Updated: Sep 5, 2022
“I don’t want to be your friend. Besides, I have a girlfriend. Stop writing to me,” she read in an email from Egor, her ex-boyfriend. Annis rolled up in a ball and sobbed quietly so as not to alarm her hospital roommate. This was something she expected and feared since he didn’t pick up the phone on the day of her brain surgery. Neither had he visited her during the two weeks of recovery when she had to relearn basic motor skills like using the bathroom, dressing herself, walking up and down the hallway. Still, there was hope. But then came this email and it shattered her.
She remembered their first date after months of exchanging funny texts on Messenger. He cooked a pot of vegetarian curry and invited her to his house for dinner. After the dinner, they binge watched their way through the obscure animated films of the Quay brothers, which was oddly satisfying knowing that few people in the world enjoyed it. Annis kept looking at her watch, but then suddenly relaxed and leaned her head on his shoulder. For a moment, he stopped breathing and kissed her, and she kissed back. A powerful sensation had swept her off her feet, making her weak, unwilling to escape. It was greater than her life: her parents, her job, the apartment she recently moved in, her travel plans. It felt like returning home, even if she didn’t know where she was going — until that moment. In the morning she had to leave for her flight to Copenhagen. Dishevelled, groggy, red-eyed. Happy.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder.
“Stop crying, the doctor is coming. He doesn’t like when you cry,” she heard.
Annis turned her head and saw a concerned, patronizing face of Larissa, her roommate. It was a woman in her fifties, tall and lean, with high cheekbones and painted eyebrows, whose pituitary adenoma was revealed during a routine MRI scan. It didn’t touch on the important parts of Larissa’s brain and was removed without difficulty, took her less time to recover and left more energy to boss her fellow patients about.
“Why are you telling me this? Does such a small thing really matters?” she wanted to ask Larissa, but nodded instead and shifted her gaze back to the wall. Because it didn’t matter if she said something or remained silent. It didn’t matter if she was deaf and mute. If she lost her vision, after all, which could totally happen with her disease — an extremely rare multiple cavernoma syndrome.
And why would she care about what the doctor thought of her? He rarely spoke to her anyway, keeping her mostly in the dark about the potential dangers of her surgery and the lengthy and uncertain recovery process. All important information was passed on to her through her parents. This treatment made her feel even more vulnerable and dependent, but Annis didn’t dare to raise her voice. She had no voice. Even her body did not belong to her anymore — the disease made her a plaything in the hands of others.
“You should be grateful you don’t have to pay for your treatment. In another country, a surgery like this would cost you an arm and a leg,” informed her Larissa. “The doctor has saved your life. Don’t forget it. Be grateful.”
She wished she could forget it. She wished a powerful hypnosis would erase her memories, including the memories of Larissa, whose passive-aggressive behavior wasn’t making it any better for her. Her recovery would go so much better if she didn’t have to bear the company of Larissa. But as Larissa said, Annis had to be grateful for what she had. It could always be worse.
She heard the sound of approaching footsteps. The door opened, and Larissa scurried back to her bed. Someone entered.
“Well, well! I thought it was the doctor!” Larissa said, walking up to greet the visitor but was ignored. Annis couldn’t see them as she was still facing the wall, but she imagined Larissa’s displeased expression and it filled her with petty satisfaction.
A chair was pulled to her bedside. Annis felt a hand on her shoulder, and a whisper in her ear.
“Hey… were you crying?” the voice belonged to Egor.
“She was,” Larissa responded. “I told her not to.”
“I’m not talking to you,” Egor said with a flash of irritation.
Larissa pursed her lips and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
“But I’ve read your email… and about the girlfriend. Why did you do that?” Annis asked him feebly.
“I don’t know. I think… I don’t have the stomach to go through this with you,” Egor replied, taking her hand in his and looking her in the eyes. “And it came so soon after my sister’s surgery. I couldn’t bear the tension and uncertainty that came with this.”
“I also feel this and much more,” Annis said, as her eyes welled with tears. “I wish someone loved me. I wish someone took me from this dark place and everything was good again.”
“And it will be, I promise you,” Egor consoled her. “You will get better and everything will be good again. You will meet a wonderful person who will love you just the way you are. And if you get sick again, he will not walk away.”
“You are wrong,” Annis said. “No one will love me. I’m so much worse than others. I have so many scars and I don’t have hair.”
“The hair will grow back,” Egor said.
“I keep crying and I’m no fun to be around.”
“It’s good to cry when you are sad. But it won’t last forever. There will be many times when you laugh and smile. You have a pretty smile.”
“Will you be with me?” Annis asked hopefully. “I mean, not as a boyfriend… as a friend. Please don’t leave me, I’m so afraid to be alone.”
“I will always be with you. In fact, I am in you. We are one,” Egor said with a calm smile.
She raised herself to hug him, but hugged the air in front of her — the chair was empty. Annis frowned slightly thinking if it was a dream, but then her expression relaxed, she laid flat on her bed and fell asleep. She had a happy dream that brought her back to her childhood, when she went fishing with her dad. Tomorrow she would wake up without a headache, and would not cry when she saw her doctor. And everything would be good again.
The cover: Fernand Khnopff, "My Heart Cries for the Past"