My parents both worked when I was growing up; still do. I have fond memories of helping my mom mop up the burger joint on Christmas Eve. Sometimes they worked nights, weekends, holidays, so me and my brother and sister spent much of our time, until I was about 12, at my French grandmother’s house. She had fantastic stories about growing up in Nazi-occupied France, and she was also a devout Catholic.
When I was old enough to read – and tall enough to see it – I read a poem that hung in the dining room. It was called “Footprints,” and if you haven’t read it, one version goes something like this:
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, He looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.
This really bothered Him and He questioned the Lord about it. Lord you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.
The Lord replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
Something about this poem really touched me, and I’d come back to it again and again and read it over and over, especially the last part. I wanted that, I think. I wanted to know someone would carry me through the darkest times. I wanted to believe it.
Though my grandmother took me to church whenever she could get away with it, and I grew up reading gory children’s Bible stories (growing up on Bible stories and stories about Nazi-occupied France, it’s really no surprise I write what I write), I never took to the idea that there was somebody out there who would carry me during the worst times. I didn’t take to the idea because during the worst times, nobody carried me. The older I got, the more obvious that was. I was the one responsible for my choices. If I was lucky, loved ones might try and bail me out, but well, my dad’s the one who agreed to come bail me out of my bad choices in Bellingham, when I was evicted from my apartment. My mom wanted to leave me there to stew. “She’s 18. Let her make her own mistakes.” So I’ve never felt any sort of *guarantee* that even family members would carry me out of anything.
No, the only one who could pick me up was myself.
I lost it this morning on the bus. I had Coldplay’s Fix You on repeat, and I just started crying. In public. On the bus. I was so heartsick. The other side of anger is deep sadness, grief.
I feel like I’m working so hard, and nothing is working. I don’t feel great. And the worst part of that is that for three great days I felt so totally wonderful and normal and then my sugar took a nose dive again. And it’s so frustrating. I’m living mainly on protein and vegetables and working out every day, and this is what I get: I feel terrible, my numbers don’t come out right, and I’m stuck drinking decaf fucking coffee.
I cried on the bus, and transferred to the train, and thought of that poem. And I steeled myself again. I buttoned everything back down, I stopped the tide of grief.
Suck it up, Hurley.
No one’s going to carry me. No one’s going to fix me. At the end of every day, all you have is yourself, and it’s you who gets to decide how you’ll handle what you’ll feel: it’s you who decides if you’ll hide under your bed and weep or open up that goddamn book file and *concentrate harder* and get some goddamn work done.
And I sucked it up, and I walked off the train and I wiped off my face and thought, OK, it’s going to be hard. You knew it was going to be hard. It’s OK if it’s hard. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means it’s fucking hard. Suck it up.
When the cardiologist (from Durban, of all places) came into the ICU room (once I was conscious) and told me I was going to be an insulin dependent diabetic the rest of my life, he talked a lot about my heart. Being the doctor on duty the night I came in, he’d had to oversee my care, despite being, you know, a cardiologist and not an endocrinologist. So it’s no wonder he talked so much about my heart, and so little about my pancreas.
“You have a really strong, healthy heart,” he said, and he said it as if he was slightly surprised that a 180 lb insulin dependent diabetic could have such a healthy heart. “Your heart is very strong. You’ll do well.”
I trekked 120 km into rural Africa. I left a bipolar, schizophrenic Marine who wanted to kill me. I jumped off a bridge. I saw peguins on the other side of the world. I’ve lived without love, without money, without self-respect, without a clue.
I can live without a fucking pancreas.
Because if my fucking pancreas can’t get me through this, my heart will have to do.