Friday, 5 December 2008

My greatest fear

Well I’ve had my operation but I think they must have given me too much wake up juice after the anaesthetic because it’s three in the morning and I cannot sleep, no matter what I do. So I have given up trying and am writing this with my wounded leg up on the desk.

First of all I’d like to put this into context. One of the editors at my publishing house has just returned to work after treatment for breast cancer. She had the lot: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and there she was at the great heaving, champagne-guzzling swarm that is the Christmas party, a hat on her head to disguise her baldness (she told me it had taken her three quarters of an hour to choose it that morning), looking pale and fragile but coping admirably. So, by comparison, making a fuss about a minor operation on my foot seems about as self-obsessed as you can get. But the thing is, I am a writer. So what can I do but write?

I have to admit to a niggling little voice which began to sound in my head about twenty four hours before the operation. What if they overdid the anaesthetic? It does happen sometimes and I am particularly sensitive to drugs. Supposing I didn’t wake up? Don’t be so ridiculous, I kept telling myself, but the nearer I got to the operating theatre, the louder the voice became. Finally, it started coming out with its message plainly and simply: you might die, Brian.

After more than thirty years of marriage I am deeply and passionately in love with my wife and the idea of being separated from her was utterly appalling but I felt certain that she would probably cope better than I would without her. She is a capable and resourceful woman, after all. I was a little worried that she was not quite tall enough to open the trapdoor to the loft but I imagined that she would resolve that difficulty easily enough.

The very sound of my daughters’ voices on the telephone makes me want to dance with delight but I felt sure that they, too, would manage without me. They are both in long-tem relationships with lovely men, they both have fulfilling careers and plans for the future.

I was also not really worried about myself. I know it’s deeply unfashionable but I believe in the after life. I had a wonderful friend at university called Jim. We used to play guitar together and even made a record. Mercifully, all copies of it have long disappeared for the truth is that although Jim was a fine musician, I was absolutely hopeless. He was just too kind to point it out.

Anyway, a few years after we left university I was devastated to learn that Jim had drowned in a freak accident. Not long afterwards, however, I had a dream in which I was standing on the shore beside a mass of water wondering how I came to be there when I saw Jim walking towards me. ‘Jim!’ I said, ‘I thought you were dead.’

‘I am dead,’ he assured me, ‘but I’ve just come to tell you that it’s okay.’ And here he laughed his characteristic laugh. ‘Being dead is okay,’ he joked.

We talked a little more. Afterwards, I couldn’t remember this part of our conversation but then Jim announced that he had to go. He showed me a cave at the base of the cliffs. ‘I have to go in there,’ he said, ‘it’s going to close up shortly.’

‘But will I see you again?’ I asked.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘But not for a long time’ And then he went into the cave.

Now I don’t, obviously, believe in a literal underworld that is approached through a cave but I do think that my friend Jim was using the imagery of my dream to communicate with me. You may feel that this is just a kind of comforting process engendered by my own imagination and that’s fine by me. I haven’t the slightest wish to convert anyone to my point of view. I’m just explaining that this dream strengthened my already existing conviction that there is more to our great adventure than this life.

So I wasn’t really worried about my family, or about being permanently extinguished. Nevertheless, as they began injecting me with the anaesthetic the voice in my head rose to a shrill panic-stricken crescendo as it reminded me that I was half way through a novel and contracted to write another. ‘What about your stories?’ it demanded. ‘What about your stories? What about….


Foxi Rosie said...

I love this post. Your writing reveals so much about you the person. How tender and beautiful. Having had the anaesthetic experience recently, I absolutely understand the demons that live behind the eyes and all the friends that live beyond the veil.

Whilst people may cope, don't ever underestimate the power of you Brian...

I ran through everything with my daughter before I went in, life insurance policies, death in service benefits, bank account numbers, business accountants details etc, etc. When she collected me after the operation she burst into tears when she saw me... I'm unsure if it was from joy, relief or disappointment!!!

Foxi Rosie said...

I forgot, I am delighted it went well and wish you a speedy recovery.

Brian Keaney said...

Thank you. I hope it's going well for you. I've been in bed with a hot water bottle this afternoon and I feel about eight years old;