Since you’ve been sick, I’ve felt guilty for laughing. It’s weird, you know? I’ll hear something funny and I’ll laugh, or I’ll make a joke, and suddenly I remember I shouldn’t be joking, I shouldn’t be laughing. That you’re ill, and that you might not get better, and here I am, smiling and laughing like everything’s fine even though it’s not.
You’d want me to laugh, though. You tell me to laugh, so I do.
I’ll walk around in a sort of half-life, my body in one world, my mind in another. I don’t know where my heart is. Sometimes I feel like it’s with you—it is always with you, really—but sometimes I feel like it’s just gone. I wonder if other people know, if they can tell. They have to, don’t they? My body feels condemned, even though I’m not the one who is sick, even though it’s you who has to endure the chemicals and the pain and the sad, sympathetic smiles. But I feel guilty that I am well and you are not, and I feel worse still that I can’t trade places with you. I would in a heartbeat. No questions asked. You know that, don’t you?
And I’ll listen half-heartedly at what the doctor has to say, taking in every fifth word, which is selfish, I know, but maybe if I listen to him less, what he says will be less true. This is horrible bargaining on my part. This is childish and ignorant and naive, but sometimes I’m standing there under the clinical, fluorescent lights and pretending like I’m far away is the only thing that keeps me from being weak. Because I feel badly when I’m weak. I want to be there for you, but I also want to be miles away. And then I feel badly that I get to escape and you cannot.
On the nights I’m not with you, I spend half my time poring through the internet, reading the stories of those who have survived, those who are still weathering through their own private hells, and those who have been where I am now. On the sidelines. We’re always on the sidelines, though we want to fight the battles, too. Reading other people’s stories makes me feel less alone sometimes. I want to print out some of the ones I find, the good ones, the happy endings and tell you that you’ll be fine. See my proof? I’ll say. But you’ve already sworn me off of giving you false hope. I resent a little you for that. I know I shouldn’t, but God, it’s the only thing keeping me afloat.
The other half of the time, I’ll end up bargaining with God, with any god, and it’s in those moments when I’m half out of my mind with prayer that I feel most alone. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, I know. I know I should find solace there, that’s what everyone says. But I don’t. Maybe it will come to me some day.
I haven’t been drinking as much. You’d be proud of me for that. But as much as I want to make you proud, I know that if I start, I won’t stop. So I don’t start. Because I’m scared. And I know you are, too. I know you’re scared of everything, but you won’t tell me that, just like I won’t tell you, either.
It shouldn’t be about me, me, me. It should be about you.
And it is, really. And that’s how I want it to be. But I spend my days keeping active, doing things for you, wanting your life to be easier, because your life should be easier and this isn’t fair. Nothing is fair. That’s life isn’t it? You keep telling me that, and I want to tell you to shut up, that you don’t know what you’re talking about, that it should be fair to you. But I can’t. I hate myself for even thinking it, because I know you’re right and I hate to be argumentative and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
And I spend my time trying to be healthy. Trying to be well. I run until I can’t run anymore. I eat my vegetables. I know I’m not getting enough sleep, but I’m trying, really. Not because I’m scared of getting sick myself, but because maybe, if I’m well enough, I can be well for the two of us. If I could give you my health, I would in a heartbeat. I would give you my strength and my body. And so I try to stay healthy for you, as if I could save you in some way. Maybe I could.
It’s what I hold onto when you’re holding onto me.