Fifteen or so years ago, Jack and I took a train from Bangkok to the bridge over the river Kwai. Yes, THAT bridge. Visiting a POW camp and graveyard takes a heavy emotional toll, and with Jack’s combat PTSD, and me monitoring Jack for his reaction at every step, the experience left us both a bit numb. Repressing emotions does that to a person. Toward the end of the day, we stood with our backs to a large glass case of random human bones and read placards that told the story of the camp and of the bridge.
These informational posts were obviously written by a person who spoke English as a second language. After a day of visiting mockups of POW camps complete with pictures of starving prisoners, after strolling breathless in the heat and humidity in a well-tended graveyard surrounded by deep green jungle, we stood with our backs to this giant pile of human bones and read the placards. One told the story of how, when the allies threatened to bomb the bridge, the Japanese soldiers marched their prisoners out onto its length. Their hope was that the allies would not kill their own men and the bridge would be saved.
The bombs fell from the bellies of the planes, the placard stated, and in the twinkling of an eye, the bridge and all the POWs were blown to bits.
The juxtaposition of the quaint and charming, nearly whimsical cliche in the twinkling of an eye with the horror which the phrase described sent Jack and I into first giggles and then hysterical laughter. We crept away from the bone pile and walked back to our hotel to recover from our day.
Jack fell again this morning. That’s twice now in four days. The first time we had to call the EMTs to get him up. Today he managed to get his legs under him and pushed himself up onto his bed, but he hit his nose, there was some bleeding, and now it looks like he may end up with two black eyes which he will, no doubt, tell everyone I gave him. But, when I heard this second fall, as I rushed down the hall and into his bedroom, the phrase that leapt into my mind was in the twinkling of an eye. Running to Jack I had the same eerie feeling as I did that day in Thailand with a haphazard stack of bleached bones looming at my back.
Life can change so quickly.
All it takes is one fall, one bad decision, one accident.
And my world will never be the same.
This knowledge is both a constant weight of dread on my soul and an impetus to seize every moment, to luxuriate in each second, to take nothing for granted.
This is the only way I know to counterbalance the fear.
And yet, it is difficult when most days I am overwhelmed with Jack’s care, beaten down by the knowledge that I am resentful, and frustrated, and oh so easily irritated with his needs. Most days I just want a moment of quiet, a dedicated time to myself to accomplish nothing more than an empty mind, a clean slate. Each fall slams me with guilt at the realization of how quickly I can lose him, at the knowledge of my impatient and frustration with his care. At the same time, the moment requires that I step back emotionally, take stock of how badly he’s hurt and what he needs from me.
I am left exhausted, and with the sure knowledge that he will fall again and again and again. Until he dies. And then I will be left with the pain not just of his loss, but with the understanding that I was impatient, even unloving to him, that my own survival required an emotional distancing that robbed me of the closeness I craved.
How quickly life can change.
In the twinkling of an eye.