I caught fire on Saturday 6th February 2010. The first tear I shed was eleven days later when the doctors informed me that the risk of infection was low enough for me to be discharged. The first time I wept in reaction to what happened to me was some time in April, maybe May. I remember this only because I was dating The Neanderthal at the time. I was taking a bath and maybe I looked down and saw the smirking scars, I don’t know, but I started weeping in such a raw, honest way that the grief almost wasn’t painful.
My mother was with me the entire time I was in hospital. She made me eat, she scratched my nose, she wiped me. At night she slept on a rented deckchair next to my bed. She took care of me but she also told me when I was being silly, she laughed at me, she forced me to try and walk on the days I thought I was too tired.
My father walked in on the first morning, saw me, and burst into tears. I felt myself go marble-hard. I said, “Get out.” He was so shocked he stopped crying.
“Get out. I’m not crying; I’m not going to deal with you. Get out and come back when you’ve composed yourself.”
He didn’t come back. I found out later that he spent a week in bed, crying, depressed. I resented him for his weakness until M nuzzled me to a different perspective. Did it ever occur to you that maybe your father cried for you when you couldn’t do it for yourself? And so I softened towards him.
Last week, I noticed that my main scar, the one on my chest, the heart-shaped one that I call my Second Heart, was almost flat in places. It’s been four years since my accident; over time, it’s stopped being one of my definitions and has become part of me instead. But in that moment, I remembered what happened, I remembered what i went through. And I realised that that’s all it was anymore: something that happened to me. And so, I wept. In that beautiful, pure, rare way. I took a photo of it: my face, my Second Heart, and I put it on Facebook. Because not a single person that went through it with me was in Australia, and I healed because of them, I know, I felt their love pulsing through me when I tried to meditate the pain away, and I wanted to share this with them. I know exceptional people and some of them aren’t even my friends.
My father called me a couple of days later and asked me to research plastic surgery in Australia. I refused. Daddy, I’m okay with my scars. They’re part of me. But he persisted. For me, he said. I can’t stop thinking or crying about it. I sighed and agreed. But damn it, this wasn’t about him. And I heard Marco’s voice in my head, reminding me that maybe he’s grieving what is too big for me to grasp, let alone process. But then I got angry.
I am lucky to say that my mother is one of the strongest people I know. I am lucky to know a lot of inspiring, strong people. But strength is a double-egded sword because with strength comes expectation. My mother literally makes herself sick because she takes on too much. Me? I burn out (pun unintended). I stampede through life and then suddenly I’m exhausted and I crash and, more often than not, there’s no one there to catch me. When you insist on being in the driver’s seat all the time, there’s no one to take the wheel when your vision gets blurry.
It has been 45 days since M and I broke up. Life is ripe and exciting. I am well. I let go without looking back. But the past week, he’s been seeping into my thoughts. I scoop them out as quickly as possible but sometimes I’m not fast enough and then a grief swells in me so thick and hard that I literally cannot breathe. It doesn’t last too long. I don’t let it. But I am so fucking sad for myself because I have realised I was wrong. I thought I let go easily because maybe I didn’t love him as much as I thought, when what’s happening is that, like my accident, losing him is too big for me to grasp, let alone process. And if my accident hasn’t caught up with me yet, maybe I can dodge this pain as well.
But tonight, I feel tired. I’m been bulldozing my way ahead and tonight I wouldn’t mind someone else taking the wheel. In a letter M wrote me, he apologised for not being there the way I needed him during my depression. He stood away from me, straight, stoic; it was his way of passing strength to me. But, he admits, it wasn’t what I wanted. “It wasn’t a cuddle and it wasn’t intimacy.”
Two of the greatest lessons I learnt last year were to own my resilience and to have compassion for myself. I don’t mind being in the driver’s seat most of the time. But on nights like this, when I struggle to muster the strength to smile, I become frustrated. And I worry too. Last time I drove for too long without resting, I crashed. I don’t want that to happen again and it’s frustrating to know that all it takes is, every now and then, someone tucking me into bed and stroking my hair until I fall asleep.