Intermezzo: another romantic interlude
General status update:
Hair: it’s been forgotten, really, in this week’s general mêlée. Still mostly attached.
All the Chemo Demons are united as never before, BEGGING me to stop making that awful noise, and to evict the Coughing Demon from the sofa, of which he took possession much in the manner of Hitler invading Poland (exiling a bewildered Chemo Brian to R’s battered leather armchair ) and where he now lounges menacingly, occasionally picking up poor little Chemo Rat Brian and swinging him around by the tail. The Nausea Demon keeps muttering ‘NOTHING I’ve ever done to you is as anywhere near as bad as this’ and ‘Seriously, that is One Mean Dude’, and the Chemo Muse has gone all motherly, bringing me soothing mugs of honey and lemon.
Fatigue/weakness: very tired and over-exerted bronchial region – legs not being used much, just at the minute.
Sleep, lack of: Lorazepam indicated tonight, so that the coughing won’t keep me awake.
Anxiety level (1-10): FEC 4 next week? Yeah, whatever – it’ll make a change from coughing, fever, IV antibiotics and grief.
State of mind: it’d be funny if I died of a coughing-induced asthma attack instead of cancer, wouldn’t it?
It has been a week of intense wretchedness, both physical and mental; the Chemo Muse, new highlights gleaming as she tosses her snaky locks to give us all the full effect, suggests that today it might be better to write a blog post that is not concerned with cancer, chemo or death, which is perfectly fine by me.
‘Right’ she says briskly, ‘let’s get back to this - quite frankly, bizarre - epistolary cyber-romance of yours, back in 2010. We all know you and R first ‘met’ during a discussion on procrastination on Twitter, I see from your Gmail in-box that the two of you exchanged many hundreds of emails in the autumn of 2010, and you’ve described how you spent your lunch-times together, 2000 miles apart, engaged in literary discussions arising from the London Review of Books – by text.
She rolls her eyes in a way that indicates the courting rituals engaged in by the love-child of Medusa and Chemosh, God of the Moabites, might well be rather more abbreviated, direct and, quite possibly, painful.
‘So’ she continues ‘at what point did it finally occur to you and R that it might perhaps be a good idea to cease communicating only by written means, and actually start speaking to one another – you know, like normal people do?
I laugh, because the first time I heard R’s voice, it wasn’t directly: he sent me a link to the podcast of the inaugural lecture he gave on being appointed to his Professorship of Bioethics, on the subject of Ethics and Politics in 21st Century Healthcare. In it he discussed the influence of political philosophy on health policies, asking whether ideology reflects what is really happening in GPs’ surgeries and hospital wards, and then examined current political thinking with its emphasis on patient “choice and empowerment”, encouraging people to take greater responsibility for their own health and welfare.
Or so I’m told.
I have to confess that I’ve just copied and pasted that summary from the web, because although I listened to the lecture several times, none of the content sank in; each time I became completely distracted by hearing R’s voice, which had said so much to me over the previous few months, but which only now could I finally hear.
Shortly afterwards I saw R for the first time, in a YouTube video in which he was being interviewed by what appeared to be a Hobbit, about matters bioethical; truly, ours was a strange romance…
We moved on to speaking on the telephone, we exchanged photos, we talked on Skype, although without the visuals, as neither of us had webcams, and eventually we started to discuss meeting in person, although I was still convinced that this would be the point at which our deepening relationship would fall apart. I’d read too many stories of virtual relationships collapsing on meeting in person, with the painful recognition that online chemistry had not translated into real life. R, on the other hand, was blithely unconcerned, convinced that our meeting was a mere formality, and happily talking about how we could build a future together.
I thought he was bonkers.
Still, I recognised that now we had become so close, virtually, we had to take the next step, even though it would probably turn out to be a complete disaster. I agreed to fly back to London and meet him, in the last week of March. I could stay at my parents' flat in Richmond, in south-west London, since they spend most of the year in Mallorca.
I booked the plane ticket on Easy Jet and, with only a few weeks to go before meeting for the first time the man who had become such an important part of my life, started to feel very, very anxious. My closest friend in Ayvalik, D, an intrepid Irishwoman, listened to my worries patiently over many lokanta lunches, and took the ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ approach: if it didn’t work out, if there was no chemistry, then it was no big deal - I could just come back to my life in Ayvalik and get on with cataloguing the books in the Camel Barn Library, no harm done.
It’s all very well for her to say that, I thought, darkly: she isn’t the one who’s going to have face the excruciating embarrassment of flying 2,000 miles to meet someone, and for that meeting to be such a complete fiasco that it will cause sleepless nights of remembered humiliation for years to come.
However many times I enumerated to D my list of reasons why this relationship could never work in the long term, anyway, given the various obstacles in our way, she would just shrug and say ’Well, you’ll never know unless you try, will you?’ Eventually, I showed her the video of R on YouTube; she immediately commented on his good looks and then, after listening to him talking for a couple of minutes, started to laugh.
‘What?’ I said, puzzled, seeing nothing inherently comic in R explaining the basic principles of bioethics. ‘What are you laughing at?’