My vision is precision focused and the air outside the car window holds an abnormal clarity. Adele through the Jeep speakers is unusually razor sharp and I inhale tiny details on the road that normally float by unnoticed. There are six glint-eyed crows on the telephone wire in front of the grey cement warehouse, the colour of the orange sunset smear in the sky past the shipyard is the exact colour of the inside of a peach of the Okanagan orchard we visited in 1989. My veins pulsate so loudly I can feel the blood and the din of the Jeep engine roars, nearly unbearable, in my ears.
This heightened clarity, this panicked awareness, is how I know things are dire.
I glance at my passenger: his eyes are closed and his dark hair is standing up in uncharacteristic cowlicks, slightly matted. His lips are parted and dry and his skin is ashen.
I put my fingers on his leg, feel clamminess through his pants and trace a circle.
“You’re going to be OK,”I whisper and my voice sounds like a strangled animal. “They are going to give you some fluids and some medication and you are going to be just fine.”
He nods but I can tell he doesn’t totally believe me and the tiny lines in his eyelids flicker, flatten. I bite my lip and taste pennies and refuse to accommodate the tears.
Corey got sick on Christmas Eve, and I chalked it up to unusually long work hours, hard training at the gym, the stress of the holidays and incoming parents and an impending baby and the fact that we just refinanced our home. I was sick too, a hacking cough and a listless tiredness that couldn’t be alleviated with sleep.
But then I got better and he didn’t, even after five days of rest and fluids and missing workouts at the gym: a fate worse than death for him, normally.
I brought him cold wash cloths and toasted English muffins with peanut butter and washed my hands with extra vigour. I thanked the Universe silently that my son was visiting relatives in Calgary this week, that he was spared the germs in our home that were quickly becoming blacker, more ominous.
On the sixth day of his illness, we went to the doctor and got a prescription for a suspected sinus infection. On the seventh day his shakes became violent and his skin grey. I kissed his temple, “Are you feeling better baby?” and the only response was the fire in my lips, searing and slick from the heat of his skin.
This is about when I packed the blanket, the water bottle, the vomit bucket and his healthcare card and traced circles on his knee while Adele crooned stingingly clearly for someone like you.
The emergency room is packed: snowboarders leaving melted grey footprints, old ladies coughing into acrylic sweater sleeves, babies wailing into the hair of wide-eyed new moms. The triage nurses admitted us immediately though, eyeing Corey’s shivering greyness, my ripe basketball belly. There are whispers about fluid drips and x-rays, and as my husband retches into the wrinkled garbage in the neon-lit hospital foyer.
I married my soulmate this year, the man I was positive didn’t exist, and we are expecting a baby boy. We have been blithely riding this tidal wave of joy and careless expectancy that our life is just going to continue on as we know it.
But I am looking at him now, his back heaving and his eyes screwed up in violent pain. Voices, tinny, rise around me like vapour and the beeps of the emergency room medical equipment are overwhelming as I taste salt.
I realize with the kind of startling clarity that only emerges in the company of terror: this is all so fragile; this can all be stripped at any second. We have nothing but this very moment. Career, money, exercise, ambition, to-do-lists: they all fall away, totally useless, if you don’t have your health. I know this of course, it’s not news, but at this moment, with my husband so very sick beside me, I realize it tangibly, with full force clarity.
This moment will shape my hope for 2012: that I will life each day full of understanding that all I have is this very moment, and that I am doing all I can to exploit it to soaring, billowing heights.
Corey was diagnosed with pneumonia: something that people die from, something that’s very treatable with antibiotics. He is going to be weak for several more weeks, but it’s likely that he’s not going to die in my passenger seat anytime soon.
My first days of 2012 will be spent filling his water bottle, kissing his sticky hair, and sanitizing my hands obsessively to protect the tiny life inside me. We’re starting this year off grateful that he’s all right and intensely hopeful for the future.
This moment, this healthy one you have here, is the only thing you can count on. Grab it, run with it, and see how tightly you can focus even in the absence of fear and threat of loss. Understand that this could be your only moment, and that you need to seize it and make it count.
I’ll be right there, too: seizing, acknowledging, grasping and running with you.