Refined

The days are long and the years are short.
   — from "Long Days" at Isa, Leukemia, Life

I have been thinking lately about how our life was at this time in 2007. The Palinode had a severely herniated disk between his L4 and L5, was relying on Dilaudid just to roll out of bed in the morning, and stood bent at a right angle, his upper body perpendicular to the ground, when he walked. He leaned heavily on a cheap cane we picked up at a drug store.

A few months earlier, I had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, and I had a total laparoscopic hysterectomy on July 3rd. I can't be certain, but I'm sure they used a MixMaster in there, because I spent weeks and weeks in pain that double-dosing ibuprofen and codeine could barely touch.

Our bed was moved into the living room so that we could both walk a straight line to the bathroom and take in the summer sun through the bay window. I regularly joked that we lived like we were 85 but secretly found our state of affairs pathetic and unreasonable.

The memory that keeps coming back to me is of me standing in the kitchen and reaching for a glass in the cupboard. The Palinode was thirsty but too bent to be able to reach it for himself, despite their being kept on the first shelf. I stood there for several minutes, shielding my tears from his line of vision with a cupboard door.

I hated that he could not reach the cups. I hated that it hurt me to get one for him. I hated seeing the pained grimace that had become a more and more permanent fixture on his face. I hated that the visibility of his injury meant that it was the only thing anybody every talked to me about anymore when they weren't asking about my cancer. I wanted to be able to make the Palinode straight and strong again. I wanted to be able to take a crap without screaming for Jesus. I wanted to smooth the furrows from his brow and be able to hold him without making him wince. I wanted the first things I reached for in my bedside table not to be surgical tape and morphine derivatives.

I look at us now two years later, and I am amazed at how things have changed. I knew then that our respective conditions were not permanent and that we would once again live like the thirty-somethings we really were, but too often the small things overwhelmed me: the glasses of water, the prescriptions to fill, the boredom of long hours when I lacked the concentration to read but was unable to sleep. Part of me felt like we would hang in that tedious and agonizing stasis forever, that we had already been there forever. In my weaker moments, I believed we were marked for tragedy.

And now we are here. We are cancer free and standing tall. One year after we had been fixed up by several doctors and teams of nurses, I think we were still in recovery from those many months we lived as mock 85-year-olds, but now that we are reaching our series of two-year anniversaries marking our recoveries, I realize how lucky I am to have found such a person with which to live this life.

When life pretty much dragged us out back and took its brass knuckles to us, we took care of each other. We didn't fight when the strain of pain and loss lapped us around the apartment. We were as gentle as we could manage through all our concerns. I look back and think What if we'd lost one of us?, and I look in his eyes now and know how much of a gift we've been given to still be here together. There is a softness around his edges when he looks at me, a knowing about me, and I can only hope my own face lays bare the same.

Palinode at the Beetroot 3

Two years ago today, I lost my uterus to some cells gone wrong. Today, as the past telescopes away into infinity, I am finally able to see how free from disabilizing pain, how alive we are. I may have lost a major organ, but I am whole, and he may have a leg still recovering sensation with each new bit of nerve regrowth, but he is whole.

There should be a name for this, some word for the pairs of us that manage to come through the fire refined, because I am beginning to think that the legacy of those two years is no longer a roving sadness and an isolation of spirit. There has been a quiet refinement, the bittersweet gift of trials by fire, and we are whole.