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first person

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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

“Mom. What if every time someone died, the whole earth would just reset itself and we’d all be born again?” my six year old asked.

“That would be pretty cool, Frankie.” I replied. “You know, there are some sci-fi stories where that kind of thing happens. It’s an interesting idea.”

I didn’t give much thought to her question at first. My husband had just flown back to British Columbia to attend a devastating family funeral. Death, of course, is always a confusing confrontation of mortality and a push to live life to your greatest potential for older folks. Death seemed to be affecting my sensitive, concerned daughter in a similar thoughtful and worried way. Later that day, the questions continued.

“Mom? What if everyone on Earth was just kids forever and no one ever grew up?” “Mom? What if we could invent a TV where if you’re getting old, you just get transported into your favourite show and never die? In Pokémon, no one grows older.”

Her questions took me back to a troubled time in my own life.

Living with uncertainty has taught me some valuable lessons

I can’t really sing but the lessons were about so much more than music

Twelve years ago, I could not bear the thought of going on with my life. I spent hours a day numbly going through my rituals: Trip to the store, binge, purge. I would do this several times a day, each time only buying enough for one binge so that I wouldn’t do it again. Each time I finished, knowing I’d be making that trip back to the store. I would drive recklessly sometimes on those trips, frantic to get my next thing to gorge myself on, not caring if I lived or died. The only accident I ever got in was the day I decided to send myself to inpatient treatment four years after I started feeling quite desperate.

I was driving down the road with a two-litre container of Breyers ice cream, eating as fast as I could so I could purge the minute I got home. I was in a trance. No longer reckless. More like paralyzed. I was five months pregnant. I was supposed to be having a baby shower in a few weeks. I had a job. What was this all going to mean? I slammed into the car in front of me, who was at a dead stop in traffic. I numbly got out of my car and said “sorry” to the driver. I think he was creeped out by my eerie level of calm and shocked to see my pregnant belly. He said it was no problem and we parted ways.

“Some people don’t even want to live, Frankie.”

My 8-year-old chimed in: “What?” she asked. “Why wouldn’t someone want to live?”

My first morning in the hospital I was weighed and my vitals were taken. I wasn’t allowed to have anyone visit me. Visitors were a privilege that must be earned. I had earned nothing yet but a bed. A nurse came into the room that I shared with three strangers, all hooked up to apparatuses – one with IV, one with a feeding tube through the nose. She explained that my electrolytes were dangerously low and that I would need to receive them intravenously for at least a week. She poked my arm until it was bruised, unable to find a vein, and ended up placing the IV into the back of my hand. I walked with my pole like everyone else through the hospital halls (but not too much. We weren’t allowed to exercise). How did it come to this? I was pregnant. Couldn’t I get my act together? Why couldn’t I function like other people functioned? I loved my baby more than anything but hated myself so much I wanted to die. A paradox.

“Well, Frankie,” I said. “Some people have a really hard time and it becomes difficult to imagine going on.”

“I don’t feel that way,” she said.

I smiled.

“Well,” I replied, “you have a family who loves you, good friends, a healthy body and enough money to have everything you need. Other people sometimes don’t have that and have a very difficult time.”

“Ya,” said my son. “Some people wish they were dead.” I was shocked at his bold way of speaking but it’s a cold hard truth.

Frankie was horrified. “No. No way would anyone wish they were dead. I want to live to be a thousand.”

“So does Dad,” I replied. “You know, I want to live so long I see you and your sister and your brother have babies and watch their babies grow up and have babies. And I want to take care of you all forever and ever.”

Frankie smiled.

“I think our job on Earth,” I said, “is to find a way to make the people who have a hard life have a little bit less of a hard time, so they want to go on living, too. Then maybe they can help other people want to go on living.”

Maybe, I think, that’s the best we can do. Those doctors, those therapists, that precious beautiful baby inside of me, carried me through the most hopeless state of my life. My purpose for living now is to make life a little lighter for someone struggling. We may not have the power to live to a thousand, but perhaps we have the power to help someone live through tumultuous teens and early 20s to see a future worth living for.

I think that’s enough to keep me here as long as time allows.

Vanessa Dueck lives in Milpitas, Calif.

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