Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain in 01 Always Red

"So much of caring is just showing up; being the person who didn't go away. Being the person who waited." In the middle of another week of unknown complications, Ella Risbridger muses over what love is. The answer? Simply being there

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By Ella Risbridger on

I had written 350 words, and a structure for this week's column, when the Tall Man had some kind of fit, or a faint, or maybe a seizure, and the world ended. 

We don't know what it was yet, not really. We have ideas, but nothing concrete; scans are scheduled; bloods have been taken. We don't know what happened or what it means. It might be harmless; it might not. Regular readers will be familiar with this paragraph. I type it fresh every time, but I might as well copy and paste: it's always the same in here. It's always a guessing game. It's a bad casino; a waking nightmare; one of those houses in a horror movie where the moment you think you've escaped the next trap clicks shut around you. 

What can I tell you? We're still in here. Every day there's some other fucking thing. Every day there's some other thing that might be nothing or might be everything. Maybe by next week's column it will be totally forgotten: a blip, like the time his platelets dipped, or the secondary respiratory infection. A blip that happened on a Friday, or a Saturday: far enough away from my Wednesday deadline for this column that they were resolved before I even had a chance to panic about them in print. 

Or maybe by next week's column it will be something serious. "I am so afraid that this will happen again," I wrote, four days before the Tall Man was admitted to hospital in December, "and that the whole filthy cycle will start up once more." It did, of course. Worse than ever. I am shocked, reading that column, at how tired I seemed then; how sick of it all I was before any of this even happened. I am amazed, too, that I am still going. That eleven weeks after that column, and some eighteen months after my first column, I am still here. I am not doing anything very useful; I am not the sparky, interesting, funny person I used to be. But whatever's left of me is here.

I am writing, and wearing lipstick. Not right now, admittedly. I'm wearing a t-shirt of John's over some unlikely purple leggings, and I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hospital room, and like always I'm writing because I don't know what else to do, and it needs to be done. I am here because I don't know what else to do, and it needs to be done. So much of caring is just showing up; being the person who didn't go away. Being the person who waited.

The world is strange, and full of surprises, and the only thing you can do is find the things you love – the bright red lipstick, sausages, the boy who finishes your sentences – and hold onto them the very best you can

Love, I think, is mostly about waiting. I used to think it was about finding the person who worked at your speed; who thought the way you thought; who could keep up with you, or you could keep up with. Who got your jokes. Who finished your sentences. I had that, and it was good. I miss it. But it wasn't everything: I should have known this already. Love is not love which alters when it alteration findsIn sickness and in health. See? Love is about waiting. 

It's about finding the person who would wait for you, and for whom you would wait. The person for whom you could put all your own pain and exhaustion and misery and fear into one side of a scale, and your love for them on the other, and love would win: the person for whom you, day after day, would come back to this sterile room above the City. The person for whom you would come back here, and here's the kicker – you do all this not for their benefit, really, but for yours. 

I cannot bear the idea of a day without the Tall Man. Not now, and not like this. I miss him when I'm not here. I miss him at night. The bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide... John on a Sunday morning; him joking that there's no such thing as a frying pan too wide, it just means you don't have to keep the sausages warm in the oven while you do the bacon. I miss him in the morning. I miss him when I'm going home and whenever my phone buzzes with a text that isn't him and whenever I have to chop the onions myself. I never do my own cooking prep; he does it all. Did it all. I don't think he could hold a knife at the moment. I miss him all the time I'm not with him, and so I come back here, every day, because there's nothing else to do: I come here to wait with him, because I don't know what else I can do to make the gap between us smaller. 

Anyway, lipstick. This is a lovely red, it really is. I think of all the lipsticks, I love a matte red the best; matte red is my colour. I feel most myself in matte red, and the best kind of matte is a liquid matte, and this is a particularly good example of a liquid matte. It goes on beautifully. It smells just a little like a Caramac bar. It stays on. The colour is a true red: yes, really, the selfie below is heavily filtered. I had been crying. I can't even remember why now. I took it yesterday morning before this latest crisis, and I cannot even remember what prompted the tears. Isn't that funny? Something strange has happened to my memory in here, as if the sheer weight of it all is too much for the brain to bear, as if one sterile week of fear overwrites the last. As if one crisis maps so neatly onto the panic left by the last that it simply recycles itself: a neat and efficient system. 

I don't remember December very well. I don't really remember January. I think I'm forgetting February as it goes. Perhaps we'll get through this and in ten years someone will ask me what I was doing in January 2017, and I won't know: it'll just be a blank. I hope so. I don't want to remember this time. I don't want to remember the endlessness of this. I seem to write the same column so often. I want to sing a different song, and tell a different story, but to do so would be a lie: this is what cancer is. This drudgery, this persistence, this lack of structure is what cancer looks like, and I think it's what love looks like, and I think, too, it's what life looks like. 

We none of us know what's coming. I don't know what the tests today will show. If the tests today are clear, I don't know what comes after. I don't know what kind of a world the Tall Man will or would even be coming back to. But the point is, neither do you. You might think you do. So did I. But the world is strange, and full of surprises, and the only thing you can do is find the things you love – the bright red lipstick, sausages, the boy who finishes your sentences – and hold onto them the very best you can.  

Whatever happens: wear the lipstick, smuggle the sausages onto the ward, love your people just the very best you can. Because that's all there is.  


About sometimes it's the little things...

I’d never been much of a make-up person before last year, but strange things happen on the cancer ward. When my partner, the Tall Man, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare, aggressive lymphoma, I found myself reaching for a battered tube of Mac Ruby Woo – part armour, part warpaint, all crimson defiance. This is a column about lipstick, and about caring, and about cancer, but most of all it’s my lifeline and it’s proof – for me, at least – that putting on a brave face is half the fight. Read my story so far here.


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