Aug 13, 2007

I just read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir written by the ex editor in chief of the French Elle after his whole body except for his left eyelid was paralyzed by a massive stroke. He wrote the book letter by letter, by blinking his eye. It's very short, very spare, but it's like travelling to space or something. Or, I guess, going underwater in a diving bell. It's extraordinary. What could be worse than that? But he's so funny, and wry, and not only angry and sad but joyous, too.


A domestic event as commonplace as washing can trigger the most varied emotions.
One day, for example, I can find it amusing, in my forty-fifth year, to be cleaned up and turned over, to have my bottom wiped and swaddled like a newborn's. I even derive a guilty pleasure from this total lapse into infancy. But the next day, the same procedure seems to me unbearably sad, and a tear rolls down through the lather a nurse's aide spreads over my cheeks. And my weekly bath plunges me simultaneously into distress and happiness. The delectable moment when I sink into the tub is quickly followed by nostalgia for the protacted immersions that were the joy of my previous life. Armed with a cup of tea or a Scotch, a good book or a pile of newspapers, I would soak for hours, maneuvering the tap with my toes. Rarely do I feel my condition so cruelly as when I am recalling such pleasures. Luckily I have no time for gloomy thoughts. Already they are wheeling me back, shivering, to my room, on a gurney as comfortable as a bed of nails. I must be fully dressed by ten-thirty and ready to go to the rehabilitation center. Having turned down the hideous jogging suit provided by the hospital, I am now attired as I was in my student days. Like the bath, my old clothes could easily bring back poignant, painful memories. But I see in the clothing a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.