The drags of this e-cig, my latest probably-useless attempt to quit, sound dreadfully a lot like that respirator that you must have heard in intensive care. There are so many little aspects of everyday life that take me back to things you must have heard, felt, smelled, searched, lost. I was there, yet I wasn’t.
You were far when I found out, but not so far that you couldn’t be there after 23 hours. “I don’t know, I don’t know what it is. They say there’s a shadow on my brain and they’re keeping me here.” Crying was all I could see. Crying on my face, crying on that solid, staunch, self-made man, dad; crying on her, still unaware, my mum. “I need you.”
You were supposed to leave for a festival in Croatia a few days after my text: “I need you.” That’s all it took for you to book a flight.
And then you were there, and you didn’t leave my side. You see, I experience little things every day that make me think of what I missed. Having a brain tumor, a brain surgery, a palsy to half your face, makes it all about you. The food, the time and spaces, the words, everything becomes about you. That hospital room is about you, everyone is there to try and take away even the smallest part of your pain.
Everyone wants to take it over and not give it back, and bless them, because they don’t know that’s not going to happen. The abyss that opens inside of your heart, the feeling of smoking your last cigarette before going into surgery for 12 hours: that’s the most ineffable, deeply unsettling feeling I will probably ever experience. And again, it was all about me. And I didn’t realize, if not after months, that it really wasn’t.
I now realize that brain tumor was more yours than it was mine. I realize you took it on you. Those smiles every morning, with the deepest green eyes I will ever see. Singing to the same song every day with my brother, to cheer me up, but mostly to cheer yourselves up. The time spent with a family whose language you didn’t speak, yet they all ended up loving you. Because you were more than words, you were hugs and a loud laughter and a good eater: none of that could have made my Italian family happier.
I missed this: caught up in my own pain, my personal battle between wanting to be alone and give up and feeling obliged to spend time with everyone and fight, I missed you grow up. You were growing up right in front of my eyes, and I did not see it. I did not see you fall to your knees when you walked into that intensive care room and saw me, with all sorts of cables, the feeder, that respirator. I did not see your pain in the months to come, because it was still all about me and my recovery.
And now that you are gone, I really wish I had.