Ondine's story is dedicated to all those men and women I will never meet in person, and whose lives collapsed on a beautiful day, condemned to an incurable illness. It is my hope that Ondine's story will be like a ray of sunshine, a pleasant interlude, in their daily wrestle. And when they feel depressed, defeated and overwhelmed by their fate, I would like to remind them that, for as little as we know with certitude, for wealthy or poor, for healthy or sick, for old or younger, for all of us, sooner or later, at the end of our journey through the space called Life, there it is, majestic in its implacable serenity, silently awaiting... the EXIT.
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By Liliana Badd
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Liliana Badd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneApril 2004
April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain ... (T.S. Eliot)
In Paris, spring has always been my preferred season. Waking up on a Saturday in spring has always made me euphoric, so sensuously happy. I stretch lazily, feeling like a huge cat imprisoned within the white walls of our bedroom, caressed by the rays of the sun filtered through the shining white shutters, with the windows wide open attracting the pure early morning fresh air. A spring breeze, smelling of thick forests and soil, having swept unchallenged along the boulevards of Paris, through its streets choked with traffic fumes and now arriving softly at dawn in our bedroom, reminds me of the pleasure of being alive. Everything is silent. The outside world is peaceful, no intruding noises, just birds chirping. I listen to Maxim's regular breath. I quietly admire his handsome body, still sound asleep. His wide shoulders, exhausted from the burden of responsibility they carry, seem to enjoy these calm moments following a weary week. I'm watching him, almost breathlessly, making no movements for fear of waking him, for fear of losing this blissful moment. He is sleeping, abandoned in his own darkness, his magnificence. It's touching to see a man asleep, so innocent a sight. Everything becomes possible, everything can begin, or begin all over again. He will open his eyes, he will say, "I love you", but no, he won't say it. His lips will not betray his feelings. This innocence is nothing but a mirage. I can already smell the aroma of the coffee I'm going to make and the crispy croissants, the ritual of our Saturday morning breakfasts in shared complicity has always enchanted me, when I suddenly remember, the nightmare, it's true, it's not a dream, it's my new reality. I slowly turn my back in a noiseless movement, rolling my face away from him. I feel as paralyzed. A nauseous feeling pervades me. Maxim, all at once, is no longer breathing heavily. I feel his eyelids flickering as if the eyes wanted to see, and I feel his mouth open as if it wanted to say something. I feel his eyes now wide open, intensely fixed upon me, and I know all about his hidden emotions. I wish my body could cease to live, could just thin out around me and disappear from his sight. I refuse to see the golden brown gaze of his eyes. I refuse to read what is written on his face. Our Saturday mornings will never ever be the same. Now, the brash breeze is impudently strutting about our bedroom, having turned the curtains into a sail, having bent the roses in their tall vase on the floor, nonchalantly sweeping over me and whispering, "Your life collapsed in spring, your favorite season." I won't turn toward him. My arms won't stretch out to reach him, and my lips won't murmur "Good morning." Words refuse to come out, stuck in my throat, I'm mute, although my mind can perfectly read his thoughts, as well as he does mine. I wrap myself tightly in the white sheets, pretending to be still asleep. I shut my eyes to get back into my difference, my death.
"Ondine, yesterday, I checked on Doctor Veil. She is the best we have in her specialty," he lazily speaks his first words this morning, rubbing his sleepy eyes, in an attempt to reassure me, while I'm longing for the touch of his sensuous lips on the nape of my neck, under my long blonde hair, as it used to be, until today, our first Saturday morning when everything has changed. From this moment onward, my life will be forever divided into "before" and "after."
I would like to put my hand over his mouth to silence him. "Maxim, please, stay away from this, let it be." I abruptly turn toward him, my eyes fixing upon his, looking at him quizzically, almost hostilely, "I don't want you to talk to her, please. I don't want you to say anything to Father either. I won't be able to take it. Promise you'll stay away from this. I'll be fine." A feeling of rebellion invades me as the breeze is sweeping over me, urging me with all the power of its perfumed fragrances, "Come out, come out ... come stroll with me!"
