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Michael Bettencourt

On Skin Lesions, Geezers, and Hummingbird Wings

In November 2014, I had a benign melanoma lifted from my right calf.  By "benign," I mean that it hadn't set out yet to kill me: thin, topical, lightly rooted.  The Marvelous María Beatriz had scoped out the blackish insignia on my leg and shepherded me to the dermatologist's office to have it biopsied, then surveyed her contacts at the hospital to find the surgeon everyone loved who would do the removal (we found him, in the Breast Cancer Center, a soft-tissue expert).


With casual deftness he fileted it off, leaving what is known in his business as "the shark's bite," a divot that resembles what a shark (small) would take away if it opted for human sushi.  He used dark blue thread for stitching, which gave the wound some horror cred.  I (half-)joked with María Beatriz about getting a shark tattoo to surround the wound -- this did not amuse her.  (I have not given up the idea, though, since the scar has scarred up nicely.)


About a year earlier I had had two small basal cell carcinomas removed from my pate (the result, I jested, of an over-active brain), which, along with the melanoma, now made me a "candidate" for cancer (in a campaign I had no interest in running or winning).  So now I do six-monthly check-ups with my dermatologist, where he does a full-body examination to see what has come to the light.


At the last session he saw two surface anomalies that he didn't like, so he scraped them off (first the Novocain (yes!), then the slice-slice, then band-aids, and off I go). I had one on the ridge of each wing-bone, so of course I teased María Beatriz that my two new wounds indicate the growth of wings (another idea for a tattoo, though petite -- hummingbird, not eagle).  Again, not amused.


I am sure he will find others at other sessions.


This body alters without asking permission.  I am not a sun-person -- I guard against the sun as much as I can, even down to long-sleeved shirts at the beach (when María Beatriz can drag me to the beach) -- and yet I have had a condition often caused by sun-overexposure.  Which announces that whatever precautions I take will matter less in the mix than biological elements that are not my friend. 


Then there is the body in the backless paper gown offered to me by the sympathetic/efficient nurse. This body, as Spanish would say, has 62 years, and the architecture begins to slide.  I am certainly in better shape (both as in fitness and as an actual shape) than many of my same-aged colleagues, and if "62 years" has the timbre of agedness to it, I don't hear it since my self-awareness does not sound aged to myself.  So this disjunct between the body in the backless gown with skin lesions -- in other words, finite and friable -- and the present-tenseness of a life living itself out as if the living out could and should go on forever.


None of this makes me feel "mortal," the "oh poor me" that one day I will not be here to say, "I will not be here."  Boo hoo.  My biggest fear is not absence but geezerhood.


I work with a sixty-five-year old woman whom I cherish in part because she displays Platonic Geezerness.  She channels the discontents of the old against the new or the young or the synthetic/syncretic because she has chosen not to consider herself a citizen of the current time or cultural regime.  There is liveliness within her -- she's off to the ballet or concerts or good movies all the time -- but instead of breaching her borders, they help her build bulwarks.  Sometimes, conversations with her feel like life only has actuality if complained about, that complaining validates that one is alive and kicking (hard).


I cherish her in great measure because she reminds me of what I don't want to become: a faultfinder, a scold, a curmudgeon -- a senior citizen.  Just because I have a "maturing" body with a cellular wrecking crew doesn't obligate me to ease off on my enthusiasms or sign on to gravity's conservatism.


Quite the opposite.


Keeping the mind grasping and the attention bright takes effort, but probably no more effort than it takes to harden into a settled pattern.  But the efforts differ in feel and weight.  To lift and separate (ah, Playtex!) moves upward against gravity, but since gravity always trumps, the lifting and the separating can never stop. To make this effort feel less like pushing a rock up a hill, we devise philosophies and pharmaceuticals and distilled spirits, and with the aid of this infrastructure we do achieve moments of arrival at balance and peace.


To harden into geezerhood is not a passive process or an unavoidable certainty, a simple "that's just the way it is."  To harden requires making a choice to feel fatigued and to let entropy be the lead dog, a choice to narrow and prescribe and judge and complain.  When a person declares that he or she is just being "realistic" is the moment he or she is not to be trusted.


I pray to whatever gods handle these sorts of things to inoculate me against the hardening.


As for those hummingbird wings: I am going to push to get them because I can use all the lift I can get (they can beat up to 80 times a second, I hear). 

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Michael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt September 2014 |




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