Anticipation: I. Sarah's Scar, My Neck
Over brunch, Catherine points out a woman at another table, her neck bandaged just above the clavicle. What could her hidden wound mean? This stranger must have had her thyroid out, a realization that suddenly makes her a little less strange. Watching her out of the corner of my eye, I feel my lips parting, tongue curling to form words. My feet will not carry me to her. My questions go unasked. Instead, I study her bandage. It is a small thing, so grey it is almost invisible against her pale skin. I had imagined mine would be larger. I’m sure it will be at first. I’m sure it will shrink as it grows more familiar.
Later, I ask Sarah to show me her scar. It was Sarah I told first when I learned I had Hashimoto’s disease, Sarah who first told me everything would be fine. Her own thyroid had come out when she was young, a caution against a precancerous growth. She has always gone before me; I look to her body for signs of what is to come. Today, she cranes back her head obligingly, pulls at her collar. For a moment, there is nothing to see. Closer inspection reveals little more than a slight indentation in the middle of a circle of slightly different shade. Not nothing, but almost so, a miniscule divot in the smooth topography of her neck. This is the sole mark of a procedure performed half a lifetime ago, the mark of an excision I never noticed in the eight years I have known her.
Scars are memories made flesh. As with most memories, there is a stillness to them. We recall the edge of the blade, but not the arc it traced through the air. How strange, then, that our scars sometimes slip away. Objects at rest remain at rest, but stillness itself does not entail stasis. The absence of a scar might suggest good health, but instead it implies amnesia, an injury all the more profound for its invisibility.
I ask Sarah to show me her scar because I want to know what to expect. Attempting to anticipate my coming discomfort, I am surprised to find no mark of hers on her body. This should comfort me, but instead it confuses. I know I will not emerge unscathed. I know there will be a line, a line that I will follow with my fingers in unconscious recollection. With its tactile tracings, my surgery will fold its way into my sense of self, a perpetual reminder that I had cancer, and that I have it no longer.
Sarah’s scar might have offered me some visible image of this eventuality. Instead, I stare at a sheet of paper from which the words have been erased, a white expanse that bares only the vaguest indication of the meanings it once proffered. If surgery is speech then scars are the writing that secures its persistence. As I look at Sarah’s neck, I struggle to guess what my procedure will signify. She is no Sibyl and neither am I. Neither of us know what these leaves might sign.
Sarah’s scar lends me no memories of my neck’s future. I will have to wait: Wait for Wednesday, wait through the weeks that follow. This time is insistently my own. It is nothing more and nothing less than the time that is passing.
At the airport, I ask Catherine to photograph my neck. When the bandages shrink, when we pull them away, I want to remember my body as it has been, as it is now. No scar can hold these final moments in place.