Last week, I went to the doctor to have my heart tested. The tech doing my echo threw a bunch of words at me: arrhythmia, tachycardia, uncontrolled blood pressure. I sent them via text message to my new boyfriend before I got in the car and drove away.
Right away, the phone rang. It was Joe, but I couldn't think about more things wrong with me, or how to explain them, so I didn't answer.
When I checked my phone, he'd left me a voice mail that said:
"Okay, so that's what's wrong. Now what do we do to fix it?"
And my heart flipped. And it wasn't the arrhythmia, it was the we.
Sometimes I fear that I have been a coward about love. I've found ways to convince myself that pain and illness are things only meant to be experienced by the singular. The truth is that illness is a singular experience: no one can feel how you are feeling at that very second. In the past, for me, this feeling has bred an intense loneliness that is hard to share with family, friends or a partner.
And because illness has wreaked such havoc on my own life, I have tried my damnedest not to ruin someone else's with cancer, with lupus, with what ifs.
There is no manual for dating with chronic illness, for dating after cancer. There is no easy way to douse the flames of early love with the realities of life-threatening illness. There is no easy way to integrate your sick universe with the healthy without causing friction, confusion and pain.
Because you will feel the friction, the heat that floods your cheek when you're asked why you always seem to need a nap. You will be angry when the man you have fallen for suggests you're letting the disease win by sleeping in. You'll be defensive, you'll yell that you're not lazy, just sick... and still, he might not understand.
But the bravery of sharing yourself is acknowledging that reality and then forging ahead anyway.
And so when Joe (so precious, so new) says, "I want to help. I want to understand," I am at first tempted to stick to rhetoric: to tell him there is nothing anyone can do to help.
But I don't. I let him in. I share my whole self, truly, for the very first time. Because the truth that I had been unwilling to accept for years -- that I live with illness every day -- cannot be ignored, and I cannot fully be with someone until I share that.
And in letting him know me, I have found there is someone willing to check my sugar, to watch my body fight, to be strong enough to hide his own fear to help me battle mine.Sometimes I still can't believe I let myself and my diseases and my messy hair and my everything become a we.
But to know his presence is to know a relief I previously have not.
To know this is to feel incredibly lucky. To know this is to feel renewed.