This month I read Jane Eyre for the first time in 8 years. I read it when I was 17, and again my sophomore year of college. Reading it at 28, I was a little shocked to find that I was a decade older than the heroine. Why is she so much wiser than I, still?
The story has never felt less epic than it did this time, and I mean that in a good, really good way. The epochs of Jane's life, the vast spans of hope and despair that leave the reader (or viewer if it's a good adaptation) dying to have the tension relieved, are what the book is known for. But this time, these periods of trial and blessing felt like rhythmic seasons as I read chapter after chapter- in essence, her story felt survivable- survivable in a way it never had before.
It's June. June is a hard month for me. June is the anniversary of my survival- a word I still struggle to use- the label melodrama hanging ever so close. Only now am I starting to understand or cognate the fact that I almost died two years ago. I know people who have almost died a number of times, so that makes it hard for me to give my own story credit. I struggle to allow my own story to matter.
Reading Jane Eyre this month, I was startled to see what part of the book brought me to tears. No spoilers here, but I will say its a dramtic story with moments of elated joy and crushing, painful desolation. But what broke me apart this time was the portion of her story dealing with weakness, sickeness and recovery. It was the few pages recounting her foggy state of consiousness while she noticed those at her bedside, and could not muster the strength to move any part of her body. It was here that my gut seized and my eyes went blurry- I know this feeling. I have spent practically zero time thinking about my ten days in the hospital in 2006, yet I'm still dealing with the physical aftermath of double pneumonia followed by two months of barely walking. And suddenly two weeks ago, I started getting flash memories of people around my bedside wearing facemasks. A wave of curdling helplessness that I've tried to forget comes over me, and I'm terrified at drawing near to remembering what it was like to lie awake alone all night, every night, for ten nights in a hospital room, when before that, I'd only been to the emeregnecy room with sprained things.
I think reading Jane Eyre this time has started to trigger what I never felt then: fear. I was too weak and sick to be afraid about what has happening. It was my parents flying overnight and Kim watching me get rolled off into quarentine- and the days and days and days of me dissapearing farther and farther out of my life and into a wierd world of long hallways that eventually led to a plane to Arizona, instead of the two months of my life I had still to live in New York. I think now I'm starting to feel the trauma of what everybody else watched, and I myself just floated through with oxygen tanks and an IV pole. I was too sick to know how sick I was, and after two years, I still have made no headway into wrestling with what that rip in my life did- other than the visible stuff like the patch of veins of my left arm that are darker because of an IV scar, and the experiential part of leaving my own life prematurely- or at least switching lives at an unplanned time.
So as June 22 nears, I'm still left wondering when I'll feel safe enough to revisit that hospital room, revisit the feeling of burning in my lungs, revisit that first night where I experienced things I've never told anyone about, and have barely even glanced at personally. That's really how bad it was. And I haven't admitted that. I still don't know how to.