Death comes up a lot in everyday conversation.
I never gave it any thought. Not until this year. Until times I found myself stalling to a halt half-way through a sentence; something I’d have blurted out in the past without a thought. When the prospect of death was unreachable, imaginary. Another planet.
Then in February, briefed with statistics and percentages and doctors’ letters, drilling out terms like ‘high-risk’ and ‘poor-outcome’ leukaemia, I noticed how casually the word trips off the tongue.
In a variety of guises. It quietly peppers social niceties and it softens mutual gripes. It lends itself to diatribes over train delays, complaints about bus queues. Predictable whines and frustrations which clutter up the day.
You learn to censor yourself, erase it from your mental dictionary of set expressions.
I think about it now; the number of times I’ve wanted to say that I’d rather die than –. And then I stop myself.
Is it through some unspoken fear of the black hole? That we breathlessly condense the endless enormity, the hysterical impossibility of the idea in familiar phrases, throwaway jokes, cram it hurriedly into everyday chat? So we’re dying for a cup of tea or a cigarette – cause I’m sick to death of the same shit, or you’d rather kill yourself than see her again.
Like we’re always sidestepping away.
I don’t have any time for God, karma, any metaphysical quid pro quo. Against my better judgement, though, I can’t rid myself of the superstition. The thought that there are thoughts, times, incidents you can’t, you shouldn’t ever talk about.
There is the fear, more than anything, of voicing the fear – of what could happen. It will come true. If I let the words out. I’ll jinx my chances.
When the doctor said I’d need a transplant – that the possibility even of finding a donor, was far from certain (around 60%, he estimated) – I stopped talking. I blanked old friends, ignored phone calls, voicemails, messages. I didn’t respond to the many happy returns on my 23rd birthday. I was afraid of what I might say if I spoke, and what might happen, if I admitted that I was scared. Scared that 23 would be the last.