Editor’s Notebook, Features and Occasionals

Editor’s Notebook: March 2013

By Greta Belanger deJong

I’ve always accepted good health as a given, and I didn’t understand why some people didn’t have it. I recall thinking: Why do grownups complain about their bodies so much? The excuses of age. I also promised myself to never become one of those people obsessed with their gall bladder, unable to carry on a conversation without including it, like a beloved child.

I am coming to realize, however, that what sounded like complaining was, in large part, astonishment. “How could this be happening to me?” There is a panic that the pain and constriction will never go away. Then the tedium sets in. And the self-limiting. And a certain dismay at having lost some vital thing that was previously so little valued.

For a few months, now, that is the person I’ve been, with a ghost pain that migrates from the palm of my hand to my shoulder blades. Frozen shoulder, some say. No structural damage. It just takes time. I talk about it—because I am amazed; my body has always felt like something I controlled. It is, I’ll admit, what most of my life I’ve identified as me. It—I—had resilience. Since this most peculiar development, I’ve had friends unzip me in the car as they delivered me home from a party; ask for help when stuck in the tunnel of a long-sleeved turtleneck; collapsed crying and laughing from a well-intended but misplaced hug.

“This is awful!” I wail (though only in my head), “Why is this happening to me?” Then, if I see someone in a wheel chair, or even feel the twinge of a UTI, I start bargaining with whomever doles out karmic fate: Really, this is okay; I can handle this pain. No big deal.

I think of all the amazing things my body can still do. Things I take for granted. I try to be conscious, to say thank you. But really, now, may I have my right arm back please? I will be less judgmental of old people, I promise.

Last month I mentioned that my beautiful Xenon was failing. He was the most handsome cat ever, everyone agrees. If I worked at my desk too late, he would fetch me with stern meowls. Whenever I typed or wrote in bed, he would crawl onto my lap (or keyboard). Then, primly, he would retire to his pink heart-shaped pillow for a tidy sleep. He was princely.

He guarded the hens, as best he could, and was mighty with any rodent. He was pals with Bugsy, the cat across the street. He had a crush on a dog named Suki. He was a gift from the Laird family four years ago. He had a soldier’s air about him, and loved me with dignity. I cherished him.

Monday, February 19, 3:40pm. We were together, in the sun, and his eyes were open, tracking me, and lapping eye droppers of water. I’d overcome the insult of his pending departure. It felt like he was ready; why?—that’s not my business. Some cats run away. Others, like Xenon, conjure a disease, saying goodbye over time; then they look you in the eye, give you their blessing, and evaporate, leaving only a carcass. It is very odd.

This article was originally published on March 1, 2013.