They did not do the biopsy.
Which is a much longer story than he felt capable of telling or texting or speaking or emailing. A story the beginning of which he could no longer point to with any certainty. He wasn’t sure if he’d missed the beginning, its signs, or mistaken the beginning, its sneaky invasion, or lost the beginning.
He had always known how to lose — he’d been raised to it; but this loss had the whimpering whisper of The End.
Perhaps it had started with losing words? Or, it was when he began to lose words he began to realize something was amiss inside him. He, who had always had too much to say, who in his kinder moments had thought himself somewhere between loquacious and prolix, but in his more truthful moments knew himself to be a self-involved, babbling pedant poseur, a someone who spoke in long, digressive tangles of uninteresting babblings meant to distract from his lack of education, income, and lifelong inability to choose an other who was interested in being known as his significant, he who had, finally — almost — accepted that he’d spend his declining years as he’d spent all those earlier decades sharing his bed with the pages of books and the words and worlds of his beloved authors; his mind was beginning to go.
He was losing words.
He meant, before language abandoned him completely, stranding him in some wordless hell he could not imagine, would not tolerate, would determine the boundary-line on the way to which he would not cross, where he would stop and end the journey, surrounded by Parker, Bowles — Jane and Paul, Didion, Isherwood, Adler, Hanff, Isherwood, McCracken, Patchett, Strout, Williams, Greenwell, Capote, White, Penny, and, yes, Susann’s Valley of the Dolls — NEEEEEELY FUCKING O’HARA!!!!!; all of those dear ones there for his final recline, he meant to write his won ending.
Briefly he considered making a funeral pyre of all these books he’d loved, but he couldn’t bear the thought of their incineration, even in the service of his self-immolation. They were treasures and should be passed on, vibrating with the love he’d invested in them, to comfort and sustain and educate another as they had him.
All of this must be done, remembered, planned, before what was left of him drifted — petal be petal, word by word, cell by cell, thought by thought, love by love — away.
First, it had become harder to read. He began having difficulty keeping track of who characters were from one day to the next. He would re-read and still not remember having read it the day before. Then he started stumbling for words when he spoke. And names. And shared memories: people would say to him, “Remember when we…” and he did not. At all. They might as well have been talking about a stranger. Like he was losing track of characters in books, he was losing track of his many selves.
So, before he forgot all of the I’s he had been, he meant to remember them. Before all of him was gone, he meant to remember all of the hims he’d been.
Then his hands started getting weaker. And hurting. Some days he could barely move his right thumb. It hurt to hold a book. His hands ached after he’d cleaned or baked or done laundry or typed, or held a book to read. He just — that it hurt to hold a book to read — this seemed almost too much for him.
Plus, the rash. Which wasn’t a rash. It had started as a few red spots on one arm, spread to the other arm, and eventually covered his body from the neck down so he looked like some sort of hybrid of human and red-spotted leopard. After many, many trips to the physician’s practice to which his low-end affordable-care-act insurance assigned him, during which he’d been put on anti-anxiety/depression medication, steroids, topical creams, and one or another thing he couldn’t quite remember, a picture was taken of his rash (which wasn’t a rash) and texted to the actual physician who owned the practice who texted back that a biopsy needed to be done and he would do it. Three weeks and three canceled (by the doctor) appointments later, he went to his 8a.m. appointment at 7:45, waited until 8:30 to be seen — he’d brought Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel — which he loved — and which he set on his lap because his hands really hurt that morning and he couldn’t use his right thumb without grimacing — and when the doctor finally did come into the examining room he took one look at the rash which wasn’t a rash and said a biopsy would tell them nothing, he needed to go to a dermatologist, figure out the trigger/underlying cause as to why his body was attacking itself in this way and be put on immunosuppressants.
This is three and a half months AFTER his first visit for this condition, which, at the time, was only on one arm and now covered nearly his entire body.
And he thought: Immunosuppressants? I’ve heard — I fucking remember — what those are for. Holy shit.
And so it became all the more important to remember who he’d been. He knew his memories were already fading, defensively constructed, the peculiarity of detail edited and shaped, it’s light focused and gelled in soft colors and design to show him in the best possible way, the carefully aimed shadows thrown to complement the strong points and obscure the flaws of his character.
Which he’d started to forget.
And so on that morning when they did not do the biopsy, as he sat in the waiting area while they called all over Maryland finding a dermatologist who accepted his low-end insurance, insurance the doctor told him was “the worst possible insurance in the Maryland pool, there’s nothing lower,” on that morning, in that waiting room, he suppressed his fear and his tears and his anger — which he didn’t quite understand — and he started this. In third person. Close.
Before the forgetting overtook him completely.