This morning Talisha found out that she has Goodpasture’s disease. The doctors told her she had literally a one-in-a-million chance of contracting it. They thought it was probably triggered by the bout of the flu that hospitalised her last month. They said she’s lucky they caught it early because it hasn’t damaged her kidneys yet. They said that after spending two weeks filtering her blood through machines and months of drug treatment she should be fine; although, there is always the possibility of it being triggered again so she’ll have a lifetime of check-ups to monitor it. They said that sometimes it’s fatal and sometimes so is the treatment. Her parents – her doctors, the nurses – kept telling her how strong she is, how well she was taking the news. She doesn’t want to be strong. No twenty-two year old should have to be strong.
Talisha gets the letter when she’s packing her bags to go to the hospital. ‘CONGRATULATIONS Talisha Woodhouse, you have been accepted into a post-graduate degree at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley.’ Talisha just laughs and drops the letter on the floor without reading any further. Everywhere she turns she sees plans for the future, her cousin’s wedding invitation, pictures from her brother’s graduation, and dozens of little things that remind her that until this morning she definitely had a future. All these things remind her that she might not get to be that person anymore, that Talisha Woodhouse might have to be completely different now.
Talisha doesn’t like hospitals, never has, luckily she still knows the nurses schedules from last month’s stint in the ward. She knows that Melanie is supposed to do the midnight round, but she invariably falls asleep. If she sneaks out after lights out no one will know she is gone until morning rounds. She leaves a note just in case, so they won’t think she’s been abducted or walked into traffic. She had managed to smuggle a bottle of vodka into the hospital with her and it just fit into the pocket of her coat. So with a bottle of vodka in one pocket and a wad of cash in the other, she makes her way past the sleeping nurse and out onto the street.
The taxi driver asks for half his money up front when she tells him that she wants to go to the beach. “It’s not that I don’t think your good for it, but I don’t get many pale young women asking me to drive them an hour down the coast in the middle of the night.” She gives him a hundred bucks and he pulls out from the curb without another word. As the lights of Brisbane slide past, her anger grows. Why her? Why did she have to pull the short straw? Who decided it was necessary to give a twenty-two year old a life threatening disease? Her rage simmers beneath her skin as she passes people in their homes, going about their everyday lives as if there aren’t people dying around them.
The world always looks like a different place at night. Familiar sights made alien by the darkness. Talisha has always liked travelling at night, it makes her feel as if she is somewhere else, someone else. At night the beach transforms. It becomes something infinite and peaceful. A complete contrast from the postcard happiness of the beach in the sunshine. Even at the Gold Coast, away from the bright lights the beach is ghostly. Whatever moon there is reflects off the sand and suffuses the beach with an ethereal light. The moon glistens on the waves all the way to the horizon and the peaceful infinity of the beach begins to drain her of her anger and transforms it into a kind of existential melancholy. No one else seems to see that she is living in limbo. Hospitals have always seemed like purgatory to her; everyone there is between life and death, sickness and health. Everyone expects people to stay strong, to maintain a façade of wellness, even when everything hurts, when it feels like they’re dying. Talisha doesn’t know if she can take it this time. It was bad enough when she had the flu, but now that she might actually die she’s not sure if she’s willing to fake it for the benefit of others any more. She’s sick of the pretence of wellness that’s expected of her, the strength that other people require of her when she’s sick. If this is going to either kill her or haunt her steps forever she wants to embrace it, to be allowed to just be sick.
She pulls out her vodka and swigs it straight from the bottle. The alcohol burns down her throat and she feels like a dragon, swallowing poison so that she can breathe fire. She welcomes the inexorable hangover almost as much as she craves the clarity and numbness that the vodka provides. She doesn’t want to be perfect and strong anymore. “I want be sick, I want to be weak, I want someone to stroke my hair and tell me I’m going to be okay … even if it’s a lie.” The vodka and the rolling waves have leeched away all of her anger. She knows that the anger is really fear, and that neither solves anything, but sometimes it’s good to feel the fire in your veins and know that it’s not pain. She will fight this. Not for them, but for herself. She doesn’t need to be strong to win.
As she stands to leave with her half empty bottle she whispers to the empty beach, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”