It was a summer of firsts. First real job, first time living away from home, first time buying my own laundry detergent, and first time telling a guy I loved him. It was the summer of 2004 and I was 22 years old.
My first taste of real independence. I lived with my sister and her husband and worked at a counselling centre as a student intern. I stayed up painting late into the night. I read. I went back and forth from Kitchener to Toronto by bus on the weekends to see my boyfriend. I catalogued a library at work and redid a filing system. I became a fan of label makers. It was a fantastic summer.
Until the second last week of August when it all came crashing down. I had just finished my internship and was back in Toronto, high on life and excited about getting back to school in the fall. When I went in for a routine cardiac ultrasound, I wound up in the hospital for two weeks with a diagnosis of a sizable blood clot and heart failure. Unfortunately, because I didn’t get along with my cardiologist at the time, I had put off seeing him for three years. In retrospect, not the smartest decision I’ve ever made.
At the time, it felt like a punishment. I had pushed myself during the summer, living in an apartment four floors up with no elevator. My work involved some physical labour too and had its own set of stairs. Sometimes when I look back, I wonder if I hadn’t pushed myself so hard if I could have lasted longer before needing the heart transplant. I will never know.
What I do know is that independence became linked with terrible medical situation in my mind. Not a great association.
That summer preceded five years of growing progressively worse and worse. I gave up school. I went out less and less. I stopped painting. I didn’t have the energy to go stay at my parents’ cabin anymore. My aspirations and dreams grew smaller and smaller. Then last July I was put on the transplant list, because I had less chance of being alive in a year with my old heart than I would with a new heart.
Today is the sixth month anniversary of my heart transplant and I am writing about independence because last night I went to a drive-in movie theatre with just my friends. We borrowed my parents’ car and didn’t get home till 2 am. I had the best time. And riding home in the car so late with my music playing on the stereo afterwards made me feel like I did that summer. Like the world was full of possibilities. It’s a beautiful feeling, and one I haven’t experienced like that in a long time.
I am excited about the future. Plans are forming in my head and I am moving forward with my life and my dreams. I am single again and am free to pursue who I want. Hope has been restored to me. I have a new beginning.
And although I know in the back of my head that my world could come crashing down again, I feel like I’ve somehow travelled back in time to my early twenties when life was full of potential and intrigue.
Going to the drive-in doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but it’s a symbol. After years of my life closing in on me, I can see it finally opening up again.