by Pamela Goode
I can’t stop the numbers. They trill down my field of vision — awake, asleep, involved or staring into space, alone or with the ones I love. I’m not even certain if I’m seeing real numbers spewed like actuary tables of my years left on the planet, or colors like I’ll use to paint the remaining days, or simply a disconnect, as if all the trains are leaving the station at once and I can’t read the numbers fast enough to know which handle to grab for hoisting myself onto this ride.
Even though I love a metaphor, and this one certainly fits, I hate the numbers. I’m not given to panic attacks, but even in the heart of my quiet moments, I find myself not breathing, or breathing too much, or stopped in my tracks wondering how to breathe, and of course I blame this all on the numbers.
I am awash with numbers. Statistics, probabilities, centimeters, directions, weights and measurements, years, months, days, recovery times, usable hours in a day, fractions for dividing available time into necessary tasks, blueprints for the time I have left. I’m not a numbers girl, and I want them to go away.
As days go, I’ve been a little better lately — more time with family and a few friends, more emails answered and a more manageable pile of things left undone. And I’ve been a little worse — more in need of two bodies that will pin me between them on the sofa in the evenings, laughing at nothing and making sure I stay upright and intact. For every bit of normal-ness I wear in a day, I carry three times the weight of embryonic panic.
And so I stare a lot more now, looking for that steady place in my soul that keeps me still. Trying to find the balance in breath, which is shockingly difficult when you’re off kilter. Trying to live the truth that what’s “important” will vary on a daily (hourly) basis, and that it doesn’t matter if others don’t understand.
In a former life a coworker said, “Every time I look over, she’s just staring out the window,” and another said, “She’s not just staring, she’s designing — that’s how they do it.” And I hope (and believe, in a very small way just now) that I’m designing. I hope that my staring and breathing is giving (new) life to the balance of my days. I hope soon the numbers will stop and the design will begin to make sense in a way that I can recognize and welcome and begin to play with like fingerpaints, when everything is possible and there are no lines or graphs to fit into.
But for now, there are still the running, screaming numbers. Surgery in nine days. Anticipated one week recovery. Anticipated three to four weeks healing. Hoped-for one week balloon radiation; otherwise five – seven weeks of daily radiation. Five years (1,825 days) taking an estrogen-sucking drug (“If you want to live,” said doctor #1) or (“Your choice,” said doctor #2).
And Poof! Over. Done with. On with your life.
But I will never be the same. And it will take a lot of staring and holding and breathing to get me to the next place.