Sytske Frederika van Koeveringe – Day Night Still Light
What’s your outlook on life?
Is the glass half-empty or half-full?
I hope you don’t mind me saying this: you guys breed like a family of rabbits. But for convenience sake I will address the leader – all families tend to have an unofficial representative
Now that I know that for several years (!) you’ve been if not in my milk ducts then certainly rubbing up against them, it strikes me as a pretty urgent question
Why in the right? Did you know that the left is my favourite side? And if you were so acutely aware of my aversion to the right, then why not wreak havoc in all right-wing political parties?
Do you get bad mood swings?
What part of the day do you like best?
I have a feeling that you possess a certain cheerfulness and poise 24/7
A kind of strength
Over my flow of emotions
I reckon you’re pretty intense at the best of times
Not average or superficial
Like those people who think everything’s so-so: who are courteous, who want to do the right thing, want to be liked to avoid confrontation
Yes, when you’re here, you really are here
No half measures for you, I appreciate that about you
By the way, have you ever noticed all the polite laughter?
How is it that this kind of behaviour, this attitude has become the norm?
On the other side
There’s always a one side, and an other side
And probably a sideways
And an aside
and so on and so forth
[Pages 180 – 183]
What do you make of my oncologist? She’s nice, isn’t she? If it hadn’t been for you, I’d never have met her, I wouldn’t even have known that an oncologist specialises in tumours, in cancer, in you
The term comes from the ancient Greek onkos, meaning mass or tumour
The suffix -logy means study or knowledge
It never ceases to amaze me that here too the Greeks were the first
After I’m informed of the course of treatment – chemo, surgery, radiotherapy every working day for four weeks – I get a phone call from my oncologist in the afternoon. She’d promised to look into my risk of infertility, should I want a child in the future.
You may have noticed, but if you’re a young woman and you say you don’t want children, there’ll always be someone who counters with: ‘You’ll change your mind. Or: ‘You’ll change your mind, you’re still young.’
She doesn’t guarantee 100 per cent fertility after the chemotherapy, but certainly no less than 50 per cent. Her exact words are: we don’t know, but hey, we obviously don’t admit to that.
Before she hangs up I ask her about the last time she laughed.
‘Hm.’ She asks why I want to know, so I tell her about my little project. And I also say something along the lines of: ‘I understand if you prefer not to answer. After all, it’s got nothing to do with any of this.’
At the same time I wonder why on earth people say so many things they actually have no intention of saying.
‘This afternoon during my lunch break: a colleague showed me a clip of her cat which had hidden behind a cabinet and suddenly jumped out.’
She sounds sweet, and she looks it too. When I see her, I feel like cuddling. Some people have that effect.
All is quiet for a moment. She says I should have seen it, because of the type of cat as well. A pedigree cat or something, except the size of a baby.
Those weren’t her literal words, her vocabulary is better, more detached, more thoughtful.
I think of the expression ‘You should have been there’, which is so true and yet so irritating. I smile at her apparent shyness. When I ask what laughter means to her, she immediately replies, ‘relaxation’, as if she was waiting for it.
Do you think I’ll ever fall in love again?
That I’ll have the guts to surrender to the concept of love?
Are you familiar with the notion, or is this – inhabiting someone’s body – your way of showing love?
In that case you’re doing a good job
Lots of women get breast cancer – I’m still not mentioning figures
And their number is increasing, according to The Breast Cancer Book
Every year a shocking number of young people are told they’re up against you
Not to mention all the adults and the other types of cancer
Occasionally someone asks if I’m not sorry I’m not with someone
But to be honest, this is the first time I’m genuinely pleased that I’m not in a relationship right now. That I’m not accountable to anyone, that I’m free from hassle or tortuous conversations, that I can focus on my health without additional stress – apparently these are the keywords that pop into my head when I think about love haha
And what about sex: will I be having good sex again?
One-night stands or what I call snack sex
Do you think that when there’s a giant scar across my chest, I’ll disrobe just as easily as before?
Easily as in: without being ashamed of my body
Or will you be sabotaging things with awkward moments and discomfort?
My psyche – will you be leaving it in peace in due course?
Or will you always torment me like you do now: whenever I make eye contact with someone, I immediately look down at the ground: don’t look at me, I’m dirty on the inside.
[Page 213 – 219]
MORE QUESTIONS: How to handle all these shocked reactions? Again, not on the website. How to react to other people’s distress and worry? Would you mind telling everybody around me that it’s not that bad, or just tell them that in time they’ll have their own ailments to contend with. Sooner or later, everybody will have health issues. Or do I see what I want to see, am I reflecting my own powerlessness? Ever stopped to think how smart a body is? When you’re eating an apple and you eat the small sticker by mistake, you automatically spit it out? Isn’t that amazing?
People ask: ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ But what can someone else do when I myself don’t even know what to do? All I can do – I can think of – is to somehow or other embrace you, accept that you’re here. That you’re part of me, and I’m a part of you. How? Well, I was hoping you’d tell me that.
What to do when you’re having so many nightmares that you’re afraid to go to sleep? What to eat when your appetite is totally ruined? And drink: water has a chemical taste – I want to know where the water comes from, I want to see all the pipes in my house with my own eyes to make sure that the tap water is clean – and the less said about anything containing sugar or other sweeteners the better.
