Sorrow: III. Evidence Missing
I have never woken from surgery and not found myself crying. Each time, the feeling that something is missing washes over me. Isn’t it always, though? We invite white-coated mesmerists to lull us to sleep, and as we dream, their colleagues take something from us: A bit of blood or an ounce of flesh. Once it was my wisdom teeth, all four in a single day. Even before the anesthetics wore off, my mouth was an alien landscape, the strip mined ridge of Pennsylvania mountain range. Will I know when my thyroid is gone? Will I weep when it leaves me?
Catherine says, It looks like a butterfly. And I add, An ugly one. Ill-made. This is the gland in question, two lobes like wings, unfluttering on the throat. My surgeon calls it an elegant organ, by which she means it is elegant in its imperfections. Mine may be more imperfect than most. Before she noticed the cancerous tissue, the pathologist examining my biopsy observed the leukocytes in the sample. These were the tell-tale traces of Hashimoto’s disease; white blood cells born with a grudge against the Lepidoptera in my neck. Their insecticidal campaign leaves the organ inflamed, a mass of irregular scar tissue. It is a wounded thing, my thyroid, but learning of its injuries makes me want to hold it closer.
I will never hold it close again. The operation will begin on Wednesday at noon, but I will already be asleep by then, anticipating absence. Removing it could take as little as two hours, but mine – flanked by its fraternal nodules, pockmarked by autoimmune invasions – should take longer. When my surgeon finally extracts it, her assistant will carry it off, take it to other rooms where it will be studied by other eyes. It will linger in the hospital long after I am discharged, a yellow monarch pinned to a peg board.
At twenty five, William S. Burroughs severed the top joint of his pinky finger with a pair of poultry shears. He would later explain that this was part of a “Van Gogh routine” intended to impress a boy who had spurned him. Before he could send it off, he rushed with the euphoria of the injured to see his therapist. This was Burroughs’ last voluntary stop of the evening. His horrified analyst had him immediately confined to Bellevue where he was treated for schizophrenia. Used to such slights, Burroughs was more troubled when he learned that the arresting officers had confiscated his separated joint. They refused to return it after his release. If it turned up somewhere, they told him, they would have to go looking for the rest of the body.
In the succeeding decades, Burroughs’ writing would grow increasingly fragmentary. Critics often explain this development by pointing to his drug use. The anarchic qualities of his prose, they propose, merely reflects the dissipated state of his mind. I wonder, though, whether he sometimes thought of his finger as he wrote. He had lost a part of himself; how could he not go looking for it? In the shattered pages of Naked Lunch and Nova Express, he would seek to recreate the stolen joint. A new origin myth for the cut up style: It begins with a desire for something long since pared away. No revolutionary act, his style bespeaks the persistence of his sorrow.
Do I want to keep my thyroid after they take it out of me? Of course not. Not really. And yet I want to see it, to caress it, to cradle it if I can. What are our excised organs if not external evidence that we exist? Think of my thyroid under the microscope. Here I am outside myself, not in miniature but in pieces. Will I ever stop dreaming of what I have lost? How many mornings will I wake crying?
Sometimes in the woods, a butterfly will land on your hand or settle on your backpack. To touch it would be to traumatize its fragile frame. You can only admire it in those brief moments before it flutters away.