* * *
It was by the end of February, when winter was still lingering, before giving up and letting spring take over, when days were getting timidly longer, that my tonsils started annoying me meanly, two neglectful entities in our bodies, so easily to extirpate, mine still hanging there, choosing to inflame after years of silence. My vain attempts to temper them yield no results. They are obstinate in tormenting me, as though to prove to me their power, getting everyday a little more painful, making me shiver, unable to swallow, my neck glands swollen, my ears burning, sweating day and night, wasted by fatigue.
"It's your age that makes you sweat," Maxim tells me.
I'm barely forty-eight, the age in-between, when a woman's body starts undergoing major changes, the age when youth gradually remains behind, the fifties approaching on the horizon, the youth of the old age.
I finally resign from this ridiculous combat and decide to go to the medical center and see Laura, my classmate and friend since high school. After graduating, our lives took different directions. She finished medical school, now holding the role as an established doctor. I chose an opposite path, linguistics and mathematics, a combination lacking imagination, not far from the truth, a road paved by the mind's perseverance with obstinate curiosity governing this arid domain, mercilessly shoving you into the bareness of the abstract, before leading you to the satisfaction of grasping some amazing logical relations.
"You positively have a streptococcus, Ondine, some penicillin will do. I'm going to have you do some routine blood tests too. You haven't had any for ages," she says.
A couple of days later, she calls me, asking me to drop back in. The deep gray shadows glowing in her eyes betray her. She is talking by far too much, wishing to be reassuring, keeping up a humorous banter, mentioning our youth and friendship, then, deeply breathing she finds the necessary courage to get to the point. She has my blood tests. The blood count is not normal. "You need to see a hematologist," she lets herself go, sighing as though releasing an inner tension, all at once, the look in her eyes becoming honestly sincere.
"A hematologist? I don't know any. I've never been sick. Laura, what are you talking about?" my voice sounds astonished, surprised. My eyes are studying her with a disconcerted look of intensity.
"Ondine, I'm an internist. Your blood results positively require a specialist's opinion. I'm going to choose one for you, pass over the referral and fax over the tests." She takes the doctors' directory, silently leafing through its pages, and lastly, makes up her mind. The expression on her face is now a gentle smile, while the strong look in her eyes is resolute, as if pronouncing a categorical sentence, a sentence without appeal.
"Please go see Doctor Veil. She never jumps to quick conclusions, she is a moderate."
Some weeks later, after endless inner debates, I step inside the somber centenary building of the cancer center, located in the heart of Paris, within the School of Medicine, an ugly, cold, humid massive building, with high-vaulted ceilings, feeling there is no difference between the center and the city courthouse, located in the next-door building. As a matter of fact, the procedure is almost identical, the same interrogative-type questions, name, age, date of birth. They need to key you in the system. I'm here for medical reasons not for judicial. However, I feel like a transgressor. They are certainly going to take neither my face and profile photos, nor my fingerprints, only a small collection of my blood. The assistant informs me Doctor Veil decided to redo all my blood tests.
She evidently took the time to go through my medical file before stepping into the consultation room. Instead of rapidly getting to my blood tests, the reason I was there for, she chooses to take her time. She is not smiling. She starts assaulting me with all these tormenting questions, one after the other. Within minutes, she wants to delve into all the details of my medical history, past and present, altogether, no detail is to be left aside. She questions me relentlessly, while I am intensively observing her, trying to grasp her spirit. In its entirety, it breathes passion. She is in love with what she is doing, she intimately believes doctors need to soothe, treat their patients humanely, with compassion, faithful to the oath she once made, faithful to her credo. She must be some years older than I, definitively we belong to the same generation. Her demeanor is far from a standard Hollywood shallow-type woman; the intensity of her spirit makes her face remarkably beautiful. Her emotions are like an open door, in spite of herself. I'm reluctantly delivering my embarrassing secrets. I'm totally "delinquent" with all decent medical investigations. I feel like playing chess on the defensive, and she is taking away all my pawns, one by one. She keeps questioning me, allowing me no respite. I'm aware, I'm intriguing her, up to a certain point even irritating her with my nonchalant attitude, and I choose to do so more. Instead of fabricating some decent answers, which could have eased my unfortunate case, I choose to tell her the truth, still obstinate in my lamentable situation. Doctor Veil has a keen sense of observation, no insignificant detail is neglected, her mind works like a laser, and she is so intelligent. She patiently feels my armpits, groin and neck, and I can't help thinking she could have been a perfect detective, had she chosen another path in life.