How am I supposed to relate to you in front of others? Am I allowed to talk about you, or should I give you the silent treatment? Sometimes I’ll bump into a casual acquaintance: ‘Hey, are you doing all right?’ Should I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
I don’t even know if I’m doing all right or not. I could simply repeat the question, but that’s so banal. And while I’m at it, should I email my landlord to say that he has a cancer patient living under his roof? Sometimes he turns up on the doorstep unannounced.
In fact, I want to yell that you’re here without mentioning you, do you know what I mean?
By the way, do you happen to know why all the series on Netflix have the same colour balance? As if they’re all using the same filter. Or can my eyes only make out the vintage look? The same for NPO. Do you think that colour and hues change over time? What’s your experience of time like anyway? Have you read Kairos, by Joke J. Hermsen? I suspect that you tend to muddle up different perceptions of time. Catapulting me from one side of a room to another as it were. Kairos, chronos, kairos, chronos.
Do you think my preoccupation with death will eventually tail off? How come you’re so routinely linked to death? Is it an ingrained belief or pure ignorance?
Where do fruit flies come from and why are they in my house in winter? They’ve been in the bathroom lately – no sign of fruit in there.
Have people died of chemotherapy? Or perished before the treatment even started? Not because you’re that big, but from the shock. Or from all the attention lavished on them. Is it possible to die of too much interaction? What about the comment: ‘I don’t mean it like that’? What to make of it?
If I were to call off the treatment, how soon would I die? Right now you’re hurting – I can’t lie on my stomach – but if I don’t have it treated, will you grow so big that I won’t be able to pick anything off the floor? That I won’t have big breasts but a big tumour – humour – hah!
By the way, who decides whether something is negative or whether one is merely critical? Don’t you think the two are often confused?
Also, should I be specifying which items I’m going to leave to whom, or not? I just want to make sure my sixty-two diaries are safe – how does that work? And the cremation, the music: should I make those decisions now or am I dead already?
In The Road to Damascus August Strindberg wonders whether the living may be damned already, our only certainties are birth and death. The time in-between is merely
waiting time. You decide what to do in the meantime. Meantime, in-between time.
Are all these people dead? the He in The Road to Damascus asks.
Can one be dead, without suspecting it? To which the answer is:
The dead maintain that they don’t know the difference.
That’s so sick: maybe the whole lot of us are dead already?! My desk, my plants, my laptop, these letters, none of it exists!? Day Night Light Still doesn’t exist. I’m working on air. My existence: air!?
You’re telling me to stop being stupid, aren’t you? But how is it possible that literature, philosophy, art and faith are all about life and death? Are my questions beginning to irritate you? Asking questions is essentially the same as laughing: cracking open.
I’m reading I Still Have Not Told the Garden by Pia Pera. She writes that since her illness she has begun to notice just how pervasive the subject of life and death is. Strange how often we talk about illness and death. The topic seems to dominate, or am I having these experiences, these conversations because of my condition? Nonetheless, I have the impression that books, films, that everything revolves around this theme.
I recognise this, but I’m sorry it’s happening now and not around, let’s say, my eightieth. Until recently I never saw any sick people. Now all I see are people without arms or legs, I see people in wheelchairs, with walking frames, people with crutches, with other applicances, I see women wearing too much make-up, bitter looking men, children, teenagers, no, even people my own age acting much older than their years, people endlessly scrolling on their smartphone, I see smoking, coughing, pale, hacking, limping people and men with a wee bag strapped to their leg. I hear conversations about the weather, about the children of friends, as well as wheezing breath. Oh man, sick people everywhere. What kind of bubble did I live in before?
Do you happen to know whether birds have a sense of smell? This afternoon
I was eating a sandwich in my favourite spot outside and when I opened my bag all these pigeons, crows and gulls came flying. Sandwich finished, birds gone. And I’m not feeding them, you know! Immanuel Kant or Friedrich Nietzsche also explored the subject of laughter. I ought to look into this, but reading is difficult: my eyes hurt and I can’t get my head round their language right now. Do you know anyone who’d want to give me private philosophy lessons? And who’d teach me mnemonics too: I tend to confuse all these philosophers. Yes, please arrange that for me, it’s the least you could do for me.
And hey: do you know why it is that – given all the literature there is – relatively little is written about you? I’m talking about good literature here: profound, imaginative, bold, playful, something with great language, rhythm and beauty and something I can learn from.
Susan Sontag says that poetry about cancer is too intense for the reader. What if it is, then aren’t you effectively maintaining the distance between patient and the rest? Are we supposed to pretend it’s not happening instead?
Sure, there are books by former cancer patients and by the loved ones of cancer patients. But these are stories told with hindsight. Never during, in the here and now, and besides: there’s always a partner attached to the patient. A love, and then suddenly love takes over the story. Then again, finger up the arse.
Did you know that many men enjoy receiving a finger up the arse as they climax? This baffles me – I mean, not the actual fact, more the secrecy surrounding it: the fact that men don’t mention it or even joke about it, while also wanting it. They don’t tell their partner, but visit prostitutes instead! Which makes me wonder: the climate’s going to hell and yet you’re creating a taboo about a finger up your arse.
When you’re gone at some point – I’m counting on it – do you promise not to come back? I don’t want to spend my whole life living in fear, fear of a second attack.
That you’re the kind of person you make a point of not inviting to parties, but who turns up anyway and overstays their welcome.
Right, one more question: do you happen to have any ideas for dinner tonight?
I really can’t be bothered to cook.
Translated by Laura Vroomen