The Four Letter Word: Essay

In the beginning, there was a single word. It was a little and solemn thing, this four-lettered edifice of language. And that word was "cyst."

It rolled right off the doctor's tongue without preamble and struck me without warning. Didn't matter that I'd heard it before. To be told there is something foreign in your body, a little growth that doesn't belong, makes you feel all the more vulnerable for the things you can't control.

Sickness has waxed and waned for half a year now. Growing in spurts that left me bed-ridden, fading until I could almost swear I was normal. But here again comes this same four-letter word to bother me. Because the letters all stand for the same thing that every patient asks of their physician: Can You Stop This?

Yes, can you stop it, arrest it, freeze it in time so that it's nothing, make it a dust mite, an incident forgotten, a sleeping form that returns to nothingness without a whimper? Can you stop it, tear it down, remove it, exclude it and retract it, make it so insignificant and invisible that it isn't even on the radar, just so much smoke for the wind to blow?

But this question is never fully answered. Instead there is another parade of words, all of them longer. Some of them wonderful like "benign" and and phrases like "doesn't require surgery." Others are terrible such as "abnormal," "malignant," and "surgery is our best option." Oh, how we wait in silent horror for those baleful syllables to fall. It is as if the blade of the guillotine is already whistling but you didn't even know your head was on the chopping block.

Yet I am here, just standing, not yet on that stage. I am instead, poised in the hangar of the uncertain and the gleaming edge of the wait. I am healthy and unhealthy. I am known and yet unknown. There are just an infinite number of questions and their infinite answers all undiscovered.

And as I walk, I feel that four-letter word. It's presence rides inside my abdominal cavity as if I've swallowed a gumball whole. It sits there when I move and occasionally throbs its lamentations to my consciousness that I pretend to ignore. The doctor tells me that I'm young and normal with a reproductive system flexing its angst. Fairly normal, he says. Yes, normal to be hunched over a cane with pain so extreme you pass out into the grayness. Perfectly normal to spend the nights staring at the ceiling because your body is a stranger threatening a divorce you never saw coming.

Yes, just my four-letter word and I. Just us in our little dance. It bows to me, having announced its presence. But I am a chess-player rather than a dancer. I'm merely waiting patiently for its next move.

Blog Archive