I’ve always been an early riser. When I was little I would wake up before the rest of the family and sit in a corner just outside my bedroom. Lying on my side I’d look at my stacked knees and thighs. In my skin I saw a canyon. In the curve of my hip a hill. And in the brown mottled carpet I saw the Great Plains. My stretched out body reached across the hallway to the top of the stair. I imagined it a rocky outcropping in a vast pile that ended in a sea of green carpet at the end of the hall outside my parent’s bedroom. I named my hands with sounds I liked to say. My right hand was Rigel, my left Googie. I curved them into horses and cantered them behind my knees. I then galloped them back around my rolling calves and sent them disappearing down to the soles of my feet; a few seconds later finger-hoofs would appear from behind my big toe.
As far back as I can remember I played this game. My body as a mountain, a dune or a sloping lawn. Growing up in an urban suburb all of our hills were crowded with lines of two-story houses like cereal boxes on the shelves in the supermarket. The first green hills I saw were the on the local golf course. In comparison my body was smooth and round like the rocks of Sedona, but infinitely pliable. In a motion my knees could form the foothills of the Appalachians then be squeezed together to reform into the Matterhorn. My body was clay, water, and road. I could sit for an hour molding it until it was time for cereal and milk.
My father’s mother, Big Gram, supplied my sister, brother and I with a vast array of home-knitted afghans. A marathon craftsperson she would sit in her olive green TV chair and watch the nightly line-up from Wheel-of-Fortune through to Johnny Carson knitting the commercials away. When an afghan was finished it was tucked inside a plastic bag, next to a bottle of Robert Mondavi red, and stuffed behind the green chair. There she kept a stockpile of bed coverings for nieces, nephews, grandchildren and anyone she liked. Big Gram was a tough bird. Afghans were currency in the Powers family, like a twenty-dollar bill inside a graduation card, you had to earn one or have the good fortune of being born during a surplus.
Big Gram used the yarn she had on hand, or free stuff from the church, and being the seventies, there was a lot of rust, orange, avocado and brown in her color palette. She then knitted the rag-tag skeins into large, migraine-inducing zig-zag patterns that would dominate the decor of any room. My parents had an orange-shag carpet which presented quite a design challenge for Big Gram.
My afghan was different. It was was a series of small multicolored squares linked together with strands of white yarn that formed a scalloped edge around the entire rectangle. It was soft, smaller than the other afghans, and girlish. This was a birthday prize among the home-knits. I’d won big, not a stripe, a zig or a zag.
My grandmother had small, nimble, onion-skin hands. She was speedy at knitting and mixing together a batch of German pancakes, but wasn’t particularly mobile. One Saturday my mom and I stopped by for a visit. My grandmother’s living room was like a bank lobby with a revolving door of cousins and distant relatives coming and going. They took whatever they could pick up and pocket: Hummels on the credenza, small framed family photographs, spare change, single earrings. They treated my grandmother keepsakes like free pens. No cousin was going to get his grifting hands on my afghan. While my mother clipped my grandmother’s toenails, Morris, a big yellow tabby, an intrepid TV viewer, sat on the armrest. I rushed away with the plastic bag and stuffed it in the cubby hole of my mom’s VW beetle just as some strange imposter uncle strode up the front steps.
When I got home I spread the afghan out on my bed and counted the colors: eighteen. I slipped under the squares and pulled the whole thing over my head. Light came through the spaces in the knit and the colors reflected onto my bare legs. My skin dappled with colored light and reminded me of the psychedelic day-glo posters hanging in the bootleg record store down on Central Avenue. I poked my head out and rocked my knees from side to side. My legs were snowy mountains with square patches of flowers poking through the snow. My head, a house, high above the white meadow, and the horses cantered and jumped over the flower beds two at a time.
When I opened my eyes everything was white. I didn’t have my glasses on but I could see the blurry outline of my knees and legs outstretched to the cliffs of my feet. The drop into the grayish-white abyss looked far away and blank. The overhead light was bright and I could hear a slight beeping sound. When I moved my arms to free Rigel from the his stable-covers and trot him down to the snowy paddock on my thighs I realized I was tethered. I pulled Googie out, same thing. I looked around for the colored flowers and white snow trails on my lap but they were gone. A person came in, wrote on the board and asked me if I was in any pain. I said “No.”
“Do you need any more ice chips?”
“Just remember to push that button if you need anything.” She hung the button up on the wall and left the room.
I found my glasses. It was February 16, 2020, 2 p.m. I fell back asleep.
No one came back to my room until 7 p.m. It was dark. My cup was dry and I had peed all over my white blanket. I couldn’t reach the button and I was unable to get out of bed on my own. I found out I was being sequestered as I was neutropenic and immune compromised. Someone leaned over my bed and told me I had emergency abdominal surgery. My lymphoma tumors became wrapped around my small intestine and the surgeon had removed two feet of tissue. A man came in an mopped. My memory slid back into place: a walk in the woods, crippling pain, vomit in the car, the ER, and an ambulance ride to Boston with the sirens on.
I looked down. There were no hills or horses, and not a thread of flowers. My skin was flaky and wrinkled. I could barely make it to the bathroom. My legs were just legs. There were chunks of hair on my pillow like fur from a cat. The room smelled of disinfectant and urine.
I looked at myself in the mirror and vomited. I rinsed my mouth and went back to bed. Somewhere in another room a gameshow was on. I texted Tom and asked him to bring the clippers.