A friend asks how my family is doing

I ponder the word, for if I had children
I’d probably share their progress and accomplishments
But instead I try to make sense of the word
For, what I hear is a question about the relationship
I have with my family

It’s not always easy to quantify
Different ways my loved ones show up for me
Are they here? Are they there?
But I know I am loved
Distant—social—near and far
Diminishes not the fact
I am blessed

I am cursed
Feeling too deeply, acute awareness
And increased empathy come at a price
A loved one with flu means pneumonia for me

(it’s not about me)
A relief from not having to shoulder every problem
Yet I scream in my dreams
I wake up tired in the mornings
From fighting creatures that wrestle me into believing
That I should, and I must lend a hand

I drag myself
The right shoulder has locked itself
“How did you strain your shoulder?” the doctor asks
“I’ve been playing tennis.”
I lie
‘cause it’s easier to say
Than to explain about monsters lurking in the shadows
The doctor sees through the lies
Stings me with a shot of cortisone
I clutch my arm and run home

On Fridays
I take my body for panel-beating
Another ear irrigation
“Ah, at last all that dirty is out!”
Proclaims the nurse extremely proud of her work
I do not respond
But simply stare at small balls of build-up wax
Coming out of my ears

I login
Within seconds a sense of dread overwhelms
Social media reveals more than we care to share
I logout

Head swirls
Thoughts race and compete
For, without protection of my build-up wax
I’m too much, I hear too much—

“We’re all mad here!”
Words of a character in some story offer clarity
As I wake up drenched in sweat, in the middle of the night
Menopausal? There’s that too!

On Fridays
I take my body for panel-beating
Another therapy
My physio is a magician and a mind reader
He dulls down the pain and advises me to rest the arm
“I have deadlines,” I protest
“Fight those demons with your left hand!”
I’m surprised but relieved he knows

A friend asks how my family is doing

I choke
A question remains unanswered
Hands hover over the keyword
My father-in-law has cancer—

A friend asks

Phew, what a relief!
My husband’s medical tests come back negative
He reaches for my hand, squeezes it
And we gently smile into each other’s eyes

I reflect once more

“My family is FINE,” I respond.

Khaya Ronkainen is a South African-Finnish writer. Her work is largely inspired by nature but often examines the duality of an immigrant life. She is now embracing aging in this youth obsessed culture as she deals with changes and challenges brought by the natural and inevitable menopause. Learn more at Khaya Ronkainen: Life in Verse, Prose & Visuals.