Finally, she concludes the examination. I bluntly tell her I like her a lot. She blushes like an innocent little girl. I instantly trust her.
"Have you been aware of or have you felt any discomfort in your axillary lymph nodes? They are swollen, have you noticed when this began?" she asks.
"No, I never touch myself. My neck lymph nodes were swollen when I had the tonsillitis episode, but they seem to have retracted since."
"Well, I've had redone all your blood tests, and we'll certainly see each other again soon."
I leave and have decided not to tell anything to Maxim or Father, just to wait. I have some days before I'm to face my new reality. I'm amazingly serene, I already know the storm, if at all, is for later.
* * *
"Ondine, you are absurd. It's my duty to interfere. This is a serious matter." His tone is grave, persuasive.
"What can you do? What? My blood is poisoned. Maxim, there's nothing you can do about it, for God's sake, just let it go. This is out of your control. You can only aggravate and humiliate Doctor Veil, asking her to fax you a report every week, on your wife, another doctor's wife. So what? What difference does it make? I don't want you to interfere. Please, try to understand. I don't want Father to interfere either. In fact, I'm going to let the family know when I feel I'm ready. Please, let me deal with this. Please, respect the patient's sacred right to confidentiality."
Deep silence, as heavy and cold as fog, so thick I feel as though I can grasp and cut it with a knife. From this day forward, our sensual Saturday mornings will never be as they used to. Our Saturday mornings will be just foggy and silent....
I returned to see Doctor Veil. She had already prepared for me the preliminary treatment protocol. My symptoms and my blood tests indicate a chronic lymphocytic leukemia. No minute is to be wasted, and the chemotherapy intended to reach remission, should be started as soon as possible.
"Any questions?" Her tone is inquiring, patient.
"How long do I have left?" I hear myself asking in a casual self-contained voice, although an inner turmoil is ravaging me.
"Impossible to give an exact answer. The way a body responds is an unknown factor. You should know that, you are a mathematician," she promptly answers.
"I know, but what is the standard survival estimation, according to the books?" I obstinately persist.
"I do not believe in making standard survival estimations before treatment. There are patients and illnesses. Within each patient, his or her illness will behave differently, there are too many factors involved ... let's put it this way, I simply hate playing with prognosis probabilities. Any questions?" She is now looking at me in a direct manner.
"No, not really."
"There will be some side effects to the treatment," she continues with an expression of intense concentration.
"No questions. Nothing really matters," I answer, somehow, in a misleading apologetic tone.
"Then, may I ask you a question?" She seems to hesitate for a split second, then, she makes up her mind and continues, "Is there any relation between you and Professor Duquesne?"
I look straight into her eyes and without blinking, I lie. "No relation. None. Duquesne is a rather common name after all, isn't it?"
She smiles, not with her face, with her eyes. I grasp a kind of a rapid relief. I totally ignore whether she believed me or not. My lie evidently set her free, in her mind, in her future medical decisions. I would certainly not like Father or Maxim to interfere. I wouldn't want them to double-check or question her. She needs to feel free. This is between her and me. I feel she would like to call me by my first name, but I act as if I did not sense her need to become friendlier. She would not call me Mrs. Duquesne-Schmidt either.
Outside her office, where my life has collapsed, it is just another spring day. The passers-by and the cars are noisily flooding the narrow Parisian streets, as they usually do, in their eternal nonchalant ritual, the sky is gray, slightly weeping, tiny tear-shaped droplets of rain are falling, trees are not yet in full blossom, one can feel spring's delicate, timid fragrance. I feel the April showers coming down, as though they were a blessing, their icy touch on my hair, on my face, seem to relieve my inner tension. I rush inside the first café and sit at a table, with a steaming cup of coffee. I need to calm myself, to collect my thoughts, and regain composure. My first impulse is the "I" and the universe self-limited type reaction. My life is being shattered, my life has plunged into a nightmare, my days are numbered, my choices are limited, my body, still young, will become deformed, a host and victim of a deadly enemy, my daily routine has changed for ever.
