How the Movie 'Arrival' Affected My Thoughts About My Illness


On Monday my partner Spencer and I went to The Premium Outlet, and he hates shopping.

Not wanting to push my luck, I graciously gave up forcing Spencer to watch “The Bachelor” with me. And in turn, he picked out a movie for us to watch. I braced myself because I knew science fiction would be involved.

He decided on “Arrival,” a science fiction movie about aliens, which is too bad because I really wanted to see Sleazy Nick send my dark horse, Corinne, home. (I don’t typically like the villains, but this season was such a snooze fest that I had no better option than to hope she stayed on.) Once Spencer saw “Arrival’s” rating on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, there was no turning back. I was officially sentenced to one hour and 58 minutes of an alien movie.

We were probably five minutes into the movie before I started crying. One of the first scenes showed a young girl in a doctors office being examined. I looked over to Spencer and said, “This can’t be good. She is sick.”

The next scene showed the young girl in bed, bald, with oxygen on. Cue the sobbing, sniffling, and me asking why Spencer picked this movie. Despite my tears, we continued watching because this was a movie about aliens, and I think we both expecting to see some stuff get blown up…or something.

So, I guess this is your spoiler alert warning if you haven’t watched “Arrival” yet. The aliens give the main character, Louise, the ability to see time as a whole. For the aliens, and now Louise, time is non-linear, so time is perceived as happening all at once. Because of the ability to see time in its entirety, it became evident that Louise knew that her daughter, if born, would one day die from a rare and unstoppable disease. Much of the movie becomes about Louise’s choice. Despite her insight, she still happily jumps at the chance to “make a baby.”

This was the part of the movie that picked at my soft and gooey scabs, the ones that barely had a crust on them. I have always viewed my life as lineal, and my life has become divided by my before diagnosis, and my life after diagnosis. A part of me has also always wondered how different my life would be if everyone in it knew that I would one day get sick. What if everyone knew I was going to get sick? What everyone knew how bad it might get? Even worse, what if everyone knew how, or when, I might die?

I’ve long wondered if Spencer would have talked to me that night in the bar, nearly seven years ago, if he knew I would develop pulmonary hypertension. Would he still have asked for my phone number if he knew I may not be able to promise him the same bright future that another 20-something could provide? How many people would jump at the chance to date someone who would one day develop a disease that offers a 50 percent chance of living five years post diagnosis? Not many, yet he still holds my hand as we try and navigate through all of this. He held me while I sobbed at the end of the movie, probably not understanding why it affected me so deeply.

The movie also reminded me of how much my diagnosis must impact my parents. They go through every procedure, medication, side-effect, symptom and terrible doctors appointment with me. They see myself break over and over again, after trying so hard to put me back together again. It must be difficult watching me go through all of this, and even more challenging to know what is “supposed” to happen to me. I don’t think anyone dreams of having a sick child one day. I know that this has not only put a wrench in my future endeavours, but everyone else’s ambitions as well.

Of course, I have long speculated what I would have changed had I know what my future entailed. Would I have bothered going to university? Would I have allowed myself to date? I know I would have wanted to travel. What else would I have done differently?

It isn’t good to live with regrets, but at the same time, it is hard to look back and wish I had utilized my time differently. I was always waiting for my life to feel put together, and now I am not sure that day will ever come. While I cannot see my future, or see my life all at once, many doctors have told me what is “supposed” to happen. Three years, five years, 10 years if I am lucky. Those predictions stay etched in my mind.

But, I guess the important thing to remember is that doctors are not aliens. (Although, I have met a few who could be from another planet.) They don’t know what will happen for sure, and neither do I. No one really does.

I also learned that a sci-fi movie can make me cry harder than a girl sent home during the first rose ceremony on “The Bachelor.”

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Photo courtesy of “Arrival” Facebook page

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