Station by Maria Hummel
Here again. I could keep on talking to myself in the dark, but I’m here again. Because the hour is late, and because I’m afraid of writing to people I know. Afraid it’d be too much, afraid of bringing sadness in, afraid of another thread unraveling, making us drift further apart.
Yes, I am going through something, and I need to talk about it. Would it be alright to say it here, I ask myself. Of course, of course. This is still mine. There are strangers. But aren’t you all friends, too? Somehow. If not — well, what pain.
Well, at least in the space that I’m allowed to write this I can pretend that you are listening. Afterwards, I can regret. Afterwards I can tell myself, why did you do that, but then — it has happened, yes? And I’ll be left with my words, not thrown carelessly. I could be prudent, I know that. Anyway — some of it would be excerpts to letters I’ve written the past few days. Some of it is a letter I’m writing now. It’s all jumbled up in my head somehow.
Since December my sister has been steadily losing weight. She’s skinny to begin with, and she has been sleeping late because of school projects, but losing five, ten pounds so easily made us very concerned. And then she started getting fevers every afternoon, every night. And then she found some lumps in her neck. The past few months have been nothing but tests and medicines and more tests.
It was so surreal, to live in fear. When my grandfather died in front of me almost three years ago, I thought it was the worst kind of feeling. But that was nothing compared to this. I felt suspended in air, in time. Helpless. I wanted to do something but there was nothing to do, you know? And the not knowing was worse. Every day that passes without a concrete diagnosis of what is attacking my sister is a real living nightmare. The doctors gave her some medicines to try and decrease the size of the lymph nodes, but in a span of a week, they only grew larger. And now new lymph nodes were found all over her neck, her nape, under her chin, almost to her chest. It was horrible, looking at those test printouts. It was like nothing I’ve ever felt.
The other day, I wrote to friends, jubilant, and said, the results came out. They said it wasn’t cancer. I also said, I can’t find the words as to how this all feels. That whoosh of relief, that nameless thing that seizes your chest, that…that burst of joy knowing that she’s not going to die. And then a brief second of clarity, of wild, wild gratitude.
And then suddenly everything deflating, no, breaking — to know that there’s some other disease, to hear the word ‘rare’, and how quickly you begin to associate it with ‘alien’, ‘unknown’, ‘bad’, ‘unsafe’.
Nevertheless, we were hopeful. We could beat this thing.
Today, after seeing another doctor: we’re not in the clear yet. It might still be lymphoma. And two more possibilities: Kikuchi-Fujimoto’s lymphadenopathy, or lupus.
They got vials and vials of blood. That image would be with me for always.
Some hours, I would retreat to my little office and work. It’s mechanical. It’s soothing. But it also feels weird, you know? Like — how can life go on while a tragedy is taking place? How dare I separate myself from the thick of it? Is this allowed? Will I be forgiven?
I remember Kundera, who wrote “How could she feel nostalgia when he was right in front of her? How can you suffer from the absence of a person who is present?…You can suffer nostalgia in the presence of the beloved if you glimpse a future where the beloved is no more.”
I die a little each day waiting. I punish myself for getting ready. I want you to get well. I’m afraid I’m not as strong as I thought myself to be.
Days you are sick, we get dressed slow,
find our hats, and ride the train.
We pass a junkyard and the bay,
then a dark tunnel, then a dark tunnel.
You lose your hat. I find it. The train
sighs open at Burlingame,
past dark tons of scrap and water.
I carry you down the black steps.
Burlingame is the size of joy:
a race past bakeries, gold rings
in open black cases. I don’t care
who sees my crooked smile
or what erases it, past the bakery,
when you tire. We ride the blades again
beside the crooked bay. You smile.
I hold you like a hole holds light.
We wear our hats and ride the knives.
They cannot fix you. They try and try.
Tunnel! Into the dark open we go.
Days you are sick, we get dressed slow.