It was the view that undid me. I walked into our room and straight to the balcony to peer out at the starlit sky and silhouetted palm trees that danced in the wind. Waves crashed on the shore under my feet.
Pete joined me after dismissing the man who delivered our bags, and as he watched tears silently roll down my face, he admitted that he had fought back the urge to cry several times on the plane.
Why? I asked.
For the same reason you are crying now.
Because I almost died and this may not have been possible?
We stayed out there for several more minutes, just standing and staring in silence, until the heaviness of our long travel day overcame us and we went to bed.
We haven’t been on a real vacation in years. But aren’t you always on vacation? The chorus asks. No, no we are not. It is a rare occasion where we afford ourselves the luxury of several days strung together in which we have no commitments and the freedom to (mostly) unplug from our lives online. We can never entirely disconnect of course, being entrepreneurs and all, but we were committed to making our best effort on this trip. And once we made it to the Dominican Republic and removed ourselves from work and the fuss of settling into our new home, I succumbed to that which I had unknowingly buried: a PTSD-like fallout from the whirl of the last six months, survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that I am both lucky and not.
To complicate things further, I traded one set of maintenance drugs for another to continue the scorched-earth campaign on my body and any possible remnants of cancer (21 days down in this crusade, 709 to go). My fear of their unknown side effects caused several sleepless nights in anticipation. A couple of tiny new bruises also appeared on my knee and I made a panicked call back to the cancer centre; I pleaded with one of the nurses to look up my latest blood test results and tell me I was okay. (She did, and I am.)
The weight of it all crashed over me as quickly and as forcefully as the waves I faced down everyday on the beach.
(In the beginning, when I was told of my good prognosis, I really honestly thought I would be that person who just bounces back from it all immediately. I thought, rather foolishly, that I would be able to bookend the stress of my cancer when the in-hospital treatment ended. Although, admittedly, I’ve never exactly met anyone who has done that so I am not quite sure they exist. Are they mythical cancer unicorns? I am not sure.)
But instead, for the first few days on the beach in the Dominican, near everything around me became a tearful metaphor infused with significance. The waves, not quite Caribbean green because of the sand that swirled within, relentlessly pounded against me as I challenged them with intention. The undertow tugged at my ankles and threatened to pull me under if my resolve to defeat it did not hold. Every so often a wave would crest the top of my head, knocking me off my feet, the seawater mixing with the salty brine of my tears. I got back up to face the next one.
I cried, again and again, retreating to the room several times a day to do so, wanting to shield Pete from my swings and give him the chance to enjoy the relaxation that I knew he needed as my devoted and tireless caregiver. I also know myself, and I know that solitude is my answer. I require time to internally process everything and to mourn with abandon. I realized by the third day that I just had to take this vacationish for what it was.
As much as I desired a holiday from Cancerland, as much as I wanted to just forget and enjoy myself, I needed this too. I needed to deal with emotion I had not yet tended to. And I did it while bobbing in the water, while sprawled under a patchy whitewashed palapa on the beach in the Samaná Bay, and while in our room, stretched out on the crisp white bedspread alone as the air conditioner hummed. And once even while sitting at the bar on a rainy afternoon; I abruptly cracked open and let a solitary tear escape. The rattle of heavy rain hitting the exposed marble near my feet graciously muffled my whimper.
As our week drew to a close, I began to feel swept clean. I let myself tumble in the waves and laugh at them. I encouraged deep discussions with Pete on how this experience has changed us and what our future looks like, and I did it (mostly) without dissolving in grief.
I’m not done with the misery yet, I am sure, but I feel closer and somewhat restored. This is not what I thought our vacation would look like, but this is also not what I thought our life would look like. I am slowly beginning to accept that.
P.S. I promise another (more travel-y) blog post coming soon about our trip to Dominican Republic.