Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Life, uncensored

From time to time, usually in the kitchen with wine in hand, Ms T and I are moved to wonder how the hell we've stuck through things this long.

One reason is that we abandoned censorship in our private conversation, at first by accident, and these days, by design.

No, I don't mean “I'm allowed to swear”. When we first met, I had a triple-degree in swearing: my father was ex-Royal Navy, a trainer I had at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission had invective both inventive and hilarious, and I then worked with a touring rock-and-roll sound company.

Ms T knew how I talked even before she grabbed me in a lift, made an explicit suggestion, and told me her phone number, late in 1987. 

“No censorship” means that there is no topic that's off-limits, and as long as it's she and I, we discuss rather than judge. I don't have to be scared of a “confession”, because we'll take it, talk it around the forest, hunt it down in its dark dens, and fill it with arrows before abandoning it to its fate.

How did it happen? Although I recommend the uncensored life, I hope you get it an easier way than we did.

Ms T really was near death in 2010 when all this started. At 32 kg, she was anorexic enough to die; she also had a stomach more ulcer than stomach, liver failure (interrupted blood supply) and toxaemia.

Which meant, in the twelve weeks she spent in RPA getting stabilised and diagnosed, there was a lot of time when she wasn't taking in what doctors said to her. I got the job of translator, repeater, and explainer. And because she wasn't taking things in as well as if she were well, I might start at hopeful euphemism and end with “you might die” or “fuck knows”. And there was lots of crying.

We got through that with her alive, and we started learning a new mode of communication – after being married more than twenty years and going through all the things that happen, mortgages, children, money shortages and caring for my mother.

For most of our marriage, I guess like most people, one or the other of us would try to conceal the worst of ourselves from each other.

Slowly, bit by bit, the lifelong “hide myself” habit got eroded.

There were hauntings from death to spoil our nights in 2012: three trips to ICU, major surgery, a bone-marrow crisis, two tumours to be cut off, months in a wheelchair, and all the time, the grinding diary of chemotherapy.

For a chunk of the year, things looked dire, and our conversations became increasingly frank about everything. We were making sure there was nothing left unsaid, even if we were frightened to say it.

Month by month, we ran out of secrets.

Ms T was already short on secrets. Chemotherapy does that: if you have to tell your husband to glove up because he needs to clean up because you needed to throw up, what's the remaining secret? If sickness, vomit, pointless anger, jealousy, shit or death are no longer secrets, what's left?

It can't happen to everyone, and I mourn that. Of our 26 years, it took us 23 to unlock the hidden drawers in our psychic cabinets. Our secrets left us like moths, fluttering away in the light, and somehow we had the good fortune to fill the cabinet with love. And we censor nothing.

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