Dawn came before five am, birds started their songs. I wake up after a couple of hours of a restless sleep, feeling wrecked. I am only a week and a half into my new job, what will my new boss say? Through my employer, I have great health coverage, I hope they won’t think I knew before July. The art of creating more stress, I have to put this out of my mind.
I really want to talk to Elisabeth, my dearest friend and now also colleague. But as she is traveling in Italy, I don’t want to cloud her vacation with my troubles. A couple of summers ago, she was traveling in Italy too. All too well I remember reading her email on Sunday morning, a cry of despair. She was taken into emergency in a hospital on Saturday evening, just to have surgery that same night. After further analysis, it was concluded she had ovary cancer, after which she had more surgery followed by chemotherapy. I remember exactly where I was when she told me what lay ahead of her. I was having my periodic ruling over the elements in our little garden universe: you I shall help to thrive, you weeds shall be removed. In my shorts, dirt all over me, we cried when she told me. I conclude jokingly that she should really stop going to Italy, something bad happens to one of us when she does.
Since the COVID home working kicked in, going to work means descending the stairs. We have a lovely house: the length of the house is almost entirely made out of glass. The windows open up widely, and connect inside and outside into one great living space. In the morning, I have my coffee outside on our big square bench. It is made out of corten steel that colored deep red, with wooden rails on it to sit on. In the middle of it we have planted beautiful grasses. I love sitting there, caressing our cats, marveling at the garden, enjoying the calm before the heat of the day kicks in. Pretty much the entire ground floor of our house is a wide open space, with ample great places to install oneself with a computer or magazine. This morning, I cannot see the beauty we have created. I am exhausted. After one hour behind my desk, I trade it for the couch. But it doesn’t take me long before I decide that laying on my belly with my computer in front of me must be the better option. It doesn’t help, sitting up may be preferable after all. In the end, sitting up straight I fall asleep surrounded by my papers and computer. After a short nap, I feel better, and decide to get another cup of coffee. And then the cycle starts anew. I hope my work has its normal quality. I consistently set the bar high for myself. But today, I can’t be sure I meet my own standards.
I’m happy to see the working day drags towards its end. I put on horse wear and get in the car with Ian. He is all excited about what follows. A three day horse competition with youngsters of his age is a wonderful experience. The whole site turns into a joyful camping village, also housing a couple of hundreds of horses. Riding three days in a row, being submerged into the rhythm of competition is great learning, for both riders and horses. We are not five minutes into our drive when he puts on music and starts to sing and dance in his seat, expecting me to join in as usual. I can’t do it, my spirits have left me. I see him eying me, surprise on his face. My sweet Ian, he doesn’t deserve this. And I break down. All the tears I wouldn’t cry in front of him flood out. He doesn’t understand, of course he doesn’t. Mom is the adult, adults know, adults are strong. “What’s the matter mom, explain to me?” And so I tell him the unfortunate revelation of yesterday, and the fact that prognoses for breast cancer are good. I know he’d prefer a stronger message. But it isn’t the flu. At the age of seventeen, he realizes that too. From a young age, I have preferred telling our children the truth instead of diverting their attention to something else. Life isn’t always a fairy tale, and it arms them for when they will have to fend for themselves. But this is beyond what I thought I would be confronting them with. It doesn’t feel fair.
“I love you mom” Ian says “I’ll be there for you.” “I know you will be” I answer, “I love you too.” I know he won’t be very present: as a teenager he has a zillion plans and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t know how Ian’s asperger brain will process this. I make a mental note to ensure a good communication with him in the coming months. The rest of the ride we are mostly silent. Both of us are relieved to arrive at the stables. Picking up Kesh and all her stuff puts us back into the mood of the competition, and diverts our attention away from the surreal announcement I made earlier. We will get through this, I think. Driving Kesh requires my full attention. I compare it to driving with a fish bowl: let’s not have water and for sure not the fish splashed all over. Kesh is not buckled up, so braking and turning should be slow. On top, Kesh gets all fussy when we don’t respect the peaceful ride she counts on. In the past, despite our efforts, we have had stops to check on her because the trailer was shaking so much, just to see the four legged lady was perfectly fine. She’s very different compared to Daydream, who patiently looks out of his little window. On the way to the competition Ian calls his friends who are already there. It feels good to hear his enthusiasm mount.
Hundreds of guests are arriving on the same afternoon, with horses and their equipment. The village is buzzing with anticipation. Maneuvering the car on the crowded site is always a little nightmare, especially with the trailer attached. We arrive rather late. But we are lucky to find a good spot and the massive unloading begins. We push our way through the crowded corridors in between the boxes, filled with young and healthy people passioned by their sport. I love the atmosphere, but tonight it feels very different. I’m not part of this, I have cancer. When the car is unloaded, Ian will take care of the rest. Relieved, I lock the car, and find a spot on a deserted bench next to a practice arena. I need a moment by myself. The sun is setting on this sunny summer evening. A calm descends over the village, at least this part of it. An acquaintance passes by and we wave, but she sees I’m in no mood to talk and walks on. A lady almost my age starts her practice ride. We are the only two people left, aside from occasionally a few people walking by. Her horse is all power and beauty. The first twenty minutes are warm-up, but then they reach this beautiful harmony. I really enjoy watching them.
Aidan texts me that he and Lise are on their way. We have reserved a table for a late dinner in the restaurant on the site for the four of us. Zane, a good friend of Ian joins in for dinner. He has this perfect ability to blend in. Despite my mental state, him dining with us is not intrusive. Then more friends of Ian join for a drink, including a spoiled fifteen year old brad who as usual takes up all the space. I’m too tired to steer our conversation towards something sensible. Luckily it doesn’t take too long for her to move on to claim other people’s attention. Great food, a glass of chilled white wine, no need for me to talk much, the comfort of Aidan, a warm summer evening. I realize we will continue to enjoy good moments in life. After dinner, we say goodnight to Ian who will stay with his friends. Aidan, Lise and myself drive home together. I will sleep well tonight.