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Illness Has Lost its Romance

by Maureen Glaude

Illness always seemed
to enhance the romance of a character.

The classical heroines
Marguerite - that Lady of the Camellias,
Catherine Earnshaw, even up to
the twentieth century's
Jennifer Cavalleri in Love Story
and on and on,
all blossomed in appeal
as fatal illnesses infused
an exotic twist on them.
What they suffered physically
rewarded by the intensity of need
and cherishing in
their frightened others?

As a child, I once feigned amnesia
to my mother,
my acting quite convincing.
Her dismayed fuss my only prize,
my guilty conscience the side effect.
What was I trying to acquire? Evade?
Was I truly such a dreamer
desperate for undivided attention?

Mental and heartbreak illness, as with Ophelia,
dressed a woman up in allure
with a mystique enhanced
by the fleetingness, fragility
inevitable displays of dedication.
The flower with the shortest-lived bloom
brought the longest
enduring brilliance.

How I savoured the scenes
(and I know I was not the only one)
of Heathcliff gathering up his Cathy
to defy her husband and her deathbed
in time for her to see beyond the window,
the moors of these star-crossed wild ones,
once again
and suffer his demands
that she will herself
to keep alive, with him.

But such was an angle of life
I’d personally missed out on
so I had no well of experience from which to draw
for my own charisma, art, or story.

Only in mid-life
did life-threatening disease
and compromised immunity move in,
initiation to my role of serious patient,
with chronic later flare-ups and side effects
serving as trailers, to leave the aftertaste
of a new reality.

The drama of it all
darkly enjoyable at first,
beneath the pain,
the suddenness of the assault tugging
passionate reactions out of loved ones,
even enemies seeking to resolve old scores,
masks of mundane reserve
thrown off by the immediate what if’s,
and long-suppressed shows of affection,
appreciation, now making
outburst after outburst.
Words that should have been said, by all of us
now truly were.

But with time, things dwindled down
to mere ghost echoes, scar tissue and
same old same olds.

By then illness had undressed herself before me,
discarding all guise of glamour.

In old movies and poignant novels,
the health-impaired or accident-altered
love interest, say Deborah Kerr
in An Affair to Remember,
emanated a mysterious glow
as she sat draped in a blanket,
sparing her man the truth of her
disability.

The ill were in fact
the least weak
for they had acquired the power
to pierce their paramours
with sentiment and desperate bond
for eternity. And we, who watched
the screen, heard the music,
needed kleenex packs at hand.

Tragic illness blessed such women with
immortality, chimera quality and
a feminine martyrdom. Perfect fare
for a writer or actress. Or lonely civilian.
But we all know it’s not
all pastel grace, and drifting by open windows
or running in filmy ivory gowns
through moors to acquire a fever
or lying sweet and frail, like a fallen petal
tiny beneath puffy eiderdowns
while doctors with black bags visit,
uttering Hollywood script death-watch orders,
imposing an ominous
hush across a stunned household
as hammering piano keys played doom
at a thunder.

It’s not all
bedside Camellias, turning colour
with the fickleness of fate,
pure white roses of sympathy,
weeping vigils, a house by the sea
for better breathing, or near-suicidal devotees
pining away in advance, for you.

The initial drama soon downgrades
to boredom, inertia, missing out.

You may become the object of unwanted attention
friends meaning well,
assessing you as gaunt, not delicate,
bony and stiff, not gazelle-like
nor in the ballet dancing style of Giselle.

And it’s not that you’re always tucked in
gently, with only soft sounding terms,
kindly smiles. Without warning
hurtful things get said and done
after the intensity of the risk crisis
cools down.

Grossities and indignities come to visit,
a cold put-upon-ness from laboratory staff
and doctors expecting miraculous feats
of effort and energy from the patient.
Little rest for the sick.

Aggravations do not spare the sick.
Pile ups of misplaced files
faulty specimen bottles given out
soiled garments, rank smelling mishaps,
embarrassments and worst of all,
isolation.

With a wry sense of humour
I think back
on myself then and now,
the before and after
of it all,
and wince in self-consciousness
at the true life limitations
and unrealized aspirations
in who I’ve become
from who I was then, for only in my head
I’m still the same, as
in the days before
illness had lost its romance.

12/07/2005

Author's Note: draft

Posted on 12/08/2005
Copyright © 2021 Maureen Glaude

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Dana E Brossard on 12/08/05 at 05:00 PM

Wow.

Posted by Chris Sorrenti on 12/08/05 at 09:28 PM

An epic outpouring to be sure, like your Joan Of Arc piece, meant to be bravely spoken to a captivated audience. Reminds me of Kate Winslet in Finding Neverland.

Posted by Gregory O'Neill on 12/08/05 at 10:17 PM

Wonderful draft...can hardly imagine it better!

Posted by Quentin S Clingerman on 12/09/05 at 01:44 AM

Lacking sentimentality, direct and self revelatory without saying "feel sorry for me". A wonderful addition to your library of poems.

Posted by Steven Kenworthy on 12/11/05 at 08:11 AM

illness does carry romance in the guise of fatality. it's almost like how an artist finds their fans and love after they die tragically...but only before one dies. the illness gives them that "gone" effect before they've actually left the room so to speak. what a extremely intriguing outlook on this romanticized sensation of dying. makes me wonder if our culture is one of few that does this...or are we one of the rest? amazing piece.

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