It happens when you feel the other parenthesis, the one at the end, as it presses your skin, wraps itself around your chest like a tightening belt. You can still breathe, but not as well. You can still sing, but not with the notes you could hit before. You can still spit, but life has moved past the spitting stage. It’s when things fail to return to normal, that finally you get it: this is normal.
It happens as decades of mishaps and malfunctions befalling the bag of water and bones you inhabit add up to an irreversible mess, one that no longer feels entirely like you: it is you. This is what you’re told, by doctors, friends, cashiers at the supermarket. This is what you tell yourself, without entirely believing it. This is what you learn when people offer to help you when you don’t need any help, when people ask if you’re all right when you stop walking to catch your breath or buckle slightly under the weight of it all. It’s when good intentions leave a sinister aftertaste. It’s also when you entertain the possibility that you do, in fact, need help. If not yet, then soon.
It happens when you realize that your legs are no good anymore. They won’t carry you far before they hurt. In a bombardment, you will be the slowest, the others might have to leave you on the trail. Fortunately, you are safe for now, safe perhaps until the end, but the world is fickle and passing time alters everything. The streets you take no longer resemble the same routes in your memory, and the people on them walk differently, weighted down by days, weeks, months, years of private and personal wranglings that stick like burrs in the run of events. New people rush past you in a frenzy to kill time as recklessly as possible. You want to be like them, reckless and blind to consequence, but you can’t be. You may not remember the movie in much detail, but you have seen it before. The residue of everything is what you’d like to get rid of: the old streets, the old faces, the old conversations, the old ways of being known to others, but the facts are inescapable, their adding-up is the busywork of whatever powers that be.
It happens when they can’t immobilize you for the surgery because your lungs won’t survive the anesthesia, when you know that the final wheeze is closer to you than the last time you actually had fun. It happens when your ability to laugh it all off goes missing for longer and longer spells, when simply existing in time feels like a deflating challenge. It’s when your reserves have mysteriously emptied. Complaints take the place that effusions of happiness used to fill. Something is always going wrong, slipping out of control. The sensation of chaos overmasters the most painstaking displays of order. Nothing rings true, or rather, nothing feels true; there is always a foam of corrosion at the edge of any certainty. One thing that isn’t there is an expansive view of the future. The future has become little, like a baby bump.