I take a shallow breath. Everything hurts. That must mean that I am still alive. This is paramount. This is all that matters, for a moment. I feel every, single part of my body, there is a pain so excruciating that I don't even know where I am. I am coming out of the haze, and try to move. It is impossible. I am folded in two on a small bed in a hospital, and all I can do is moan.
Somebody hears me, and comes closer. I feel a hand on my hair, and a quiet voice asking me how I feel. I want to say like total, utter crap, but I can't even take the deeper breath I need to be able voice my pain. So I moan. It ends with a whimper. I have never felt so defenseless in my whole life.
The kind soul attached to the caressing hand tells me not to worry, and fiddles with the IV, and within half a minute I am floating again, slowly leaving the pain behind me. I remember now, I know where I am and what happened. Opening my eyes I ask her with a whisper of a voice "Anything left?"
"You need to talk to the surgeon, dear." She moves closer so that I can see her. "He'll be coming to talk to you in a couple of hours. Sleep now, it's the best cure."
"Mmhm." I am lost in my drug-induced haze. "Just tell me, is it all out?"
"Yes. All of it."
That's it, it's all gone. I am happy and sad and have a head that feels like cotton wool. I fall asleep knowing that the next time I wake up, I will have to take reality by its proverbial horns again. But not now, not right now. For now, I can lie back and just give in to the feeling within me that says: "Somebody else is in charge. Relax. Sleep."
And I do, because someone else was in charge; a hysterectomy is not an elective surgery. You do it when they tell you to. And it hurts like a bitch, in every way.
At the hospital, and after, at home during my convalescence, I start reading a series of books that I have been wanting to read for a long time. I never could find a long enough stretch of time in front of me in which to indulge; work and life are always getting in the way. Now I throw myself in, nothing holding me back.
Weeks later, my books are finished. I have read all of them, several times over, and I'm searching the net for more, anything, more, I need words, more words. I need more words telling me it'll be all right, words to pull me through, to tell me there is life, words to make me believe in magic again.
I find them on a writing forum, where thousands of—mostly—women are baring their souls for everyone to see, and are posting story after story. I find it remarkable, especially as many of these stories are exceptionally good. Some are terrible of course, but there's no need to linger. I move on to the good ones.
I find the words I was looking for there. The words I need, search and hope for. The words that heal, soothe, the words that care for me and make me care. Then I also find the words that make me happy, that make me squeal and scream out loud. Because a good story is when—while sitting there in your armchair reading something that is exceptional—you just have to look away for a second and say "Fu-u-ck!" out loud. Then go back to reading.
A good story takes you somewhere else, and when you come back to your own life, it is fuller, more colorful and more your own. It is a kind of magic. It is like new curtains on your soul, it brightens up the room that is your life.
One night, I stay up late to watch a movie, it is beautiful, and at the end I am simply staring at the titles that roll up, up and disappear. At the very end, when even the dolly-grip boys have been duly thanked for their job, right there, is a song that catches my attention, a song which sends me completely out of the real world.
Who would have known? They blow my mind, their song takes my breath away. I am traveling, in my mind, to new places, new sights, new everything. What is happening? Why? And then I realize the question should be Why not?
I start asking myself Where did my music go? When did I stop listening to ear-deafening drums and hard guitar riffs? I have no answers, so I turn everything off and start doing some long-needed soul searching, right there in the middle of the night.
Looking back, I can see where taking a left turn—then left again, and then right, and left once more—has made me into the person I am today. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just something that I will have to take into account. To change something, especially if that something is yourself, you need to get accustomed to what is.
If you don't know who and what you are right now, in no way can you influence who and what you will become tomorrow. It's simple math, really.
I realize I need to make sure I take some correct left-right-left-turns in the very near future, because somewhere along the way, I have stopped caring; I have stopped caring about myself, about what I wear, about what I look like every day. I've stopped caring about where I am going, and what makes me happy.
Somewhere along the way I stopped caring about myself. Completely.
