I’ve questioned my time on this earth on three occasions…
1. When my father in law died.
2. When my first child was born.
3. When they told me I had cancer.
I’d lost loved ones before my father in law passed, but it hadn’t been the same. I lost a cousin when we were thirteen, and that was as shocking as it was sad, but at that age I didn’t process things the way I do now. At thirteen you still think you’re invincible, despite being shaken like that. When my father in law died, I was twenty-three. He was forty-one. We got a call in the break of day from his wife letting us know he had stopped breathing in the middle of the night. I remember thinking how unfair it was. I remember wanting to relieve my then fiancé’s pain and feeling helpless because I couldn’t. Most of all I remember the reality that I too would someday die finally sinking in. When the same thing happened with my own father nine months later, I was completely shaken. I thought, “what the hell is the point, anyway?” I even told my fiancé that if he wanted to get married we might as well elope, because really, what was the point of spending all that money on a wedding and then dying a month later? (Yes, I really said that).
Then I had my first kid and I was so thrilled to have the little sucker out of my belly and in my arms, partly because I thought pregnancy was the strangest thing ever. Half of the time I could have sworn there was an alien inside of me. The entire thing weirded me out. Then I held him in my arms that first time and thought, “Holy shit. I really had a real life human inside of me all that time?” shortly after I thought, “Holy shit. I’m going to raise a human?!” I don’t know why those thoughts didn’t occur to me while I was pregnant or even before I got to that point. I knew I wanted kids and I felt lucky to be given the chance to have one, I guess. But kids are a good idea when you don’t have them. They’re a good idea when you know what they entail without actually having to put in the work. One sleepless night, as I rocked him and contemplated ways to shut him up because he was driving me mental, I realized that I was breeding life. A life that would grow up and have a mind of its own and make decisions of his own. That’s when I got worried. What if I was taken from him before I got a chance to steer him the right way?
Lastly, I know people equate cancer to death, but we equate EVERYTHING to death. Or at least I did. You use Splenda? You’re gonna die! You eat red meat? DEAD! You eat hotdogs? Omg you are way past dead. So, they say I have cancer and I ALMOST thought “I’m going to die.” I WAS SO CLOSE. SOOOOO CLOSE. The thought was forming in my mind right before I told it, along with my diagnosed cancer, to go fuck itself. Not because I choose when I die. I’m not stupid enough to think that. Hell, every time I get on an airplane I think I’m going to take my last breath. Then I tell myself, really quickly, that I’m not going to die before going to *whatever my destination is*.
The thing is, by the time I heard the words I was already sick of planning out all my possible forms of death. I had– driving into a canal because I didn’t see it since it was so dark outside, and not being able to get out of my car (I have figured out how I would get myself and my kids out of the car, by the way. I even bought a glass breaker… you guys, I’m insane. Anyway, if you need advise on how to get out let me know. Obviously with my luck, if this ever happens I’ll be the first to freak out and meet my doom). Getting eaten by a shark is another possibility. Or an alligator. I live in Miami so both things seem possible. I just stay away from both salt and fresh water. You can never be too safe. Car accident… eh, I try not to think about that one. Usually I’m too busy telling everybody on the road what a moron they are so I don’t have time for accidents. Then there was the big one, the REAL one, the one that really could (still can) take me… cancer. Like a car accident, cancer is just too… real, so I stayed away. I told myself I wasn’t going to die because if I did, who would take care of my kids? I mean, their dad? Really? I just can’t imagine that happening.
My husband is an amazing father and I don’t doubt his abilities to watch them when I can’t, but he’s not a mother. Being their mom is my job, and I take that job seriously. So I figured, okay, Time, you’ve got me. I’ll play your game. I’ll surrender to you, not because I want to, but because I am no match for you. And so, I stopped living in my world of “how am I going to die and what will I do to prevent it?” I’m not Final Destination. I know I can’t rewrite fate. So when the cancer came, I surrendered, not to it, because I fought that as hard as I could, but to the idea that yes, it could kill me. I made peace with that part. I had to. In order to give life my best shot I had to stop thinking about death. When I did, I realized that it’s not death that I’m afraid of. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid to actually die. It’s leaving the people I love behind that I don’t like. That idea kills me because I’ve been left behind so many times. I know that pain. I feel it every day. I guess I’ll never get over that, even if I live to be 100. It’s the selfish part of me. Or maybe it’s me being selfless. I can’t tell anymore. What I know is that this year, this experience, has taught me to live as best I can. It taught me to take time to do me. It taught me that all those days I went to get my nails done or my hair dyed or whatever it was I felt guilt over were worth it because we do need to take time for ourselves. It taught me that letting my kids stay up late on weekends isn’t the end of the world and that taking them off the schedule they’d been on since they were born was okay.
I don’t think about death anymore. I still joke about it, because I always have, but even my death jokes are lighter. I know that because my husband, instead of reprimanding me about my “depressing humor”, rolls his eyes and chuckles now. I guess I don’t think about it because I realized, finally, that time really is precious. People say that what we all have in common is that we’re all born and die the same way– alone, but that’s not true. We’re born into something. We’re all placed in somebody’s arms that day. Sometimes they’re the wrong arms, but they’re somebody’s. We can only hope we don’t die alone, but even if we do, it’s what we do with the time in between our births and our deaths that matters. Time is the one thing we all have in common. We all use it differently, but we’re all just as poor when it comes to it. 2015 is approaching and I never make goals for myself because they don’t really work for me, but if I have to choose one it would be to use my time here as wisely as I can, because I did dodge a bullet this past year, and my journey isn’t over, but it looks a little brighter because this time I’m holding up the light.