“My worst nightmare is for Earth to be hit by a meteorite”
“Umm, you’re forgetting tsunamis”
“Actually, what about the bit in Terminator 2 with the nuclear blast and Sarah Connor is turned into a dusty skeleton?”
My friend Anna and I like to discuss the most harrowing films we have seen and which would hypothetically be the worst way to die. The plots must include a drawn out death that you cannot escape because Mother Nature is coming for you. Favourites on our list include Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2012, an assault of end-of-the-world porn.
Really, I hate these films. I hate that I am sat thinking about what would I do if I was on a beach with my Dad with a tsunami in the distance and there’s no point in running because you are dead so you need to say something REALLY poignant because it’s going to be the last thing you say. I don’t want to be scared like that in my spare time especially when at the moment, I seem to feel like that most days.
It reminds me of being told last year that Greg had cancer and then a few days later that the disease was inoperable and there was nothing they could do. After 37 years, can you really feel a new emotion? I realised I had never truly felt pure terror before. The feeling is physical and heavy, sitting somewhere between the chest and the stomach. It’s metallic, like you have drunk mercury or had coins in your mouth. It morphs your chemistry into something unrecognisable.
I had felt something similar before but years ago; one of my best friend’s Neil died when we were 32. It was a weird, freakish thing that happened the day after he had emailed me for my address to send an invitation for his wedding. He had been playing basketball and hurt his ankle, an unknown blood clot forming and taking a few weeks to rise up to his heart to kill him. He was just gone. I can remember the feel of his coat when we hugged the last time I saw him, the leather was cold and my fingertips couldn’t quite touch each other around his body.
At his funeral, I had to hide in a bush before getting to the church because I was so hysterical, much more hysterical than any of his family I could see greeting people quietly outside. Even in my state, I knew there was a hierarchy of grief to respect. I was so sad about Neil but also terrified for myself; the whole world had shifted away from what I understood. It felt like someone showing you a door to a secret room in the house you grew up in that had been there all along.
I thought I understood my new companion Terror only to meet him in yet another guise; in the past month, two of my best friend’s have been told they may have cancer. Clare went for a routine eye check up to be told there was abnormalities that usually indicated a brain tumour and was sent for an emergency scan that day. A world altered. Chloe chipped a tooth and let her partner have a look. He works in dentistry and his silence at a painless white mass at the back of her mouth warranted fast flowing fear.
They told me on different days but in the same way, through text message. To others who haven’t experienced trauma, it seems like a distinctly modern and odd way to disclose seismic news but in practice, it is the perfect medium – it’s how we told everyone that Greg had stage 4 cancer. The only people I phoned were my family; the cries and screams from that conversation haunt me. No, I get it. I couldn’t have absorbed people’s reactions to my news much as I would not have wanted my friends to see my reaction of fear, self-pity and anger at theirs.
Clare told me that when she is told she may have a brain tumour, the terror she felt changed her entire life changed in a heartbeat. Her thoughts were immediately of her young children and the fire of her maternal need to be here to protect them. I know this ferociousness so well but to hear it from the other side, the side where you as the mother are in danger, it taps into a new pain that I hadn’t experienced.
So here it comes. Watching my own tsunami. It is the secret of a realisation I had months ago. For all of my honest talk, it’s something I have actively pushed down because I’m not prepared to face it. As with all the best realisations, it came from nowhere, in a mundane moment picking up some shoes or walking down the stairs. It was the realisation this is never going to end. The heartache and trauma and terror of illness and ultimately death will never go away because it’s coming for all of us. In fact, it is the only thing I can guarantee happening in my future. Sometimes in the hurricane of our new normal, I think if we can just get to the elusive ‘there’ then everything will be manageable, everything will just be ok again. The realisation is there is no ‘there’, there is no end point where we can all relax. Maybe once you have seen through the door to the other secret room in your house, you can’t ‘unsee’ it. My family will get ill. My friends will die. None of this feels like an abstract concept anymore but a certainty.
This all sounds like the worst news ever or a bit like the lyrics to a Cure song. It sounds it because we cannot grasp the idea of being ill or dying until we see it up close, in ourselves or in the people we love. It is painful in the most fundamental way of being human; that for all our desire for control, we ultimately have very little. There is a ray of sunshine though; Mother Nature takes but also gives in abundance. To have seen this means to see the mundane as the holy. I can’t outrun the tsunami so I need to find ways to make the most of all the moments in between the waves. It’s just that sometimes the wait can hurt more than the blow.