This is a slightly-edited copy-and-paste of what I’m hoping will be one of many story e-mails I’m writing about my everyday adventures to a friend, Cheryl, as she spends a year teaching English in China. It’s both my way of letting her know what’s going on back home, and an excuse for me to write more.
I haven’t known Di for very long - not even a year as of writing. I could probably tally all of our encounters with both hands: a few dinner events, a few movies, and a New Year’s party where she and Patrick turned-up for just a moment to drop-off a heap of truffle desserts she had made. Across all the moments I can think of, she has spent more than half of those with something wrong with her knee.
I remember when I first saw her in her leg brace. It was one of the dinner events where people got together at the pub to eat and watch the rugby (which teams were playing, I can’t recall). When I arrived, Di was already there, taking-up what looked like 3 chairs: 1 for herself, 1 for propping-up her leg, and another… I couldn’t figure out what that 3rd one was for, so I asked her. Turns out it was just an empty chair which kind of made it look like nobody wanted to sit next to her, so I claimed it and spent that evening listening to Di explain her injury to me while I brought up reference images of the inside of the human knee on my phone so I could keep up with all the anatomy she was reciting.
She talked about the next steps for her then: to get it examined to see if surgery would be needed, and if they did need to operate, the length of time it would take for her to recover. ‘Recover’ meaning ‘how long until she could get back to dancing again’.
“What about you Em?” Di would ask me, some time that night between knee stories. “When are you going back to dancing?”
It happens all the time - one of my dancing friends will always end-up asking me when I’m going back to it, and I don’t really have an answer for that. As far as I’m concerned, I was done with dancing back in 2011 when the only thing keeping me going was being competent enough at it so I could take my friend Melissa to the ball (despite being the person who got me into dancing all those years ago, Melissa had never been to the annual ball herself; so I said I’d take her, and it was reason enough to keep me going for that year, for just a little bit longer).
After that, I stopped learning, I stopped putting the effort into making new friends at dance classes, and I stopped having fun. So I stopped dancing.
“How about this Di,” I replied, thinking back on what she had told me about the potential futures for her and her knee, “when you go back to dancing, I’ll go back to dancing.”
I can’t remember if we shook on it, but I thought the time between then and her projected recovery would give me time to come up with a better answer than my usual shrug of the shoulders or avoidance of the question entirely.
Since that night, Di ended-up getting the surgery, and so her path to recovery took the longer option. She’s gonna be out from dancing for a year, and so am I.
I learned about the surgery on the night of your leaving party. Someone there was in touch with Di who was then able to tell the rest of us about how she was doing: the ridiculous number of pain killers she was on, and the even more ridiculous timing regime she needed to keep-up with on which pain killers she could take, how often she could take each one, and the maximum of each she could safely take per day.
I guess the big news for me was that the surgery had happened, and now she was at the beginning of the long road to recovery. I’ve been lucky enough to not need to recover in the hospital or to need surgery for anything before, but I’ve visited enough friends in hospitals over the years to know that ‘recovery’ was synonymous with ‘long periods of doing absolutely nothing’. Boredom becomes one of your biggest problems, and you either have to a) develop saint-like patience to wait-out the healing process, b) hope you have enough friends to keep coming along every so often to drag you out of your ennui, or c) have access to the internet.
I felt an urge to help, to do something, so I asked Patrick for Di’s mobile number, and started texting her to ask how things were. I couldn’t do anything about A, and I learned she was staying with her parents in suburbs which took care of C. That left me with option B: visiting - something I was happy to do. So we figured out a time, failed to make that first visit work, figured out another time, and soon enough I was telling my workmates I was going to visit my couch-bound just-had-knee-surgery friend outside of town and that I may or may not be back later today.
I made it to her house at about 2pm on some rainy Thursday afternoon in the middle of April. It was a short walk from the train station, over a bridge and along a windy road up a very shallow hill. I walked straight passed her house the first time, not paying attention to the mailbox numbers on the other side of the road. Then I saw the mailboxes that flanked either side of her address, and the long driveway between them that led to her house. No wonder I missed it, I thought.
Other mailboxes for the houses that hid behind this long driveway could be found along it too, so I had no idea if I was standing in-front of the right place when I finally chose a house and knocked on its door. The old man who opened the door didn’t help alleviate those thoughts, although I had no idea what or who to expect, never having been here or having met Di’s family before.
“Ah, you’re here to visit Diana.” said the man.
My confusion must have shown very plainly on my face, and so too my relief as I exhaled and released my worries with my breath. The man turned out to be Di’s father and he started by giving me advice on how to not injure myself as I walk up the stairs to the lounge where Di was “holding court” as I learned her parents liked to say (the stairs had a low ceiling at one point, which could be troublesome to some taller people). Patrick came out of a room just to my right where he was doing his working-from-home thing, assuring me that I had the right place. He said something similar about the stairs, so by the time I went up the staircase I was taking each step slowly and stooping low to avoid every obstacle the staircase could muster.
I walked into the kitchen where I then met Di’s mother, doing a bit of cleaning. We introduced ourselves and she pointed towards the lounge. I peered my head over the threshold between kitchen and lounge, and there was Di, sitting-up with a blanket over her legs, stretched-out and taking all the space over a wide 2-seater couch in the lounge. Pressed right next to the couch was a small coffee table filled with all sorts of papers, prescription medicines, a laptop, and her phone.
“Hellooooooo!” I said, walking into the lounge.
“Heeey!” she replied as we hugged awkwardly (me kneeling on the floor next to the coffee table, her stuck to her corner of the couch) across the corner of the coffee table.
I then settled in a seat that faced her and her little corner of the world, and we started talking.
I think the conversation that followed revealed how little we actually knew about each other. We could bring up stories from the earliest days in our respective pasts and it was clear that it was news to the other person. It was good in a way, because I often find myself having to retread old stories with people I’ve known for longer, and so I talk about those same stories in different ways so I’m not completely repeating myself. Without me having to focus on that, I could just say whatever came to mind, straight, and without edits.
All I really knew about Di was whatever impression I got from her in the last few months we’d hung out or been at the same events together: the knee surgery talks at the pub, the travel talks and the kinds of toilets you’d encounter overseas at the chocolate buffet dinner, and the time she and Patrick came to the New Year’s party to drop-off a whole lot of chocolate on us.
And the impression I got was all positive. Di has been really welcoming of me, breaking the record for least number of encounters before hugging me in greeting without it being weird (2), and having this relaxed approach to everything that just made me so comfortable to tell her almost anything. It’s like she’s long since accepted the way life works, and is now sitting calmly at a crossroads, waiting patiently for the rest of us to stop bickering over the unfairness of the world and to join her with just living and being.
Because of that, I kind of look up to her.
So we talked about anything and everything: she talked about the trip she and Patrick just came back from, I talked about how work took us to the zoo, she showed me pictures of the surgery from the point-of-view of the camera the surgeons used, I talked about how I uploaded a video to YouTube of me singing in defence of drunken New Year’s antics, and so on and so forth, the afternoon gradually passing by and me not noticing it had become night until Di’s mother came in to the lounge and switched the lights on.
“Oh.” I said, suddenly noticing that a bunch of time had passed. “Oh!” I said again after I looked at my watch to quantify how much time had actually passed. Guess I won’t be going back to work until tomorrow, I thought as I smiled.