Sunday, February 21, 2010
Coming to Terms
(Somewhere over Nevada, 2010)
My last eight days had been spent in sheer exhilaration. Though the last year has been admittedly remarkable in regards to just about every aspect of my life, the previous week still would probably win out for the largest amount of concentrated overall fun. I had been in New York City at dance parties, visited long desired museums, and met my artistic and musical heroes who volunteered their cell phone numbers. I spent time with dear friends, experienced more than my fair share of laughter and drunken hours, and above all, engaged in a much needed lack of responsibility. This made what my brother affectionately refers to as the "Year of Mark 2.0" seem to be an almost real and tangible thing. So here I was, not twenty four hours after returning to Santa Maria and reality, with an eighteen year old girl whose doctors give at most five years to live, crying in my arms on my faded second-hand couch while I attempted to answer her unanswerable questions about the fairness of life.
I've only known Jenna for a little over three months, but in that time she has shown me her joy, passion, and sweetness while never holding back the honesty of her flaws, fears, and regrettable past deeds. We spent a fun afternoon catching up and sharing photos, taking in a late lunch and frozen yogurt. We joked, discussed future plans, just hung out. It was nice. Having suffered with her illness for most of her life, she is strong and brave in a way most people will never have to experience until they are frail and grey. On this day however, she either finally felt comfortable enough with me or was too emotionally tired to contain her tears anymore.
Personally, I've almost completely suppressed my ability to cry in any real world setting. It takes a corny or courageous plot point of some artificial entertainment source to finally let me allow myself the five second burst of tears I manage to eek out from time to time. After such an emotionally charged previous week, on the plane ride back I could sense a good fifteen second cry coming soon. With Jenna in my arms I really wanted to cry, especially in those long moments of silence when the only sound in the room was her quiet sobbing muffled by my t-shirt and the bumping old-school jams of low-riders cruising by. But I didn't and still haven't.
I supposed I could talk at length about her horrific personal ordeals with men, the boxes of mandatory pills doctors have prescribed, her past experiences living in a wheel chair and now with the occasional use of a cane. There is too much to tell and I've put off writing about it for weeks. I want to share these stories, show the life that she has given me permission to display, but frankly, I'm not yet ready for all that. It is still too new to me and I don't yet know how to feel about it. Maybe these paragraphs are the first steps on that road.
Jenna and I have many plans for the future, both creatively and socially, for as long as her health holds up. I want to show her things that I think she might enjoy or find important. The questions she's asked about life being fair, about the how's and why's of things, can only be answered with the same directness my parents thankfully gave me: That's just the way it is. Life isn't fair, bad things happen to good people, and things might not ever get better. All we can do is live for the moment, take as much pleasure in life as possible without hurting others in the process, and hope that the memories we leave behind give comfort in some way to others when we're gone. The hardest thing for me is that I want to convince her that these hard lessons get easier to accept as time goes by, but sadly she doesn't have the amount of time it takes to come to terms with all of it, and that's the most unfair thing of all.
The doctors say her physiology is that of someone in their sixties, and at the rate she's going she will have a fatal heart-attack before the age of twenty-three. Doctors have been wrong before. Unfortunately, no amount of prayer, luck, homeopathy or goodwill can make a difference in how to deal with such a situation the way acceptance can. Just thinking about Jenna can keep me up at night, filling me with sadness, hope, anger, regret, and joy. In the brief time I've known her I already feel changed, and for that I can't thank her enough. Maybe some day all of this will make sense, but the real tragedy is that deep down I know it never, ever will.