I made two new year’s resolutions this January. 1) Read more (oh who am I kidding – read at all). 2) Make more of an effort to phone my friends. The first one I’ve managed, shocking everyone who knows me by finishing a novel in the record time of one month. Yeah, yeah – I know most people can read a book in the space of a day’s loo visits, but for me, finishing a book within 30 days of picking it up is something of an achievement. The daft thing is, I generally write a lot faster than I read. Which probably has a lot to do with my other resolution, too.
See, writing is just my communication of choice. I’d always rather text than speak on the phone. Hell, I’d rather write twelve-page letters than speak on the phone. We had a leak at work recently, during which my phone was out of action, and I made absolutely no attempt to get it reconnected, always preferring to do my business on email. I’m just better at writing than I am at talking, is all. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve maintained that I’m far more impressive in writing than I am in person. That’s not me being self-deprecating; that’s just the truth.
So the second of my resolutions was always going to be a harder one to accomplish. And, predictably, I’ve failed spectacularly. I re-evaluated my promises to myself at the end of January, slapping myself on the wrist that I’d not made even the slightest attempt to speak to any of my mates. ‘I’ll do better in February,’ I told myself. But – totally aside from the fact that, for me, anything before March is like anything before 8am – February, thus far, has sucked ass. And when things suck ass, I’m not just phone-phobic, but pretty-much-any-kind-of-contact-phobic, too. So my failure in sticking to resolution #2 isn’t down to my shitness with telecommunications, but simply shitness itself.
The month began with a hospital-hangover. Having been back to the oncology clinic for the usual checks and tests and reassurances, thereafter followed the usual memories and worries and irrational fears that come with revisiting the site of my cancer treatment. I’d been having headaches, too, and my Bullshit-reminder swiftly had me quietly convinced that they were because of a brain tumour. (In fact, I just needed glasses.) I detest the fact that The Bullshit has turned me into such a hypochondriac, and thus spent a few days moping about my paranoia.
And then a phonecall came. ‘I don’t know how to tell you this,’ said Mum.
‘Oh fuck,’ I thought. ‘Someone’s died. Someone’s lost their job. Someone’s ill.’
I was bang on the money with the latter.
Out of fucking nowhere.
And ain't that just The Bullshit’s way?
My immediate reaction, I’m sorry to admit, was pretty selfish. What does this mean for me? How do I reason with this? Will I cope? How will Dad cope? First his daughter, now his sister – how does a man deal with that? But then, almost instantly, tears fell as I had a sudden vision of my auntie and uncle, gripping onto their kitchen worktops as they tried to process the news they’d just been given. And, fuck, it hurt. Not an emotional hurt, like some wanky pop lyric, but a physical hurt – the kind of dread-filled, sickly, panicked pain that spreads across your chest like it’s been pummelled with a toxic fist. The same pain I hadn’t felt until P and I first tried to deal with the same news ourselves. And then it wasn’t about me any more. It was about my auntie, and what all of this meant for her.
And then I was angry. ‘Just FUCK OFF!’ I shouted, hoping Mum understood that the insult wasn’t directed at her, but at The Bullshit. I wanted to fight it – again, not emotionally, but physically. I wanted to offer it out in front of the school gates. I wanted to smack it clean in the face and cut its eyebrow with my cocktail ring. I wanted to push it against a wall with infuriated arms like they do in the soaps, as though it were some offensive, rowdy drinker in the Queen Vic. (‘Jast FAHK ORF!’)
This time, The Bullshit wasn’t just a tumour inside of me – or inside of anyone else. Now, it had taken on a tangible personality of evil and of spite and of disrespect. And I wanted to roll up my sleeves and brutally rip it apart like a lion tearing into a zebra. I wanted to viciously torture and maim and murder it for having the defiant, malicious, despicable gall to trespass on my family’s lovely world. Again. A-fucking-gain.
You might have subconsciously put That News down to us being ‘one of those families’ with the kind of hereditary genes that mean we’ve had to deal with cancer before. But we haven’t. This isn’t a heritage of illness that we’ve had several branches of a family tree to get used to. We are a family – a lovely, normal family – who, prior to my diagnosis, knew blissfully little about The Bullshit. And since that diagnosis, we’ve just about got our heads around reasoning with the freak chance of it having happened to me. But now this?
So no, we are not ‘one of those families’.
By and large, we’re a healthy family. A lovely, normal, healthy family.
And yet this bastard thing seems intent on picking on us.
And we’ve had enough.