Macaroni and cheese and mocktails. Anemic mid-winter sunshine trickles through the restaurant windows. It’s January in Delhi. My daughter is fifteen today. We’re on a lunch date. She’s telling me about school, friends, plans. Says she wants to be an actress, or a singer.
Her mouth is moving and sun rays fall on her macaroni, and my eyes are tracing the shape of her face, my ears are making music from her voice.
A decade ago she and I sat at a table in a restaurant a long ways away, in a desert town, scooping hummus off a plate. Her feet hung off her chair, they didn’t touch the ground, they swayed side to side to the music in her little girl head. She was ringlets and baby teeth, looking up at me, laughing at something I said.
Now her big brown eyes are looking out the window at the world, her feet are on the ground. Time is blowing around her smiling face, through her hair, pushing her forward. She can’t feel it, but I do. You never feel it when you’re rising, only when you’re falling.
I don’t know what the hospital looks like, only how it sounds. Sounds echo-y, like a cafeteria. Lots of people talking, there’s clinking and banging. Footsteps hurrying past, people keep bumping into my legs and elbows. I’m laid out on a gurney. Maybe. I haven’t opened my eyes in hours. Too tired, too tired to move, to think, to talk. Maybe it’s the middle of the night.
My body gave up around 10 pm. I don’t know why or what happened. I didn’t do this to myself, and I don’t understand what did it to me. Fingertips went numb, toes went numb, and the dead spread up my arms and legs towards my chest. I thought I was going to die, and I was more or less okay with that. I closed my eyes and melted into the bed, the world got woolly and muffled, like background noise without anything happening in the foreground.
Shannon on the phone, talking loud but I can’t hear her, a familiar man’s voice distantly seeping down to me, someone stands me up, I think I’m being drug down some stairs. Car doors open and shut, Shannon’s voice, my mouth slurs something, my brain is uninvolved. I’m breathing so slow and shallow, it feels like the deepest dreaming sleep.
Now I think I’m in an Indian hospital, somebody’s asking me questions, somebody’s answering. I am sleeping under water and their sound is far away, way up in the sky. The thought of moving a finger or a toe is unimaginable. I can’t. But I’m vaguely aware I’m not dead, and I’m more or less okay with that.
It’s been a couple months since the hospital. I’m still shaky, a bit confused, uncertain, not myself. Sometimes, though, when it seems like the world’s spinning too fast for you to keep up, that’s when it’s easiest to see all the good, good people in it.
Today I’m walking slowly from my office at work to the chai counter to buy myself a soda to get through the afternoon. A colleague sees me shuffle by, puts down what she’s doing, rises, and walks slowly alongside me. She asks how I’m doing, about my health, about my family, tells me about a vacation. I find I’m smiling, we’re stumbling forward together, I suddenly have the overwhelming sense that if I start to go down, someone is going to catch me. That’s what it means to be alive.
Later that afternoon an email pings on my phone. It’s from my daughter, she’s fifteen. All it says is, “just wanted to tell you I love you.” She’s not familiar with Stevie Wonder, so I know it’s from the heart. The heart is a beautiful thing.
I started out that day riding my kids’ school bus to work. The school is across the street from my office. I sat by Grace, my middle daughter. She’s ten. The sun did its best to shove through the haze, was tired by the time it got to the bus window, but it made it and rested on our laps. Me and Grace stared outside. She entwined her arm with mine, leaned her head on my shoulder, and we held hands. All the way to school. I think I am going to make it.