Our western philosophy on life restrains us, insidiously instilling in us the belief that life spins around our tiny, insignificant existences. Our thinking pattern makes us feel amazed at life imperturbably going on even when our individual life is being questioned, threatened. We are not taught to think globally as other civilizations do. We are not taught to feel like impalpable atoms chaotically chained in the unwritten archives of the Universe. We are taught to believe our individual existence matters, and we feel as though the Universe is gravely impacted by our daily trials and tribulations in the space called Life. How many men and women, at the same time as I was, were told something that shattered their life, that left them feeling it had been compromised? Impossible to give a precise number, certainly a lot, the huge army of the solitary outsiders. For a second, I think of all these anonymous, nameless faces, I will never meet, for a split second I think globally, trying to identify myself to the unbearable lightness of being, placing myself into the grand scheme of things, before letting a self-centered human instinct take over. A feeling of revolt is seizing control over my reason and soul.
* * *
I boldly asked Maxim not to interfere. He did not verbally acknowledge my request, and intimately I'm aware he is profoundly hurt and extremely worried, but I'm also confident he will not go against my will. I really ignore how I am going to handle this new unknown factor in the equation of my life, having intervened so abruptly, without any premonitory sign, as it often happens in our fragile lives; a simple glitch is enough and everything turns upside down. This time it is a major crisis, an earthquake, and like in all confusing moments in my life, I need to be alone. I need to run away from everyone, be alone with my inner self. I'm not sure Maxim understands me being so obstinate and categorical in keeping this "confidential." I simply hate what I'm going to read in the eyes of my parents, brothers and children. I hate the thought of worrying them and creating a concern if they were to know. I feel I have no right to let the tremors of this earthquake propagate into their lives as well, the earth shaking deadly ground, splitting open, taking over their existence, destroying everything as it falls, leaving behind an inanimate torrid desert, the kiss of death. I would like to talk to Christophe, though; he is my favorite brother; unfortunately, he is so far away.
Excerpted from Exit by Liliana Badd Copyright © 2010 by Liliana Badd. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exit is the story of Ondine, a woman who¿d been sleepwalking through life until the moment she receives a diagnosis of leukemia. In that instant, everything changes. I loved Ondine¿s character and I think many women, regardless of health, can relate to her. However, I wish the story had focused more on her and more on the present. Liliana Badd writes beautifully but the story format was kind of all over the place for me. We got too deep into the life stories of various characters, from childhood on, and the book jumped all over the place in time. Those issues made it difficult for me to stay committed to Ondine¿s current plight. That being said, this is a powerful story and one well worth reading.
EXIT was a great read and very beautifully written. The story was written in a way that allows the reader to see each and every character to appear realistic. Watching Ondine to find out who she really is was wonderful. Overall, this was a great book to read and I would recommend that others read it also. Dream 4 More Reviews received a copy of the book from the author. Dream4More Reviewer, Emmanuel Brown Sweet Dreams, 4 stars.
I finished 'EXIT' last week. Wow! What a life! This story was so well told. I was totally into her head.
Ondine's perspective on her diagnosis gave me perspective on what people go through when faced with a life-threatening situation. Her almost morbid reaction to her life-altering situation shows even fighters have their low moments, even to the point of free falling. But as she falls, she falls forward, finding her own life-saving branch "or branches" to hold on to. And with all she did, she did not add a single day to her life. She just made each day better. And isn't that what we all should strive to do? "If injustice constitutes the essence of life all over the world, it is, however, from innumerable varied acts of courage and belief that the social life evolves." Liliana Badd, EXIT, p.330. Great book to read. Helps us better understand our world.
This book is so gripping from the very start to finish, a tale of emotion, fear, happiness and love all rolled into one; I was unable to put it down. Very insightful in regard to the reflections of mature women. I entirely related to the character; not because I share her illness but because I feel like her; I'm at a point in my life that I see everything with more clarity than I did in my youth. Very inspiring book... I loved EXIT. It made me cry a lot yet it was a good cry, those that purify you from inside out.
Exit is the story of Ondine, a woman who'd been sleepwalking through life until the moment she receives a diagnosis of leukemia. In that instant, everything changes. I loved Ondine's character and I think many women, regardless of health, can relate to her. However, I wish the story had focused more on her and more on the present. Liliana Badd writes beautifully but the story format was kind of all over the place for me. We got too deep into the life stories of various characters, from childhood on, and the book jumped all over the place in time. Those issues made it difficult for me to stay committed to Ondine's current plight. That being said, this is a powerful story and one well worth reading.