An IV bag drips into the crook of my left arm. I’m afraid. Ablation. I mull 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 is Trevor. Kind and gentle. He talks to me as he preps. I ask if I can raise my arm. He says I can’t. I tell him I just want to make the Sign of the Cross. I’ll be awake during the procedure. I want to pray my rosary. I make the Sign of my Faith on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. A technician above my head tells me he’ll say the prayer for me. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen,” he recites. I listen 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 ask. “No. Just a lot of years in Catholic schools.” Trevor raises his voice, “I know the Hail Mary in Spanish.” I turn my head to my right and look into his eyes. “8 years in a Catholic school in San Diego,” he offers. I listen to him pray and recognize the words from Spanish 3. “San Diego? Why are you here?” I ask because the day is cold; why would anyone be here without purpose? “The obvious reason,” he says. We laugh. “A woman,” I say. We laugh.
I watch Trevor as he negotiates the electric pink razor over my chest and abdomen. Prepped from thighs to collarbone. The tufts of hair wave and sway beneath the V of his scrub top. Trevor doesn’t manscape. I don’t either. This is only the second time. And neither time I hold the razor.
I think of her. I remember 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 stand in front of the bathroom sink and pull the tape from my arm. The bandaid is stained with a dot from my dried blood. I look into the mirror and see my smoothly patched chest. Clumps of hair line the surfaces outside my nipples. I don’t recognize myself. My body looks featureless and soft and absent of color. Like alabaster from some Sherwin-Williams collection. Freshly stirred. Smooth. I feel embarrassed. Feminine. Perverse. The opposite of clean. Not clean shaven. I don’t recognize myself. I have a habit. Since college. Or before. I habitually rub the space of skin that cocoons my heart when I think. I strum the space with a rhythm that echoes a flamenco beat. Rapid. Too rhythmic to be a tick. I lean into the mirror. My belly meets the porcelain. I look into my eyes and rub my heart. My palm grazes. Cold. Clammy. Like touching the unresponsive skin of a woman. I pull my hand away.
I step out of the shower and grab a towel. As I dry my body I see the stripes. Shaven from grin to groin. I look centered but I don’t feel centered. I don’t recognize myself. The ablations offer no solutions. My heart is broken. I feel vulnerable and weak and out of control.
(Photo courtesy of gerstelus.com)