Every day I lie in bed. The TV chatters in the background telling stories I do not even listen to. The curtains swell like the sails of a yacht and the noises of the outside world drift in in a jazz breeze. Car doors slam, children holler and laugh, a mum scolds her child, a lawn mower hums in the distance. The noises of lives lived, so unlike my own it’s almost absurd that they should be so near. And I lie and I half listen, and I drift in and out of sleep.
I barely see friends anymore. Too many invites unaccepted, so the invitations stopped. Too many stairs, and hills and bumpy pathways on the journeys once-upon-a –time-friends take. Mostly I’m alone. Yesterday I spoke to a friend I haven’t seen lately. She told me a dozen stories about people she’s spent time with whilst she was too busy to spend time with me. “We’re going camping this weekend. It was just going to be me and John, but then I invited Tracey, and then Gemma, and Sarah, and now it’s just grown into an event.” I wonder whether it ever occurred to her to invite me. She keeps the tent that I own at her house as she has more room than we do. The deal being that she can use the tent whenever she needs to.
I imagine her in my tent, camping with people I know, whilst I lie in bed. I imagine myself in her body. Camping, playing tennis with a child’s solid plastic racket, making a BBQ, drinking around a campfire. I imagine myself, in her body, in my tent, with people I know. Suddenly, it feels like a theft. This using of my tent, where I’m not invited, with people I know. It’s as if I’ve been cropped out of the photograph of my life. I’ve been side-lined, shouldered out.
This is always dangerous thinking. The desire to scream, shout and demand, “What about me?” becomes almost too much to bear. There are a million things my body cannot do, at the moment camping is certainly one of them, but when the invites stop it becomes something else altogether. Sometimes I imagine I’ve died, and like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, I just haven’t accepted it. I haunt this room and the reason no one talks to me or visits is because they’ve already grieved and moved on. To my friends I’m no longer an “is” but a “was”. I am post-tense. A guy I once knew told me that the reason people forget about the sick is because we remind them of their own mortality.
I want to paint a giant sign to display outside my house, “I’M STILL HERE.” But asserting your existence can go so horribly wrong. When you don’t remind people that you still exist, it’s so much easier for them to convince themselves that your sick body is the reason for your isolation. Making it clear that they’re complicit in your isolation is a risk. The strong will endeavour to try harder to be inclusive, the weak run away before their guilt can catch up with them. Two friends on separate occasions have broken up with me as if we were lovers. “Your problems are so big, I end up feeling guilty for thinking about my own,” said one. “I can’t have a friendship that makes me feel this way,” said another.
Over time you learn that it’s better not to remind people you still exist. It’s less risky. It hurts less to be slowly forgotten than ripped out of someone’s frame of existence. So today I lie quietly at home, imagining my friend, in my tent, living the life I miss, an accomplice in my erasure.