Bones

(September 22, 2004)
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When she was eighteen, she was diagnosed with a malignancy in her right femur; it was rather like being colonized, her resources diverted and desires ignored, and emancipation was initially just as uncertain. Still, she won her freedom - unconsciousness, saws, reconstruction and poison marched through her life, and then there was relative safety, the interlopers driven off at least for a time. Separated from her body, the segment of bone changed from a thing of death to a dead thing, and she felt an odd sort of pity for it, grey and lonesome as it looked. To the horror of her family, she asked to keep it; the doctors, pleased with her determination to conquer, acquiesced. It sat atop her headboard for the next several years, not quite a guardian and not quite a threat, an inanimate object with a soul of its own.

When she was twenty, she began dating a boy. The relationship grew serious quickly, and before she really had time to think he was in her home, in her bed, and staring at the jar. Questions were asked and answers were given; she had expected some mixture of disgust and fear, but instead he was fascinated, staring at the chunk of tempered chaos suspended in alcohol like it held secrets he wished he knew. Occasionally, as things progressed, she would wake in the night to find him twisted about, one hand pressed against the glass, the other gripping his own leg. She still felt the ache of missing bone, rebuilt as the area surrounding the cancer may have been, and at those moments it burned like he was pouring hot wax on her. But she would not discard this piece of her past, painful or not, especially when it seemed to represent so much to one she loved.

When she was twenty-two, their relationship ended, excised from their lives and forcibly half-forgotten before it was gone completely. He had been there when she fell asleep, whispering soft sounds of loathing and apathy into her ear, but when she woke she was alone. As she stretched, torn between relief and tears and considering trying both, her hand strayed toward her former occupant and erstwhile watcher - to find an empty spot where it had sat, a circle of slightly darker wood the only sign that anything had been there. Panic swelled her lungs and quickened her heart, and she called him without a moment's pause, but there was no answer. There was never an answer, in fact; for months he avoided her by phone and in person, until she gave up in despair. How does one go to the police with a case of stolen cancer? Her family, full of pity but pleased to be rid of the reminder of death, did nothing to help, and so a bit of her became a missing partial-person.

When she was twenty-four, the old familiar spines of pain began to radiate from the site of the surgery. MRIs and X-rays were performed, but nothing was found except scar tissue and metal, the same replacements that had lived in her for six years; no one could isolate the cause of the new sensation, but they felt certain that it was not a recurrance. This was enough for her parents, but she couldn't stop wondering: where was he, and what was he doing with that piece of her? What had been so long separated from her connective tissue became a part of her again, linked by her mind or her heart or perhaps his anger, and she began to feel a certain awareness of its position, its existence. She felt exploited, bound to a moment that she had held on to for far too long and could no longer escape, but still he eluded her, having fled from her life with a bit of her death in his hands. She was no longer a colony: she was a country who had sent an emissary into the night, only to have it vanish into the aether. Her muscles burned and cramped, and it became progressively harder to walk.

When she was twenty-six, her annual scan confounded her doctors. The bone surrounding the artificial length of femur had eroded away, leaving it floating - a dark space between the barium-lit stretches of healthy material. The only way to repair it, she was told, was to cut away the damaged ends of her severed bone, replacing the construction and granting her another few gruesome souvenirs. But she suspected that this would only make things worse, more spare fragments to haunt her, and refused the treatment, to the dismay of everyone around her; by the time she was twenty-eight, she could no longer take more than a few steps without agony. A piece of her was gone - removed years before it was missed, but missed no less for that - and she accepted this with something approaching equanimity. After all, she had as large a piece of his heart, even if it wasn't captured neatly in an alcoholic suspension, and wasn't that just as hard to get around without?