Anja Churchill: ‘Laura’
— "Laura" Is a true story, and an ode to a special woman. It is an excerpt from a larger volume of writing about life, death and what it means to truly heal.
Laura stands in the doorway to my room, laughing.
"What are you doing?! Thank god for teenagers." She quips in response to the scene in front of her: I am outstretched on the carpet in my room, awkwardly taking up the entire available floor space, attempting to read a book and stretch my hamstrings at the same time, while eating crackers sneakily out of a box. She knows we are technically not supposed to eat in between mealtimes while we are here, and only the foods specifically prepared by the clinic staff.
I grin as I look up at her. I admire the beauty of her face and the relaxed calm of her body as she leans against the door frame, arms crossed. This woman who I have grown to love so deeply in the past two weeks looks the spitting image of health and vitality. But despite our banter and shared connection, despite all the life she brings to a room and the people in it, she is dying and we all know it. Laura has lung cancer. Ten years ago she was given eight months to live. After completing the standard rounds of chemo and radiation she began to explore alternative therapies. Thankfully, her interminable spirit and joy for life led her to find ways to heal, and stay alive, but now, she is dying. Despite her outer radiance, her inner workings of her physical body are not so pretty: she has had one lung removed, and her remaining one is filled with 13 malignant tumors. Sometimes I forget she is ill, until she gets a coughing attack and the severity of her hoarse and guttural cough sobers anybody who hears it. Once it begins, it feels like the coughing will never end, and I understand the etiology of the phrase "coughing up a lung."
I put down my book, and take a seat on the bed by the door where she is standing, curling my knees to my chest. Laura shivers despite the heat and wraps her fleece, flower- printed bathrobe around herself tightly, and I think to myself that under any other circumstances this would be the most hideous garment, but right now the only thing going through my head is that she looks like an angel. I see it in her eyes. I see all of a mother's love, a daughter's willfulness, lover's adoration. Her shoulders are bent forward slightly and she is breathing heavily- the loud, dry sound of air moving through her lung, hinting at the stress in her body. But all I hear in her dry rasping is the sound of wings, beating faster and faster, creating an aura of love around both of us.
"You look like an angel." I blurt out, and then look down quickly as tears suddenly fill and overflow my eyelids.
"Oh sweetie," She comes and sits next to me on the bed. "That's just because you are seeing yourself in me." She smiles and I see that her eyes are full of tears, too. They look like glimmering planets, green and brown and blue, dancing together, reflecting the light.
"I am never going to forget you." She says, sincerely.
"I am never going to forget you either" I say quietly, barely able to get the words out.
Am I going to laugh or cry? I feel suspended on the brink between the two; that place where love is the cause and tears or laughter are only the affect.
We sit in warm silence, her hand in mine, until she gets up and rustles out of the room, the hem of her bathrobe trailing on the carpet. I can hear the sound of it rustling down the hallway long after she is gone.
Anja has been living off the beaten path since she was forced to leave school at a young age due to chronic illness. Now she makes art, teaches Kundalini Yoga, and supports people in improving all aspects of their wellbeing. She finds great joy in following her creative urges to write, dance and make music.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor
"Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com. Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.