Just outside this wall, I used to tend to tulips with my sister. They were the colour of the sun setting on a beautiful, clear day. And their smell would always be accompanied by the freshly cut grass I had recently mowed.
Most years, we would spend hours of a particular weekend weeding out the garden because we had slacked off throughout the rest of the year. Sometimes, we would scream at the sudden sensation of a snake-like figure moving under our boots as we dug into the dirt to make room for the tulip bulbs. If not a snake, then we would resort to scaring one another periodically with the belief that a spider had become tangled up in another's hair. The funny thing though is that no matter how tired we were at the end of the day, we held onto this naive belief that our work would pay off and that one day in spring, the resilient bulbs against the harsh winter would emerge victorious, giving birth to a new landscape of melting oranges and pinks.
This spring, there are no flowers. The oil in the lawn mower has dried up and the garden gloves have probably rotted since being left out. There’s not a sound of laughter in the house now. And yet, I find how scary memory escapes because I can’t clearly remember the vibrancy of emotions I had had. I feel hollowed out, numb really, but it must be the onslaught of side effects from all the pain meds I was hooked up to in the hospital. This numbing, never-ending pain that renders me incapable of moving. Incapable of adjusting my crumpled-up back from the sleepless night. Incapable of willing my abdominal muscles from crunching into my freshly-cut surgical wounds. Incapable of neglecting the crushing weight on my lungs, keeping me pinned to this bed. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed with both grief and pain.
I have to pee. I try focusing intently on anything else except this unavoidable fact. There’s hushed whispering from downstairs and the light footsteps scuffling across the tiles. It must be the start of a new school day and as I wonder what’s going outside in the world right now, I almost tear up thinking about how much I would give to be back in school right now. To be back with such phenomenal profs and incredible friends. It’s depressing to think that the last time I saw my best friends in Toronto, I hadn’t thought it would be the last time. But I don’t have any energy now to care as much and as my phone pillows with dust, the still-vivid memories of my dream from last night stiffens up my spine. Ow. Somedays, I have difficulty deciphering the hazy line between my subconscious and reality. It seems to be one tangled-up thread, all altering dimensions of the truth, I guess. My dream was a nightmare, where all the people that I knew, had forgotten who I was. I was walking along the dining halls of Trinity College, my new home, and I had become unrecognizable. Faces with blank stares.
So as long as I remained confined in this bedroom and chained to the unpredictability of life, my fear of losing the enclaves of love I had spent my lifetime crafting were becoming much more real. I wasn’t claustrophobic but how could everything I had worked for come closing in on me. Crashing, collapsing into one heap. Suffocating me until I literally was choking on the fluids that drowned my lungs. Treading desperately between the waters between who I was now and who I was supposed to be. And as I kept drowning in this new reality of tackling unexpected and unexplainable health challenges, I believed in my stagnations; transfixed between the dimensions of physical suffering and emotional agony.
I didn’t want to come back home. I didn’t want to be here. Well, not anymore, anyways. These five spontaneous pneumothoraxes certainly reinforced that this could not be home any longer. In fact, hell would have to freeze over if I had to call this place my home anytime soon. Home was in Toronto. Home was where I was supposed to feel empowered and lovely and unstoppable. Home was supposed to be where I felt safe and loved. So this didn’t feel like it. I couldn’t grasp with this experience of transitioning into a new school. I knew I was so lucky to be okay again, to be able to go to university again but I didn’t want to be at UBC. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the things I had gone through in Vancouver day in and day out. A new program, a new life, a whole new environment. All constant reminders of all the things I had lost from the comfortable life I had just adapted to in Toronto.
I can't remember the pain as clearly anymore, but I do remember that it isn't anything I would want anyone else to go through. This morning as I clasp on my bra, my hands brush across a battlefield of suffering. The bra unknowingly skirts across potentially eruptive pain spots but today's not a day to dwell on the past. Some days, I have a hard time keeping myself from crying out. Other days if I'm daring, I'll catch my eye in the mirror as I twirl to reflect the scars splotched across my ribs. I need to be careful. The smallest things can trigger a numbing pain. But now as I run my hands across the scarred tissue, I am grateful that I am still standing after the past five battles. It may be my past and will affect my future, but I am strong. All is well in this moment and that is more than I can ever ask for.
I take a deep breath in and look at the mirror. Holding my own gaze, I breathe out and vow to be the best person I can be for today. Grabbing my coat, I'm on my way and as the door slams shut, I’m humming the lyrics to an old Taylor Swift song as I make my way down West Mall. The sight of the mountains reminds me of my home again. Vancouver, the place of mountains I had always loved. A type of consistency I could depend on ever since I grew up here. It’s a new day, a truly new beginning. One that I never had imagined for myself.
And I’m still learning, still developing, and still making mistakes. It’ll take time to open up myself again to all that Vancouver has and what UBC has to offer, but I’m no longer afraid or hurt by my past. Perhaps, one day when I’m ready to wear a back revealing dress or go swimming again at the Aquatic Centre, others can have the opportunity to see my scars and discover the remnants of some of the worst but perhaps also the best things about me.
As the sun sets across UBC campus, I’m breathing in and out. In and out. Not taking any breath for granted. Thank you. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for not leaving me. I whisper to my body.
For too long I had thought the home that cocooned my soul had abandoned me and let me down. But as I walk along the water and stare into the colours of the tulips that never came last year, I know something now. I whisper it around me too. My home was always going to be here. It was always going to be where I was. I had thought that home was a place or if not, a feeling of belonging. But it was something much more intrinsic than that. It was rooted within the deepest parts of me. Within my heart and my mind. It was believing that I had the ability to take any sort of circumstances or unfamiliar situation and reclaim it as mine, reshape it into a home.
Because it would be too easy to be uprooted by the mishaps of life if I wasn’t constantly surrounded by an inspiring environment or a place where I felt belonging. Instead, I always had the power to shape the environment around me by the unconfined boundaries of my mind; to look at my surroundings through a different lens. A lens of longing but always with love.