Memory in reverse works the same way. You just start with life now, and work your way backwards, slowly unloading the moments, one by one, until you get to Nothing, before everything became how it is. When you look back, you can see how easily you could have created the timeline even then; The loss of lung capacity, the inability to do the simplest chores, the lack of any desire to do so. It came from the frequent stops on the stairs while carrying the laundry loads, the waiting on mall benches while you shopped and rolled your eyes. The “keep up, ami” you threw back over your shoulder at the theme park you insisted your parents accompany you to.
Move on, everyone says. This is life.
You don’t know how.
You cannot bring yourself to take the pictures of your brother’s wedding off your wall, even though the marriage broke apart nearly two years ago and all that’s left of that relationship are the pictures and the scars. You cannot let that moment of perfection go: all of you, together, happiness radiating from everyone’s face. Even then, the disease was there, somewhere inside, on the verge of being discovered. It was the moment before the world changed, and you cannot let go.
You are happy to live in the world. This is where you find yourself. Your culture. When one world bleeds into another at a pace so fast that you cannot keep up with it, the edges of your culture form. And when the world defines itself based on your preferences, you are the force that turns the wheels. This is what you have become comfortable with. This is the world you understand.
And then you return, to old boundaries, old places, your parent’s house, which you no longer call home. On each return, you see the crumbling façade, the cracks grow bigger. The untended life withdraws inwards even more, and you stand outside the boundaries within which you thrived once, and you wonder how. How is it that THAT created you? It is as if on your departure, the wound that once was there closed in on itself, healing itself, forming a smaller unit. Do you carry any remnants of that world within yourself, or did you carry the new you with you then, just waiting to hatch? And how, most of all, can something be so familiar and recognizable, and yet so foreign?
You make attempts to step inside, but you now cannot; you are stopped by the completeness of that picture, even with its cracks, the slow decline. And you cannot fit two wholes within a whole. You stand there, enclosed in your own bubble, bumping against that of your former life, and you feel helpless at the hands of everything you have learned. Sometimes, you wonder if it was better not have ever left.
Shock is the hundreds of plastic Ziploc bags strewn across the house, hiding in the crevices of the sofa, floating on top of the kitchen island, greeting you as you open the spoon drawer. Once, you associated these with snacks and sandwiches, then with airports; they contained what was essential. Now, they are shields; covers used to keep the germs out of the plastic oxygen tubes. Too much has invaded your mother’s lungs already. The rest is kept out with plastic barriers, breathing masks, and a determination to not leave the house. The only thing allowed inside is you. And you, surrounded by your own bubble of disbelief, sit, separated by a space so big you cannot fathom bridging it. But breathing, always, breathing.