Last year, this time, I was struck with an unexpected virus, which sent me spinning. It hit me out of the blue, while I was swimming. The pool seemed to be in strange constant motion even when I was gripping the wall, as if the waters were rocking me, sending me back and forth, back and forth. It reminded me of the small pool in the motel in Santa Monica, where my family would stay when visiting my father’s parents, who had moved to L.A for the weather from the grimy, snowy Bronx. We were there in 1989, when the massive earthquake hit San Francisco, and the pool in that motel looked like someone had lifted it on one side and dropped it down, hard. Water sliding wave-like, up and down, back and forth, for hours and hours.
Now, with the gift of distance, the appreciation that it was not so bad, a case of vestibular neuritis, a relatively common infection of the inner ear, which causes extreme vertigo and can take up to 6 months to heal, I feel rather like the protagonist in Lionel Shriver’s recent story in the New Yorker, who, after a frightening experience in an African creek, “was disheartened to discover that maturity could involve getting smaller. She had been reduced. She was a weaker, more fragile girl…” This is contrary to that sentiment that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have been feeling that perhaps becoming stronger involves admitting where one is weak. It is strange, uncertain territory for me.
When I was healing, my family spent a long-weekend away together. I was well enough to make the car journey, and to take slow walks, breathing in the cold fresh air, and to make pasta and hot cocoa. For those few days, we had no agenda other than to be together, move from inside in our PJs to outside in our boots, and back inside again. The kids watched clips of the Sound of Music over and over, and then acted out the songs in the elaborately planned productions that young children put on when they’re not being rushed off to school or sports or lessons. My illness had forced me into a strange alternative, parallel universe, moving at a radically different speed. I was on sick leave from work, couldn’t drive, couldn’t sit in front of the computer, and spent many days lying on the couch, looking out the window. That weekend, my family cautiously and kindly entered my forced, unnatural time zone, and it was unexpectedly delightful. We all lay on the couch together, watching the misty morning light turn to the bright blue of day, then wane into the lavender evening, and when our own reflections stared back at us from the glass, we turned to each other and smiled.
This year, we are heading back to the same area to celebrate Thanksgiving. Already, it is a very different trip. We are back in the time zone of the healthy. We are signing the kids up for ski lessons. We are bickering over what to bring. In these days before we go, I am preparing for a big business trip, trying to meet deadlines, checking emails at red lights, attending my children’s Thanksgiving shows, and packing up the family. The memory of sitting still and looking out the window feels as if it is somehow not my own. As if it is part of some other lifetime, some other being.