Warm nests and expanding knees.

sante-cast_04     Photo by Kathy Quirk-Syvertsen

On Monday I had my knee surgery. On Tuesday Saint James got his cast off his arm. There will be one day when we have two injured people in our family, he said. He thinks that the simple removal of his cast, ipso facto, changes his status from injured to non-injured. To him, an injury is something easily identified by external markers: bandaids, casts, splints, crutches. He is, at the age of eight, blissfully unaware of hidden injuries, bodies broken in places unseen – in some cases unknown.  To Saint James, I wasn’t injured when I was seventeen – I was injured on Monday, when I came home with a bandaged knee and crutches.

Ironically, Red Vogue took this picture while she was watching the kids during my surgery. Later she wrote in an email that she was fascinated by Saint James’ empty cast – that the soft and cozy interior reminded her of a nest. I just love that. A nest.

From what I could tell, the cast allowed Saint James to forget about his broken arm. Where he had gingerly cradled his arm for the 24 hours before we got him x-rayed, he seemed to have no pain and no memory of the broken bone magically healing therein once he got his cast. In true kid style, it was business as usual – he was able to write, swim, play soccer, and navigate the monkey bars as always.  Piano is the only thing that went by the wayside for six weeks, and he was none too sorry about that. Instead of slowing him down, the cast freed him up – let him get back to the business of being a boy.

I on the other hand have been spending far too much time contemplating my knee. It has almost taken on a life of its own. Sometimes, it’s just a knee. Sometimes, if I’ve fallen behind on the pain killers, it expands in my imagination – the hurt emanating out in a perfect pulsating orb – swirling and electric like a crystal ball. And sometimes, when I’m fighting back tears of frustration because I can’t carry my own cup of coffee to the table, it grows even bigger, expanding to fill the room, threatening to burst the walls, to suffocate me. 

I have been thinking a lot about a book called The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, so I asked Doctor Dash to find it for me in the attic. It took me about a minute to locate the passage I remembered and when I did I just clutched the book to my chest and sighed. These are the ruminations of an old man named Leo Gursky who is at once hilarious, ornery, fatalistic and a hopeless romantic – a beautifully written character and one of my personal favorites of all time.

“My heart is weak and unreliable. When I go it will be my heart. I try to burden it as little as possible. If something is going to have an impact, I direct it elsewhere. My gut for example, or my lungs, which might seize up for a moment but have never yet failed to take another breath. When I pass a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, or I’m at the bus stop and some kids come up behind me and say, Who smells shit?- small daily humiliations – these I take, generally speaking, in my liver. Other damages I take in other places. The pancreas I reserve for being struck by all that’s been lost. It’s true that there’s so much, and the organ is so small. But. You would be surprised how much it can take, all I feel is a quick sharp pain and then it’s over. Sometimes I imagine my own autopsy. Disappointment in myself: right kidney. Disappointment of others in me: left kidney. Personal failures: kishkes. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve made a science of it. It’s not that well thought out. I take it where it comes. It’s just that I notice certain patterns. When the clocks are turned back and the dark falls before I’m ready, this, for reasons I can’t explain I feel in my wrists. And when I wake up and my fingers are stiff, almost certainly I was dreaming of my childhood. The field where we used to play, the field in which everything was discovered and everything was possible. (We ran so hard we thought we would spit blood: to me that is the sound of childhood, heavy breathing and shoes scraping the hard earth.) Stiffness of fingers is the dream of childhood as it’s been returned to me at the end of my life . . . Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all.”

And me? Helplessness, vulnerability, loss of innocence – that all goes straight to my knee.

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