My hair started turning partly grey, and instead of fighting it and doing something about it, I cut it all off, to a shorter, more age-appropriate length. Or so they said. Too bad it also pushed me into that mind-frame of old, into this sinking feeling that tells me it is all mostly over.
Besides, with forty pounds of extra padding, I suddenly look at myself and see that I look and feel nothing like how I used to feel, nothing like the old me. I am just old. Not me. The old me? Right out the window.
I keep reading story after story, and suddenly discover that I can also speak directly to the authors. Not only that, the first time I try to send a short review telling the author how much I have enjoyed reading her story, she answers back within half an hour. This is a new, exhilarating experience. We chat back and forth in short messages on the forum, and suddenly I feel part of something bigger. I am talking directly to an actual author. My field is linguistics, I give her a hand with a couple of sentences in Italian. Next thing you know, she has thanked me in public in her story chapter. My name is up there, where all of their names are.
Up there with all of those fabulous writer people whom I admire so much.
I am somebody. And someone appreciates my help. I am seen.
This does something to my brain; I don't know what happens, but suddenly—instead of just passively looking at things, seeing life and years pass me by—I am right there, in the middle of it, living it. How such a small thing like a mention of your name can stir your soul, shake you right back to life, it is uncanny.
I start to write myself. Oh, my production of words is absolutely craptastic the first months, sentences flow like elephants trying to do a fast Samba. It rocks so bad, I actually laugh out loud right there where I am sitting in my armchair, laptop heating up under my fingers.
That laugh scares me, because I realize I don't even remember the last time I heard myself laughing out loud. And I want to hear more of it, much more, I want my laughter to come back and seize me, kick me, shake me into that happy stupor that only laughter can provide. Of course, it doesn't, not yet, I'm still baby-stepping here. But I see that that is where I would like to be in a few months' time: I want to be in a place where laughter comes fast and easy. And hard. Life-giving laughter.
I buy an iPod, a bright orange one. It is a thing of beauty, it screams this goddamn isn't over yet in a loud voice. I realize that the last time I walked with music in my ears, I was still using cassettes.
I buy tons of music—one song pulls the next, and while one band screams about my redemption and absolution, the next one tells me to chill, relax, go with the flow. I float and delve into the feelings that emerge out of these long-forgotten depths. My neighbors wonder what has gotten into me—they see me pass in my small car, where everything is vibrating with roaring guitars and crazy drums.
Music makes me feel alive; I finally rock. And I swear, my new iPod is psychic. I just put it on shuffle, and we are off—it knows exactly what I need to hear on any given day.
I keep reading, of course, but with new eyes, critical eyes, searching eyes, I seem to be filtering what I am reading from the standpoint of trying to be a writer; I am not just a reader anymore. I decide to stop reading any story that I feel is badly written, that I don't absolutely love at once. I concentrate on reading those that speak directly to my heart. I want to learn from authors who write correctly, authors who respect me enough to actually care about my reading experience.
As there are close to two hundred thousand stories to choose from on the forum, I decide to become a picky reader, and only spend my time on the ones that have a message of some kind. Preferably a message of love is love. Of the powerless finding power. Or of friends standing up for each other.
Instant pay-off. Words flow beautifully, both before my eyes and through my fingers. I read stories of great personal development and love. I write things that make sense and that might actually be interesting also for other readers.
Some days it is like I have been blessed with automatic writing, like someone is dictating the words to me and all I have to do is take them down, as fast as I bloody well can. My fingers are rushing over the keyboard, it is exhilarating, it makes my blood flow faster, it is fun and I suddenly stop. Hold my breath. Then let it all out in a huge guffaw of Happy. Pure and true happiness fills me.
I rattle off messages to some of the new friends I've made, and they all tell me they know exactly where I am, what happened to me; they have all been there, in the Writing Zone, and they welcome me into their fold. It is like truly finding a long lost family.
It is like finding your pack, the people you need to be able to run free again.
