The Hard Question by Lucy Fox

You're walking to a meeting. The sun is too-bright, the air too-cheerful. You remind yourself to not be bitter. The inevitable question lurks around the corner. You've spent the last two days ruminating over an answer, but still don't know what to say. How honest is too honest? What words are you left with when the truth's ostentatious?

You take respite on a metal bench beside the walkway. It's important to catch your breath after a two-minute stroll on level ground. If the walk was much longer, you'd need to stretch. You watch a girl chasing after her friend, running, and try not to feel jealous. You hated running, anyway. It's unreasonable to miss it. But lots of things are unreasonable.

It’s the question, you decide, that’s unreasonable. A genuine answer will result in The Look - pity, concern, and confrontation evenly mixed and displayed on kind and familiar faces for your viewing pleasure. The most assured method to avoid it is to lie. Don't say: "Life sucks. I have no feeling on one side of my body, I'm in constant pain, and I've had an ongoing headache for three hundred days.” Instead offer: "I'm good! Thanks!" You decide it isn't a lie. It's an abridged version of the truth. Your mental health, at least, is fantastic for the first time in your life. And the meaning of "good" is relative, anyway.

You grip your walking stick and use it to push yourself back up. Everyone on the walkway glances at you and gives you a wide berth.

It isn't the question that bothers you, not really. It's the inability to sound genuine about anything. Every word you say feels like histrionics. When you used to share your anxious imposter syndrome thoughts you'd receive a nod of understanding and solidarity. Sharing the horrible symptoms of a disabling chronic illness, however, induces The Look. Burdening someone with your suffering provides guilt enough to bowl you over. Their uncomfortable moment of rummaging for sympathetic words makes you more nauseous than you already are.

You reach your arch nemesis, the stairs, and climb them. Your joints crack worse than your grandmother's. The automatic doors greet you, and the lounges inside offer a well-deserved rest. You sit and shut your eyes, weighing up the facts: You can't feel your left side, but your hand worked well enough for you to type what you needed to. You spent the five previous days in bed, but you're able to walk today. Your brain has mostly been replaced by white noise, but last night you had a clever idea and managed to write it down for discussion. Your whole body is making

its best effort to shut down, but you're hanging on. You can't do half of what you used to, but you're still able to write. For that, you're grateful.

When you arrive at your meeting, you smile. It isn't forced. Being here is a luxury. You're alive, you're surviving, and you know the answer to the question.

"I'm going okay. Hanging in there. How are you?"

© Lucy Fox

Posted on February 27, 2019