“a patient etherised”

let us go then, you and i,

when the evening is spread out against the sky

like a patient etherised upon a table …

t.s. eliot, the love song of j. alfred prufrock

let us sit then, you and i, in the silence,

in the gloom of a winter-darkened afternoon;

let us sit, and think in peace

until the questions in me cease

and i know where to begin.

and where shall i begin?

it was the beginning of the end, or maybe the end of the beginning, despite the clichedness of the phrase. in all the goodbyes i said, there was never any dread; perhaps i was already dead to being dead. life was assumed, i assume — i will be fine. did i say i love you? i don’t remember; from almost march back to september is six months, and the details begin to grow dim.

but for the scar it might be a dream, and even that is fading. we went wading in the sea of invalids, to the knees, to the nose; i began to feel exposed as reality sank in that this was the beginning of the end — an end formed in my beginning.

nurses kindly poked and prodded and nodded as i answered questions they had asked before, just to be sure the answers were the same and i remembered my name. most days i do — name and age, if not the millions of miles to mars and the stars strewn in between.

they had seen me, one by one, until everything was done and my lungs and heart and circumference were satisfactory. we were free until evening to continue our afternoon in the holidays of morning. mourning we did not do, nor speak of it; here was love and life and sunlight, and it was enough, ’til twilight brought us back again.

and again they stroked my veins in vain. i grew tired of the refrain “i’m sorry” — for their sake, not for mine. beyond the fear they’d never find one i was fine. this was routine, a dream before i’d dream. then they did.

the doctor slid his razor on and shaved two bald spots in the middle of my head. less the dread of the tufts of hair he held i was fine, as his face peered close at mine to precisely affix his adhesive guideposts of blue. i knew fear at last when more hair fell to the ground — but this too passed as my last task of the day.

we prayed before bed, before goodnights and the lights turned off. maybe i said “i love you” then, and ten times after ten, in notes to friends at home in bed. i said it then, if not in so many words; i hope they heard it in between the lines.