One of my new friends helps me with editing, she shows me where I stumble and where I am steady. It is sheer brilliance, this giving freely of knowledge and time. It thrills me to hear her say that she loves my first story. That she is crazy-proud of what I wrote. And it makes me feel like a million dollars when she later asks me if I would take a look at something she has written. Not that I'd be doing the editing, but I can perhaps help by being a new set of eyes on her text. It feels like something really big. She trusts me. I am worthy. No words can describe what all that does to me. No words.
I travel a lot in my work. There is a lot of empty time in traveling, and this is time that I now use for reading or writing, and for listening to ear-deafening rock music, courtesy of my beta who is also a music fanatic. She shares more up-to-date music knowledge with me than I can actually keep up with, bless her heart.
Crossing the Rockies, the airplane I am on hits some really serious and quite scary turbulence, with the whole airplane doing a couple of dives that almost turn my stomach inside out. The lady sitting in the seat beside me goes white, and simply whimpers. She is so afraid she is incapable of even voicing a full-out scream. I take her hand and look her straight in the eye and say "Listen. We are all right. And we will be all right. Everything is all right. Whatever happens, it is all right."
She holds on to my hand like it is a lifesaver, and perhaps it is. Perhaps the single, simple gesture of taking the hand of a fearful stranger actually is a lifesaver.
I realize right then, that after all is said and done, I am all right. Even if it should all end right here, right now, I am okay. I have lived, I am living. I have loved and I am loving. If it is time to go right now, then I'm okay with that, too. It is with a huge sense of relief that I just sit through the whole ordeal, holding her hand. I am at peace. It feels wonderful.
It is quite an anticlimax when we, some ten minutes later, come out of the turbulence, and we smile at each other, a little shy and a little happy. I slowly let go of her hand, giving her a last squeeze, and she leans toward me, and says, "Thank you for being real. For being a rock. I will never forget you."
Two huge tears leave my eyes as I look back at her and say, "No worries at all. I've been there. It's all in the perspective. It's all in the love. Spread it on down the line." My smile widens to a full-on grin when I see how she gets it, she really gets it.
Ah, perhaps I have managed to give to someone else what has so generously been given to me? Have I managed to send strength and courage to one woman in my life, I shall consider myself happy and good. Fulfilled.
We land in Toronto. We part ways. We will never meet again, and we will never forget.
My hair has grown back out. I care for it and for myself again. When I open my laptop, I once more see myself in that black, start-up screen, not some old woman. I look fifteen years younger; somehow, just coming alive again has left me thirty-five pounds lighter and I am beautiful, I feel beautiful. I am alive.
I have a new, secondary family of strong, fabulous women who have helped in holding me up for the better part of two years. Some of you do not even know how much you have done for me. All your stories have given me hope, love and a will to keep on trucking. I know that I am living. It's ok. It's good. I'm good.
You are all a part of something I need. You are like family. You are friends. Like lovers. Teachers. Buddies. Crazy fun people. Cuddlers to hold me when I'm down. Happy dancers for when I'm up. And most of all, you are instant—instant friends, I just turn on my laptop, and instantly find any one of the more than a hundred women I love and speak to regularly.
I had no idea that a group of women—spread out all over the planet—could become so important to me. And I never knew I could make such a difference in your lives. Without even having met 99% of you sweet people, you have nestled yourselves into my everyday life, and it would be so much more grey without you.
Thank you for writing stories for me, ladies. You have saved my life, several times over.
It is once again Valentine's Day. I know I have never faced a better one than this year.
I hope yours is too—full of music.
Hot, sizzling, awe-inspiring life.
Will you be my Valentine, sweetness?
February 14th, 2015:
Five years later, and I am still thankful for all of you.
Some of you may have read this last year—or the year before—or the year before that.
So many new people have come into my life since then, I thought I would give it to you here on on my blog, too.
(Originally posted on Fanfiction.net
on February 14th, 2012).
Alive Again, ©AnnaLund2011