chemotherapy-448578_640An IV bag dripped into the crook of my left arm. Or my right. I don’t remember. I remember the afraid. Ablation. I mulled the word through my thoughts. Ablation. Isn’t that a Church word? Latin isn’t catalogued in my mind like it was in my past. Away. Something about away. His name was Trevor. Kind and gentle. He talked to me as he prepped. I asked if I could raise my arm. He said I couldn’t. I told him I just wanted to make the Sign of the Cross. I’d be awake during the procedure. I wanted to pray my rosary. I made the Sign of my Faith on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. A technician above my head told me he’d say the prayer for me. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen,” he recited. I listened for the pitch of ridicule. Absent. The technician is too young for the Latin to be loaded in readiness. “Were you in the seminary?” I asked. “No. Just a lot of years in Catholic schools.” Trevor raised his voice, “I know the Hail Mary in Spanish.” I turned my head to my right and looked into his eyes. “8 years in a Catholic school in San Diego,” he offered. I listened to him pray and recognized the words from Spanish 3. “San Diego? Why are you here?” I asked because the day was cold; why would anyone be here without purpose. “The obvious reason.” We laughed. “A woman,” I said. We laughed. I watched Trevor as he negotiated the electric pink razor over my chest and abdomen. Prepped from thighs to collarbone. The tufts of hair waved and swayed beneath the V of his scrub top. Trevor doesn’t manscape. I don’t either. This was only the second time. And neither time had I held the razor. The monitor said the ablation wasn’t necessary. The PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) are controlled by the medicines. Trevor pulled out the tubes. I pulled on my clothes. I waited the required thirty minutes and my sister drove me home.

I stood in front of the bathroom sink and pulled the tape from my arm. The bandaid was stained with a dot from my dried blood. I looked into the mirror and saw my smoothly patched chest. Clumps of hair lined the surfaces outside my nipples. I didn’t recognize myself. My body looked featureless and soft and absent of color. Like alabaster from some Sherwin-Williams collection. Freshly stirred. Smooth. I felt embarrassed. Feminine. Perverse. The opposite of clean. Not clean shaven. I didn’t recognize myself. I had a habit. Since college. Or before. I habitually rubbed the space of skin that cocooned my heart when I thought. I strummed the space with a rhythm that echoed a flamenco beat. Rapid. Too rhythmic to be a tick. I leaned into the mirror. My belly met the porcelain. I looked into my eyes and rubbed my heart. My palm grazed. Cold. Clammy. Like touching the unresponsive skin of a woman. I pulled my hand away.

I thought of her. I remembered our game. A clawed bathtub sat on a cracked tiled floor haloed by a spackled baseboard. The ceiling dampened and stained by the absence of a fan. “Let me shave your legs!” she giggled. It was a new tease for her. We were young. Sex was as much about the new as it was the desired. Once she had painted my toes; shaved legs wasn’t a leap. In the dead of winter – only the two of us would know of our game. I allowed two inches up my thigh. “Stop.” I didn’t demand; she didn’t insist. “How about this little part here?” She plucked the patch in the center of my chest. I had been bullied as a boy. Hair on my chest was an accomplishment. A proof of my masculinity. I spent my youth in the era of the hirsute hero. Tom Selleck didn’t shave; I didn’t want to return to the prepubescent; I didn’t want to return to the pursuit of a woman. I returned the razor. There wasn’t much to shear. It was gone with a couple of whisks.

I stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. As I dried my body I saw the stripes. Shaven from grin to groin. I looked centered but I don’t feel centered. I didn’t recognize myself. No ablation but no solution. My heart was broken. I felt vulnerable and weak and out of control.

I stood and stomped my feet to warm myself. I pushed pleasantries from my face and tried to be upbeat despite the excessive random heartbeats. An insult was hurled; the target was absent. Usually I raised a defense but I remained silent. I felt weak and vulnerable and unable to raise my confidence. A young man raised a rebuttal. I admired his risked. It wasn’t his crowd; he wasn’t our age. Yet we shared the same sex and sentiment. Soon I became the punchline. An insult aimed at my heart. I lacked the confidence to defend myself. My pride was soft and fleshy and pliable. He raised my refute. I silently stood back. I recognized myself in his deed. He reminded me we’re men.

I sat on a bench inside the store. I wanted to catch my breath; I hadn’t. I asked the man to pack the bags as lightly as possible. “I have a bad heart,” I apologized. I felt embarrassed and emasculated. “I’m not a man anymore.” I told myself. He packed less than twenty items in more than three sacks. “I’ll carry them for you,” he said. “Thank you. I’m so embarrassed,” I whispered. He walked alongside me as we walked to my car parked in the handicap space. I didn’t look handicapped. I’m embarrassed. But it’s too far to walk. As we walked to my car he told me his story. A car accident. A tailgate. He was animated and although he struggled to speak my language, his patter was brisk and energized. I listened and returned his passion. He felt outraged and relieved to hear my echo. He shook my hand and closed my trunk. We both smiled with the joy of our communion. I watched as he walked back into the store and recognized myself in his gait.

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