On the night before chemo (this is the night before chemo (God, how I hate that locution; it leaves out the most important part)), I drift. I project myself forward to the day ahead, allow myself to think about treatments past, send my mind out on its own to gather intelligence.
This is odd because, when my actual ass is in the actual chair, with the actual tubes in my actual veins, I do not really think very much (do not really permit myself to think very much) about what is in fact happening. I imagine it is that way too the night before for someone preparing to be shot from a cannon. In the evening, in bed, one can indulge oneself in all the many possible scenarios. But when the day dawns, and one is lowered into that big barrel, the speculations, the wanderings, the overhead views, as it were, must stop, and one must concentrate on what is real.
This evening, for instance, at dinner (by myself, which I mostly don’t mind, at a neighborhood haunt where the waiters and I are all on a first-name basis), I sat between courses, absentmindedly running my hand back and forth across the neck of my yellow t-shirt, until I suddenly found myself thinking: Jesus Christ, I have the breastbone of a bird.
I have owned birds in my life (never the parrot I really wanted, but parakeets anyway) so I know whereof I speak. If ever they relax enough, poor anxious little things, on your finger, relax enough to let you pet them the way a dog or cat might, you can feel, in the billow of their breast, just below the throat, a sharp extrusion under their feathers, the crop, I think it is (Lord, isn’t that where I began? With things sticking in my craw?) almost as prominent — almost — as the beak, but invisible. The coracoid, I learn this is.
Well, I now seem to have one of my own, a sharp underskin (as opposed to underfeather) protrusion. This is because I am almost devoid of fat, am reduced (boiled down, rendered, in the soap-making sense) to strings of muscle and an armature of bone, which is pretty much what birds always are, with their insanely fast metabolisms, their instant and constant energy use, their nonstop thrumming.
So there I am, human lard-ass, sitting at a table, between soup and main course, thinking of myself as a bird, more perched than seated, pecking at my food, stoking (as best I can) the burner that keeps me going, the way a bird has perpetually to feed itself so as to have the energy it needs to do that insane thing it does: It flies! It flies!
Think of the energy that takes, think of what those little creatures have to burn, think of the fuel they need to take in, in order to launch themselves into the sky, and wheel, and swoop, and turn. Have you ever seen a bird just alighting on a branch, after even a short soar? It pulses over its whole body, like a fist pumping a bulb, only much, much faster.
As I say, on the night before chemotherapy, I drift.
Come morning, soaping and rinsing and dressing and heading out, I will keep myself from thinking any of these things.
For now, however, in the lamplight, with a little jigger in my hand, I can play in the surf even of dangerous thoughts, or (better, under the metaphoric circumstances) wheel in risky drafts.