The Way We Look

This morning I looked in the mirror and searched for me. I knew I was there but I couldn’t quite make me out. Over the last three days, my face has morphed Kafka-esque into that of a hardened- drinking, outdoor-weathered, apoplectic beetroot. It wasn’t unexpected.

I’m back in hospital, being pumped full of high dose steroids to counteract an episode of rejection picked up in a routine biopsy at the beginning of the week. It’s not uncommon, they tell me, for this to happen in the first year post-transplant. Add to that the fact that they’ve recently changed me onto a new anti-rejection medication and there’s even less of a surprise. But still it needs to be treated. And now, in steroid overload, body bloated, I wait and trust in those that know best; until the next biopsy at the beginning of the week.

The way we look

The last time I didn’t recognise myself was a fortnight ago. I stepped out of a bedroom into a full-length reflection and all I saw was happy. A smile devoured most of my face and dimples swallowed up the remainder. My boots were high, my dress long and jewels lit up my marginally-less-mussed-up-than-usual, hair. A gaggle of girls, glasses of fizz, a rainbow of nails and autumn sunshine crowded into the farmhouse sitting room. Outside, bagpipes summoned people to the barn. The room emptied of all but a few and my dad, smile rivalling my own, hesitated on the threshold, unsure whether to cross over into the smog of perfume and hairspray and girlie indulgence.

On the way out my best-friend L stopped me: ‘You look great, and just the right amount sexy. Take time to breathe, remember the day, it’ll be over before you know it. Don’t miss it.’ We followed her out, across to the barn, a purple streak in glitter sandals: my nephew with his painted nails (the girls loved helping him with that); my gorgeous niece and soon-to-be step-daughter, all clunky books and sassy cute; me and my dad. One of my closest friends piped my progress, another tried to take photos before bursting into tears. I hardly noticed the rain.

For a moment, as I rounded the top of the barn, I couldn’t see him. Amongst the crowd I spotted others – my oldest friend looking exactly as she had when we met in high school but with (slightly) more glitter; another ready to clack together her Dorothy heels. And then he was there, Mr D – be-kilted in crazy spray-painted leaves, looking at me in a way I’ve never managed to look at myself. We disappeared inside our smiles.

That’s the look I remembered this morning, in front of the mirror in the hospital bathroom. And in a moment of magic, the beetroot disappeared and I realised I was there all along.

The Joy of Writing

I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing. I began flirting with my once great love following my release from hospital at the end of January and, over several months, I’m delighted to find my passion reignited. It hasn’t been easy, there’ve been tantrums and guilt over not spending enough time together. Put simply, life (and hospital visits) got in the way – or that’s how I’m spinning it. In truth, I lost my confidence.

Way back in the halcyon days of 2012/ 13 I was in the writing groove; living my own literary dream. A first for the short stories submitted for my MLitt dissertation; short listed for a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award; offers of temporary teaching contracts at two universities; published in New Writing Scotland.

In 2013, life was great: a book launch; a sunny Scottish summer; a ramshackle cottage to rent; friends, music, laughter; a fully-funded PhD place for Mr D; ten days enjoying the hospitality of friends in Athens. Towards the end of the year we were almost pinching ourselves daily at our good fortune. And then, mid-November, I collapsed at a routine cardiology appointment and life turned a sharp corner, leading me down a road I’d hoped to avoid.

Still, I was fortunate even then. Sure the worsening of my condition had been missed by several doctors, and yes, when we moved to the Stirling area the system had failed me and I’d been left with no cardiac care for almost a year. But I was still lucky. I almost didn’t make it but I’m here now.

That’s how my confidence deserted me – a fast-paced start to my writing life that left me breathless and an enlarged heart that did the same.

Following my discharge I sat in a chair, staring into space. Hours, days, weeks passed. I didn’t know how to get back in the game. My recovery was gradual – my energy began to return incrementally, I grew stronger physically. I found notes I’d made, ideas for a short story, and my imagination stirred a little. I knew better than to force it, I still spent a lot of time sitting, until one day I steeled myself and read the notes I’d made in hospital. That’s when the idea began: A creative non-fiction account of my time on the list, waiting for a heart transplant.

Mr D encouraged me, my parents, friends (those I told), even the doctors and nurses at the hospital. The combined enthusiasm carried me to my laptop, sat me down in front of it and waited with me until I managed to type a couple of sentences. Then a few more. Paragraphs. A chapter.

I read other memoirs/ non-fictional accounts of people’s lives. Some helped, others challenged my confidence still further. My biggest boost was being awarded a mentor through the WoMentoring Project. It gave my writing a purpose.

And once I started to write, I realised I wanted to keep writing. I submitted two short stories to different publications, one on-line, one in print, both were accepted. I began to believe in my invincibility, submitted to stories to competitions, got nowhere, became vincible (I know but I like the sound of it) again.

Now instead of wiling away precious time in hospital waiting rooms, I make notes. I observe. I scribble. I describe that smell, imagine how that tastes, tune in and out of conversations filling in the gaps. My notebook is happy to be fulfilling its writing destiny and each time I flip open my laptop I get that tiny fluttering deep in my tummy that only the very best love affairs can create.