A.. B.. C.. D.. E.. Blink.
A.. B.. C.. D.. Blink.
I recite the entire alphabet over and over and wait for the eyes to blink. My voice trembles the first time. I’ve never felt so desperate.
Letter by letter, blink by blink, we form words. We slowly put disparate words in context, trying to form sentences, while comprehension challenges our fortitude.
The systems have shut down. Muscle by muscle, limb by limb, paralysis has taken over his entire body, trapping him in a horrific nightmare. From the neck down, his body has estranged him from himself. He never loses consciousness. He watches himself stop feeling.
Patiently, we let the restlessness slither out of us. When speech fails us, we invent new forms of communication. Each day, I recite the alphabet and through blinks of his eyes, he ‘speaks’ to me in the beeping three-walled intensive care alcove.
Just 48 hours after the accident, he has accepted his condition in its totality. He has gulped down the pain of reality, or rather, the reality of pain, as bitter as it was. The dire predicament came a little too close to his face. Leered a little too long into his eyes. But in the break down moment when it was easier to shift gaze awkwardly and look away, he chose to stare right back.
Over the months, we shared jokes and laughed about misspelled words and misunderstood sentences. He asked about my day and slowly, we talked with such ease about things that speech could never convey. I forgot missing sound.
He spent 58 years carving a life out for himself, bit by bit. It took less than 58 seconds to steer him to an uninvited turn. But even in the worst conditions of his life, he didn’t stop being my father – completely present with me, giving, strong, protective, nurturing, even uplifting.
His will to stick it out superseded the medical textbooks, the depression, the fear and the body. Today, about 3 years and 3 months later, he walks independently by my side, recalling the seven months in the hospital fondly. He has recovered partially but exceptionally from paralysis, after a critical cervical surgery, years of excruciating physiotherapy, medication, innumerable massages, and a lot of resilience. While he still undergoes treatment every day, his unwavering faith and unyielding perseverance are enough to numb the pain and pull us all through to the other side with a grin that yells, “booyeah”.
“It’s okay. It is. Okay?”
Peering behind curtains, searching for a face. I have 5 minutes. Tick tock tick tock. A lungful of intoxicating smell.
I’ve known this face for longer than I can remember. He’s half asleep. I could just stand here, forever. I touch his shoulder, not knowing if he would respond to it. If he would feel it. He opens his eyes and turns to me. A chill runs down the spine like a sharp, cleaving sword.
I see a hint of a smile. The quiet face seems relieved of something. His eyes are lit up like little lamps in the night. He says that I shouldn’t have gone through the trouble. That he was okay. Then, it all fades to the background.. The foggy mask, the beeping monitors, the smell of fresh blood. I mumble a few words only he can understand.
I slowly pull myself away, walking back to the familiar faces; taking the light of his eyes with me. I will be back, each day. Every day.
The tense atmosphere outside seeps into the skin, like water into a cracked wall. Someone waits for me. We exchange a look, and we weep in silent knowing. The tears sting, like dripping acid. Sitting there, frozen, like timeless statues, we stare at the waves, thrashing back and forth. Back and forth.
It is a night of disbelief and ruthless shivers. Dark and inescapable.
It is a wet, grey evening draining itself into darkness. I get a call. There has been an accident. I sit there. Then I pack.
It is a misty, early morning in Mumbai. As I wipe the fog off my window, I wait to arrive at my stop, unaware of how often and for how long would I be frequenting this journey.
It is the longest walk of my life. The stairs relentlessly show a way up. Visitors, security, nurses, doctors, patients, wheelchairs, stretchers briskly move about. I feel cold.
Aah a familiar face. Another. And yet another. They hustle me inside those large doors that read ICU. I walk. 628. I stare at faces that stare back at me with blank eyes.
This is it. 628 they had said.
I haven’t been able to write because I do not fully comprehend what I attempt to say. During a time when I hold on to things fragile and distant, I wonder if something has changed. Something that has escaped from my being.
As fragmented as the thought is, I write for I know that the pieces ought to fall into place with time. I may not know the what and why of it, but I know this. When the depth of life reaches out to me again, I will not stand back to think. I will embrace it, dive into it and while drown I might, I will know that I wanted it and I chose it. And that would be my happily ever after.
I have nothing more to say. Until I find another piece to the whole…