At the very end of Wong Kar-wai’s film “In The Mood For Love” (which by a great leap of luck I just saw in the theater), a quote appears on the screen that has nothing to do with what I’ve been going through, but nonetheless struck me as particularly applicable to how I’ve been feeling for the past year:
“He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.”
In the film, this quote refers to a particularly vivid and fruitful time in a man’s life that he probably wishes he could remember better. Or even better, a time that he wishes he could experience all over again (through memory, or time travel, or some other form of magic). But he can’t. He can barely touch it. But it was there. It almost is, still there.
What struck me about this quote (even though it was written in Chinese) was that it’s pretty much exactly how I feel about my about my every day. Even though it was meant to refer to memory, to past experience (and I’m sure all of you reading this can understand it well in that context), it crystallizes exactly how I feel about my present.
My present, to my great and powerful consternation, feels blurred and indistinct. A large part of my day feels as if I’m looking through a dusty window pane, where the thoughts and emotions and sights before me are things that I can see, but not quite touch.
Life itself feels vanishing— it disappears more quickly than I can absorb it.
And the question that keeps running through my head as a result is “Are you really living if you’re not really absorbing what you’re living?” This is scary question to ask, when you’re not quite sure of the answer.
There are moments that are clear, to be sure. When I’m writing, it feels clear. When I’m jogging, it feels clear. When I’m laughing with friends or staring at 500 million year old rocks, life feels pretty clear. And good. And happy.
But a lot of the time, it doesn’t feel very clear at all. Which scares me. And frustrates me. And I guess I just need to acknowledge that.
A friend reminded me today that we’d just had lunch last week, and when she said it I didn’t believe her. After some cajoling and nudging (on her part) and apologizing and cursing (on my part), I realized it was true. Which felt like a victory— I DID remember it after all!— but also felt like a horrible failure: Why did it take me so long to remember it?
Other friends keep good-naturedly reminding me that this sort of mental deterioration is normal for those of us pushing middle age (or being pulled down by old age), but it’s no consolation to hear from other people that “Yeah I don’t remember shit anymore either!”
I want my brain back. I know how it works, how it’s supposed to work. One thing I do remember exactly is exactly how it worked before I went to Hong Kong (the setting, ironically, of the film that I just saw. I haven’t heard that much Cantonese in one room since Jonny Slow Hands had his Slow Hands inside my brains).
It’s just that, to continue with the China references, I sometimes fear that over the last year I took a Great Leap Forward into the mind of an 80 year old man. Which wouldn’t be so bad— and isn’t such a horrible price for being alive, after all— save for the fact that if I do make it the 42.5 additional years required to become an 80 year old man (that’s a lot of National Parks!), I cringe to think how my brain will be working then. If this is how it is now, in 42.5 years (let alone 12 months) will I just be some drooling bag of Jello whose only daily neurological solace comes from the fact that he still finds farts and Daily Show reruns to be hilarious?
I realize at this point some of you might be ready to press the “waa waaaaa glass half empty” button, and I do apologize that this post isn’t as cheerful as the last. I’m not feeling particularly uncheery at the moment— the movie was great, and my glass is actually almost exactly 1/2 half full (of Bulleit, soda, bitters and ice— delicious!). And I meant everything I said about those parks, and about jogging and laughing and writing. Those all still do feel great.
I just want my brain back. I don’t mind that it has a hole in it (I do actually still find that really and particularly cool, and wouldn’t spackle it back up even if I could), it’s just that my old brain, the way it used to work, is so close that I can almost touch it. It’s right there, on the other side of that dusty window pane. I know it’s there. But I can’t quite touch it.
Sometimes I am able to almost touch it (in fact I can walk into my bedroom right now and literally touch it, since I have by my bed a box of pathology slides containing infinitesimally thin slices of it). But it’s this near-yet-untouchable proximity (and this clear memory of the way it was before) that I’m finding really frustrating. And I guess I just need to express that frustration.
I hope it gets better. I really hope that it does. 
And if it doesn’t? Well look at this glass of bourbon and soda— it’s 37.636% full! 
So what do I have to complain about!? 
 In case you’re wondering if it actually WILL get better (lord knows I am), the answer to that depends mainly on the reasons for why it’s gotten like this in the first place. Rather than blaming it on the cancer, or the hole in my brain, I blame it on Rio. And the chemo. And (possibly) the anti-seizure medication that I have to take every day. But I can’t stop taking that, unless I want to start having more than one smoothie a day! 
 You see how tricky this whole BrainChance™ thing starts to get? The stuff that keeps you up is the very same stuff that keeps you down! Ah, hell– I’m just gonna blame it solely on Rio. Well… how ’bout on Rio, and on The Bossa Nova. 
 Speaking of the Bossa Nova, Eydie Gorme just died last week, at the ripe old age of 84 (I swear I didn’t even know that until I put the link on that last footnote– which I highly recommend clicking). 84!?! Maybe this blaming it on the Bossa Nova thing really works! So screw Rio, and all the medication. They had nothing to do with it. I solely blame the Bossa Nova! 
 I’ll prove it: at this very moment, I am totally rocking out to “Blame It On The Rain” AND LAUGHING AT THE SAME TIME, which means honestly and truly, at this exact moment, I don’t give a goddamn shit about the fact that I have brain cancer. See? I told you! Don’t you dare blame it on the rain! 
 Cuz the rain don’t mind. And the rain don’t care.