It was Saturday night when I received the email. The heading read ‘Do you remember…?’ and inside were photo attachments and a note from FP. When I opened the thumbnails I was surprised to see the brightly coloured photos of smiling people; photos I'd forgotten had even been taken when FP and I stayed with his parents last August. The pair of us curled up together in a multi-coloured hammock in the backyard, suspended from the apple tree and the fence, our eyes closed, our skin pink from a day in the sun. FP, his family and me dancing in his parent’s living room to Claude Francois, fingers pointing in the air and our cheeks rosy from the wine. Another photo shows a close up of FP and me at the table outside, I’m wrapped in his mother’s pashmina and the sky is darkening beyond us.
I enlarged the photographs on my screen and I cried. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks, burning my skin like acid. My shoulders shook with the heaving, sorrowful breaths I gasped.
My shoulders shook with the heaving, sorrowful breaths I gasped.
I’d forgotten how deformed I’d been mere months ago. My nose was not a nose, it was hideously deformed, covered in bumps and swollen skin that belonged on a toad rather than my face.
At first I felt disgusted, I literally recoiled in horror – I’d been behind my face for all that time so I didn’t realise how extremely vulgar my disfigurements were – and I weeped. I felt sick to the stomach and hideously ashamed. I couldn’t work out how or why FP stayed with me throughout that terrible, terrible time in my life. I was the elephant man. I was fucked up. I was revolting.
And then a wave of anger came over me. Anger at myself for being ashamed. Why was I so turned off by myself? It was never my fault, I never asked for a disease. I felt so angry at my own initial reaction to pictures of a broken, ghostly version of me that I shocked myself. That girl in the picture had no control over her face. She was a victim of a cruel act of nature. I had been that girl. So how could I now look at myself in the photos, knowing exactly how deeply, profoundly, intensely sad I’d been then, and judge myself the way I’d always been terrified others would judge me?
And now, as I type on my laptop which is currently warming my legs as I sit cross legged in bed, my hands flutter towards my face every ten minutes or so to feel the smoothness of my nose, the swollen skin vanished into thin air.
I need to keep checking.
‘Cured’ is not a word the doctors feel ready to use. I don’t know how long is an appropriate length of time before I can say ‘I’m all better’ without living in sheer terror that I have jinxed things but it has been several months now and one thing is for sure…I look like me before I got sick.
Again I find my fingers tracing the smooth outline of my nose, drinking in the crevices of a nose that are deemed ‘normal’ and I am hit with an immense mixture of feelings.
Terror burns my gut with the thought that it could all come back again, that this is just a period of remission, that I’ve more to get through. There's an enormous sense of relief that it’s coming to an end. Anger lurks deep in my bones; anger that I had to go through it at all. Sorrow overwhelms me, for all the pain I discovered.
But most of all, there's gratitude. For I am a tuberculosis survivor and not a mortality.