Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Happy In A Better Life

Two years ago, I had everything going for me: I graduated from university the same week I celebrated my first wedding anniversary. I got a job in a field I loved and looked forward to starting the next chapter of my life. But right before this new chapter would begin, I got sick. At first I thought I had a sore tail bone, but when I woke up one morning with an oozing, open sore on my back, we quickly realized that something wasn't right.

The next 2 months are hazy for me because I was pumped full of pain meds - "the worst pain you can live through" is what my doctor called it. Two surgeries later, Jason was struggling to work enough to support us both and be home enough to take care of me and deal with the guilt that was eating at him. And they fired him for it (we missed the new compassionate leave laws by a year). We thought that this would be a good time as any to start over, and so we headed to our hometown, Cornwall, where Jason believed I would get better care and we could think about settling down.

We'd wanted to try Cornwall before I fell ill; we thought that it would be a good move real-estate wise but wanted to test the waters first. So maybe we would have ended up there whether I got sick or not. All I can say for sure is that I was heavily drugged when we made the decision, and within 3 little days, our lives were flipped upside down.

After the infection was drained from my back, the danger subsided and I wasn't "sick" anymore, just in an awful lot of pain. What should have been a fairly simple procedure didn't quite turn out that way. My doctor told me to expect 8-12 months of rehab. When you're 22, that seems like eternity. At first I had a nurse at home with me to clean the crater in my back, but soon it was just me and The Hole.

We called it The Hole because that's what it was: the doctors took about 2 golfballs worth of flesh out of my back. The hole had to remain "open" for several months so the scar tissue would fill in from the bottom up. What an agonizing process. As you can imagine, a hole in your back really limits your mobility. Some days I was trapped in bed, unable to move. Eventually the hole filled in, but the pain remained. I was shuffled between doctors a long time.

A year passed. Just a few weeks ago, I had a piece of scar tissue removed that was trying to poke its way through my back (which, believe me, makes sitting a nightmare). Anyhow, I feel fine these days. I expect to live with some pain all my life because the skin is weak, but unless I aggravate it, I have been able to forget about it for the first time in a year and a half. Ahhhh.

But still, The Hole stole a year and a half from my life. That's a long time. It felt even longer in Cornwall. It felt longer in Cornwall because it's a small town where nothing ever happens for the under-60 crowd. It felt longer because we'd left all of our friends behind. It felt longer because the job market is limited and Jason made half of his Ottawa salary. It felt longer because for the majority of the time, I was unable to work at all, and then when I felt up to it, it was pointless for a person of my experience and education to expect to find a job. There were none. There was nothing. But Cornwall felt particularly long because of the family situation.

Cornwall marked the first time in my married life that I was living in the same city as our family. You might think we'd see them more often living within a couple of kilometres of each other, but you'd be wrong. We saw each other maybe once every month or two. This was fine; we were all busy people (except for me; I layed in bed and bid goodbye to my waist).

I made a mistake. I revealed a weakness. I expressed disappointment that my life had derailed. I cried in front of my mother once. And once was all it took. Based on that one little visit, my mother and my 3 sisters decided to take my life in their hands. They diagnosed me: depressed. Severely depressed. They had me on suicide watch.

Of course, I assured them that I was not depressed. I was disappointed. I felt justified in being sad at my helpless situation. But depressed? Not likely. Jason and I still found something to laugh about each and every day. I had a hole in my back, but gosh, that's not everything. We had a lot of good days. Jason smirked at the mere suggestion that I could be depressed, as would most of my friends. I have the perpetual smile. I have more exuberance than most rooms can contain. I have passion where no passion even belongs. My family chose not to see any of this. The chose not to believe me, or Jason. They judged me based on one bad day, and never even visited on any of the good ones.

That summer, in addition to poverty, restlessness, frustration, and The Hole, I had to deal with my family. My mother covertly planned to get me "help". She anticipated my refusal, so she began planning on ways to kidnap me to a doctor's. She tried to involve Jason - asked him whether I talked about wanting to die, even. When Jason told me about this, I almost had a meltdown. My mother may as well have had her hands tightly around my throat, because I couldn't breathe.

My family didn't visit. I didn't receive pleasant phone calls or happy emails. I was simply put under the microscope. They spied on us. If they thought Jason and I had had a fight, this was further proof of my depression. If I slept in, or left the house without makeup, or took more than 3 rings to answer the phone, it was noted and counted against me. This put Jason and I under enormous pressure, and eventually I was so upset about subjecting Jason to my crazy family that I seriously wanted to set him free. He sat me down and said to me: "For better or worse; in sickness and in health." And that's that.

But over the next year, the relationship between myself and my family has been strained at best. I don't know how to forgive their actions. How can I sit and eat dinner with people who would have had me committed given the chance? Had they been motivated by concern, I could deal with that. But they weren't interested in my health or well-being, they just seemed to take pleasure in finding or imagining imperfections in my life.

A few months of this had me going out of my mind. Imagine if your whole family just decided out of the blue that you were crazy. It's enough to make you crazy if you weren't already. Jason tried to reason with them, to no avail. He said explicitly: Jamie is fine. The only thing that is not fine, is you guys. But they believed I was forcing him to say these things, you know, gun to his head and whatnot, and were unconvinced.

Eventually I had to cut the ties to save my sanity. I was at my wit's end. I don't to this day know what I ever did to deserve that kind of persecution. I haven't spoken to my family in almost a year now. I can't handle being judged constantly. I don't know how to be part of a family who will only ever think the worst of me. The only contact I have had with them is from sporadic emails from my sisters, the extent of which usually boils down to "you are a horrible person." Finally, Jason blocked their ip address, preventing them from writing to me anymore. But we knew that whether or not they could write me harassing, malicious emails, they were still keeping tabs on us. We knew that our only option was to move.

And so here we are, away from probing eyes at last. I mourn the loss of my family, but I don't see how the relationship will ever be mended. If they suddenly woke up contrite, I might forgive, but I don't know how to forget. I don't know how this story ends. I do know that my mother wants to love me conditionally. And I know that if it has conditions, it just doesn't feel like love to me. I think I deserve more, but I also know that more is not a choice: take it as it is, a bitter pill to swallow, or take nothing at all. Who can teach me to forget? Who here knows the secret?

I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't live under the disapproving gaze. We picked up, started over once again, away from the countryside, straight to the city, where here, for the first time in a long time, I could take a full, deep breath once again. We were downtown near Queen St. before I finally found my fresh air.

I think I can be happy here.

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