”.
A state-of-the-art hospital
That evening I returned home hoping that by morning the shadow would have melted away.
In the morning the pneumologist told me that it had been quite a struggle to get a CT scan done on Sandra that day. Saturdays, at the lake, are different from other days. I thanked him and looked up this suspected lymphoma in the midst of children playing on the grass. “Don’t worry, it’s curable, I sail with a friend who had what your wife has many years ago”.
At the exact moment that I realised that I was in hell, I tried to understand how that segment of the world worked and went out into the garden.
The imposing glass and concrete building was set in a large, bare garden.
The ground floor was occupied by a suffocating heat, a coffee bar with large windows, an efficient funeral director ready to take anyone away and a lift to the wards.
The eleven months I spent in that place weren’t a traumatic event in my life, hell was simply a different place I was obliged to occupy for a while.
Neuroses at the café
As a child what terrified me most wasn’t losing my parents but losing the woman I was to love. What can a child imagine?
This is why my task in this life cannot have been to find Sandra, fall in love, decide to marry her just to say goodbye and let her go. Those images must have made some sense, perhaps I had to save her before it was too late or perhaps I should have tried to change something sooner, before she got ill.
That day I couldn’t make sense of why we’d ended up there. Sandra was young, she took exercise, ate healthily – fresh vegetables and fruit, few proteins – didn’t smoke and seemed happy. It didn’t make sense that we had ended up at that place.
Before I went to visit her in her new room, I took refuge in the coffee bar which became a habit to be followed over the days to come. Sitting there I discovered lukewarm toasted sandwiches, dry apple cake and coffee with an aftertaste which made me feel sick and from the conversations of two doctors who had just been at a trade union meeting I discovered that anti-depressives are the best selling drugs after tranquillisers.
Obsessive behaviour was also at home there.
The doctor closest to me kept stirring his coffee giving me the impression that he had no intention of stopping and the other one seemed to be fixated with the sugar spilt on the bar counter. And they kept on talking. While I continued to hear sounds of motorboats and voices of people running on the grass and kept turning round while the lake was no longer there.
When I went into Sandra’s room I saw that it had been her shadow which had created that mass.
Before I even sat down she said “Don’t worry, it’s nothing, I can feel it”.
We carried on denying the truth to ourselves right up to the end.
It had been a night two years earlier while we were lying down that our eyes met and by mistake I entered the darkness of her eyes and my shadow injected something into her. At that exact moment her shadow also projected something into me and from that moment I couldn’t break away from her.
We both knew that we had created something at that instant but neither of us ever said anything about it to the other.
In that place we ended up in, on the other hand, the centre of everything was nothingness. Every day the head physician parked his luxury English car in a free car park just a few minutes from the hospital to keep at least his car away from that place. When he arrived at the corridors of his ward he shouted like a madman. He was unmoving, there was plenty of inertia there. The doctors passed Sandra from pillar to post every day, from Sandra to the illness, with the first X-ray the first day.
Every time they crossed paths they passed the ball on the basis of their mutual likes and dislikes calling Sandra “the one with the mediastinal mass”, they spoke rapidly of symptoms, interpreted what they saw and projected their shadows onto her.
We passed our days waiting for tests of various degrees of importance. Without ever consulting colleagues from other wards, they prepared what was necessary and discussed the most varied subjects such as car colour, then looked at the time and said: “Anyway this test isn’t important. Tomorrow’s test is more important”.