I have real health insurance for the first time in my adult life, which means waiting rooms with soft light and water coolers and new magazines instead of hard plastic chairs full of terrified girls and exhausted women. I can’t tell you the difference a waiting room makes in making you feel like a person. I have a dermatologist, to whom I have been referred because of a family history of melanoma: the cancer that killed K and will likely not kill me, thanks to the dermatologist. The dermatologist has hair so perfect I want to ask him if it is real. He also administers Botox, should I be in need. Last month the dermatologist biopsied moles on my calf and my back and told me to come in again today for an excision because the results came back atypical.
Excision: a clean, cutting word that is almost onomatopoeic. Atypical: a word that does not sit on the tongue with the menace it actually connotes.
The dermatologist told me not to worry. I didn’t tell him I wasn’t crying for myself. The dermatologist sutured me up neatly and told me to take it easy for the next few days, so as to avoid pain and scarring, and I wanted to tell him that pain and I are old friends. I wanted to tell him about the years I spent carving lines into my thighs with a pocketknife long after the point such a quirk stops being sad-girl glamorous and starts being just sad, leaning into the luscious sting like I was greeting a lover. I wanted to tell him about the time I wrecked my bike in the middle of an intersection in Portland and split open my knee so deep that I could see bone, and somebody called the paramedics but I didn’t have insurance then and I asked them to call my friend to take me to the hospital instead. When the paramedics came they wouldn’t leave until my friend got there and so I sat in the ambulance with them and told them jokes and one of them said Usually chicks freak out when they see this much blood and I told him that was sexist, I told him to slap a bandaid on my leg and take me to a bar and I’d drink them all under the fucking table. They liked that. The story of my own toughness: my favorite story to tell. In the emergency room I looked on, curious, as the doctor sewed me up, and she said Usually people don’t like to watch this, and I said, I’ve never seen the inside of my own knee.
I wanted to tell the dermatologist about the two hours I spent last weekend in Portland, before my redeye flight to New York, getting drunk with the only two people left in that city who still speak to me. How all I wanted to talk about was K but it was too late, they’d already done all the talking they wanted to do about her, they didn’t need me dragging my selfish hurt through lives they were trying to piece together around her absence. I could have gone back when she was sick or back for her memorial and talked about her then but I didn’t, because I didn’t have the guts to face my history in order to mourn her among people who also loved her, and so instead of talking about K we talked about weddings to which I was not invited and old friends’ new babies I will never meet, and on my way to the airport I felt as though the loss caged inside me was clawing its way out through my chest. On the plane the flight attendant asked me if I was all right. It was nice of him. I said that I was fine.
I don’t mind pain, I wanted to tell the dermatologist, because trauma to the body leaves a wound that can heal. Because any kind of pain is better than grief. That’s all right, I said instead. I’m not afraid of scars.