It all started with a tiny lie. Really, more of an evasion. I was sitting in a cab, quite late at night on my way home, and the driver asked me if I had to go to work the next morning. I said no, and then it happened. He asked me where I worked that I was able to get a Monday morning off.
This was my opportunity to explain that I didn’t actually have a job. It was my chance to raise awareness, however minute, for the reality of chronic illness and to be open and honest with a stranger. It was my chance, and yet I sat there mute for a full 10 seconds. And then I stuttered out that I worked in music.
Immediately, a wave of guilt crashed over my head. I pride myself on being an honest person, if not completely open. I do not like to tell outright falsehoods. I quickly assuaged my guilt by convincing myself that this was a singular event. He was probably just being polite, as was I – it was too much to get into so late at night. And, truthfully, my work experience does lie in the field of music.
I thought that was the end of it, and I chose to avoid thinking about it. I had big plans for the week. I was planning to attend the recital of two wonderful friends and performers, which meant that I would be returning to my old home for the first time in months.
Wednesday rolled around and after layering on make-up and packing up my medication, I was ready to go. I arrived at the music building and experienced the welcome that I have come to expect. A mixture of open arms and averted eyes.
I had worked very hard to prepare myself, both emotionally and physically, for this reunion. And for the most part, it worked. I had a wonderful time. I caught up with friends, and enjoyed some truly spectacular music. But there was one question that I was asked over and over again that I had not adequately prepared for. Such a simple, well intentioned question, but the minute it was voiced I felt myself shrink, caught in a spotlight, staring at my reflection, and hating it.
‘What are you up to these days?’
I know, it’s ridiculous. I mean, I write about it. I think about it. It’s one of the most natural questions in the world to ask someone that you haven’t seen in a while. I have no problem with the question itself.
My problem is that I struggle to find an answer. Lately, I have been making great strides in my physical rehabilitation. I have increased my strength and endurance, which makes me immensely proud and happy. But in my day to day life, that translates from me struggling to make myself a meal once every couple of days, to being able to cook for myself on a fairly regular basis. It means that my kitchen is cleaned more frequently. It means that I have started reading again as the words don’t blur out of site before I get a chance to become invested in the story. And these small victories are monumental to me. Worthy of being written about. But for some reason, I struggle to speak the words. They stick in my throat and feel like inadequate when I’m facing someone that I used to conquer mountains with.
And so, on Wednesday, I found myself embellishing. I emphasized the online course that I am taking, even though it’s really just a certificate. Even though I only look at it every couple of days.
I talked about this blog as well, even though I could see smiles falter as I tried to stretch what they already knew.
And as discomfort grew on all sides of the conversation, I would rush to change the subject, to become the questioner myself. And I found myself imaging what I could have responded.
I could be participating in a study of the effect of TV on young adults.
I could be writing a novel.
I could be training a group of monkeys for the circus.
I could be getting flown around the world as a tester for accessible travel.
I could be starting my own company selling bumper stickers with witty slogans.
I could be the inspiration for a new Disney princess, currently in discussions as to whether I’ll play the role myself.
My imagination grew as I sat there. After all, there are so many things that I could be. So many possibilities, so many lives that I could be living. But, while it’s fun to dream, the reality is that I’m not that girl. Not right now, anyways. My days are simple and oh so complicated. And as tempting as it is to lie, or to evade, the problem isn’t that my answer sounds hollow. The problem is that I am reluctant voice it.
So now, I apologize. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry to the cab driver that I deceived. I’m sorry to my friends. I’m sorry that I tried to alter the picture.
I may not be doing anything spectacular, but I am living a life. My life. And that is enough.