I feel very much that I have had two lives. My first life stretched from childhood to my late 20s when I became seriously ill. I lived a lot in that first life, even for a few lifetimes. I grew up in Boston and went camping in New Hampshire most weekends in warmer months. I was a good student and read a lot and journaled compulsively. I traveled, went to college and grad school, worked several jobs. I fell in love and had my heart broken and broke some hearts. I had a lot of fun in my first life, a fact for which I am very grateful.
My second life is the one I often write about here. It’s the one that started when I became too sick to work and could no longer function. It’s the life I’m still living right now. A life that started with me being so sick that I just wished it would be over, that I would just close my eyes and transcend to an oblivion where I wasn’t puking and in pain all the time. A life that saw me through those times and carried me here. A life that brought me to Hong Kong and Beijing, to a challenging job, to bright red hair.
And to Water Country.
Water Country is a New England institution, complete with an iconic and maddeningly catchy jingle that everyone from New England reading this just sang in their head. It’s a water park with slides and a wave pool and a lazy river. I went as a kid for several summers. My mom and her friends would pack coolers and beach bags and all the kids and mothers would pile into my aunt’s unbelievably large and hideous brown van. The kids mostly sat on the floor in the way back like you would do in a station wagon. No seatbelts. Very early 90’s vibe. I think I was 12 the last year we went.
I think 2013 will go down resoundingly as the worst year of my life. I was super sick, had a resection and colostomy, broke up very shortly after my ostomy placement, moved, and generally had an awful time. I had worked so hard to shape this second life into a place where I could feel happy and fulfilled. And then it was just gone. I called my best friend in the middle of the night after we broke up, sobbing. “I had this whole life,” I said in between the deep whistling hiccups of genuine despair. “I know,” Alli said. “You lost a lot.” And she was right.
Late in the summer of 2013, the two of us decided to go to Water Country. I don’t even remember the conversation that led to the decision. In the last week of August, when the NH kids were back in school, we drove up to Water Country. It was warm but not terribly hot. There was almost no one in the park. We ran up three flights of wet wooden stairs, went down the slide, and then ran back up to do it again because there was no line. It was fantastic.
We made the poor decision to try a slide that you went down on your stomach on a mat. Nothing bad happened, it was just so ridiculously difficult. I had a colostomy bag and abdominal pain and she had ulcerative colitis and a knee that had been operated on and still didn’t work well. We were on the mats on our stomachs and just could not push ourselves down the slide. It took several minutes and was not even that good of a ride. Water slide fail for two. Then we went on a bunch of other slides and drove home with the smell of chlorine and conditioned air in the car.
We go to Water Country every year. Water Country is a place that I solidly place in my second life. This was a tradition I started in my second life and that means that there was no comparing it to before I got sick. Even when things go well and I don’t react, there is an inherent discomfort in doing things in this life that I did in my old one. A lot of the time, there is an inherent discomfort in relationships with people who knew us before. It is a reminder of the differences and the space between who I used to be and who I’m not now. It isn’t something that makes me angry anymore but it is something that I don’t think will ever stop. There are some things that you hide deep in your heart you just never get over and when you are in these situations, you feel a twinge when they are hidden inside.
I don’t feel that twinge on Water Country day. It’s like a holiday for me, a testament to the fact that this second life is so much harder and scarier than my first one but that it’s still a good life. It’s hard and messy but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. I can be sick and happy at the same time. Every year, that day proves it.
I wish that I had never gotten sick and that my existence would never have split along this fault line, opened a chasm between who I used to be and who I am now. But it did. And most of the time, this second life isn’t really so bad.