. Sometimes I feel unstuck in time, like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five. Sometimes, I escape the illusion of linear time. One moment I’m 34, divorced and disabled, and the next I’m 22, in my favourite little coffee shop in Amsterdam, traveling light and free.
We experience time as an unstoppable, forward-moving force, pushing us along a course determined by the clocks on our cell phones and the lines on our faces. But that’s only time relative to ourselves. In physics, time is spacetime. Time can dilate and make astronauts age slower in space, though they live under the same oppressive clocks as us here on Earth. It’s all relative. If you look from a particular perspective, a lifetime is nothing but a dot. All the grand events, the wailing lows, the love-fuelled highs, the lessons learned, they all seem simultaneous. It’s all perspective.
Perspectively speaking, my life isn’t what it was supposed to be. At 34, I was supposed to have an important career and a loving family. I was supposed to be an unstoppable dynamo, passionate about my work. I was supposed to be the perfect mother, with the perfect balance of parent and friend. I was supposed to have the post-feminist dream of the superwoman, doing it all.
Instead, I live in a basement apartment. I’m about to drop out of university for the second time. I’m divorced. I’ve been collecting a disability pension for almost a decade. I sleep a lot. On a good day, I sleep 10 hours. On a bad day, 20. The longest I’ve slept was 45 hours; that was when I ended up in the ER and found out there was something wrong with my liver.
It’s March 24, 2003. I’m 25 years old. I’m twisting my hair into tight ropes, letting go and raking my fingers through, switching from right to left as, one by one, the people in the chairs lining the stark white walls are called in to one of the small rooms.
I am waiting for my turn.
My turn comes when a young man in a white coat calls out my name. I look up and nod my head as I gather my coat and purse. I look at the man and I see pity and sadness in his eyes and I understand. I know what’s waiting in that tiny room.
I follow him in and make some meaningless chit chat before he opens the file folder on his desk.
“So, you were referred to our clinic from the emergency department, where you presented with an elevated liver panel,” his eyes dart quickly up to mine for a moment and I nod before he looks down and continues. “Do you ever get itchy?”
“Yes, especially when I’m tired.”
“Do you ever feel fatigued?”
“Yes,” I laugh a little too loud. “Especially when I’m itchy!”
He nods and reads my blood test results one more time. I see a flash of sadness contort his face and I understand.
“Well, from the pattern of your blood tests, it looks like you may have an autoimmune liver disease.”
“Primary biliary cirrhosis,” I say. And I nod.
He nods back.
I nod once again and explain, “This is actually my second opinion, sorta. My GP referred me to Mt. Sinai and I had the appointment with them last Tuesday. They’re scheduling a liver biopsy.”
It’s October 7, 2003. I’m 25. I’m at work as a junior accountant at a private investment firm on St. Clair. It’s about 10 o’clock in the morning and I’m on schedule for another coffee pick-me-up. I’m on autopilot, thinking about month-end and how September is still not closed. There is a tray of sweets on the kitchen table. The night before, my boss had a Yom Kippur feast and here were the leftovers. I mindlessly pick some up with a napkin, pop one in my mouth, and head back towards my desk.
I sit down, put my coffee in its place, and pop in another little chocolate ball. And then I feel my throat begin to close as I swell and redden. I begin to panic as I realize I don’t have my epipen. I had not even noticed there was coconut in those carelessly eaten treats.
I get up and begin to walk towards my co-workers offices. I collapse on the floor in front of my desk.
I am about to experience my life as a dot. I am about to step far enough away from myself to see it all simultaneously.
I can’t breathe. I hear blue and feel a crowd around me, below me. I feel an oxygen mask on my face and I see my skirt rumpled up and revealing the crotch of my pantyhose. I can’t breathe in the oxygen so close, so close. And this goes on forever. And it passes in a flash. Twenty-five years mean nothing from outside myself. A hazy, blissful moment passing lazily as a humid summer breeze.
Wham bam! I lose that perspective. I’m back in the body that’s motionless and racing. The body that has pissed its pants. The body that had lost me for a relative moment. I’ve come home.
Home. My mother’s house. It’s 1979, it smells like Christmas, and I’m in my baby walker, fat and happy. I see my Gramma across the room and I start to walk towards her, across this impossibly long living room, getting longer by the moment. I slow and slow to barely a shuffle and I see Gramma laughing with Mom and I want to keep going and laugh with them, but this body won’t cooperate with this mind. I don’t have the words to understand it, so I cry. I wail and I sob and I choke on my primal sadness, my primal disconnect. I’m tethered to this body, this perspective. As far as my mind can travel, it’s always relative to this body’s space.
And I’m sitting in the driveway on my seventh birthday. And I’m sobbing and I’m mourning myself, because I’ve just realized I’ll never be six again.
And I’m 25. It’s June 15, 2004. I’m nodding as I’m listening to the grey doctor across an impossibly long desk as he tells me the results of my liver biopsy. And I’m hearing his words. “Stage four.” “Scarred liver.” “Three to five years until death or transplant.” And I’m nodding and nodding and nodding. And a countdown begins.
And that countdown is meaningless as the gale forces of time blow my body along. Nine years pass and I’m still here, still carried forward by the clock on the wall. But my mind, though tethered to my flesh and bones, travels and sees the dot of my life. I don’t fear death. I don’t fear how high I can fly when that tether is cut. Give me time, slow and steady. Let me float gently along. Let me relive every moment simultaneously.