Of masks and markings

I was her chaperone today, the day of the markings. With little advance notice, she had little time to get anxious – or cold feet. We waited briefly, then were led into the imaging room. A room gleaming with scrubbed sterility. Clean surfaces everywhere, not a thing out of place. A mute oversized robot, on which she rested, seemed to be awaiting precise instructions to turn and tilt its laser spears this way and that, all over her chest.

I’d been invited into the room as a silent observer of the marking process, or so I was told. But alas, my first glimpse was only in a dressing room later, where I remarked, only half-jokingly, that she bore the unmistakable cross-marks of a goth goddess.

A palpable gravitas permeated the room, as if a sign had been posted on the door with the following: No joy allowed. With nothing practical to keep me busy – other than reminding her to breathe deeply, I had a few minutes to scan the room further before being unceremoniously booted out.

There was a window on one side, dividing the technologists from the patient. A sink, box of tissue, and gel soap stood guard nearby. A pile of faded-blue hospital gowns were stacked on a chair. And, on a shelf directly across from where I stood lay half a dozen clear plastic molds, as if waiting for their next vacuum-forming assignment.

But what grabbed my attention and couldn’t shake loose for the rest of the day was the mask menagerie. Scattered over three high shelves, on the other side of the room, 6 latex-covered head molds lay (possibly) drying, or in need of a refitting.

I had never seen a sight like it in all of my life: A still-life of rubbery cranium shells lying side by side . Each one, a perfect head-mold with its own story to tell, the second skin (or one of many) of its cancer-stricken progenitor. Monstrous in size, they looked like character make-up from a George Lucas or James Cameron film. Or a series of larger-than-life Nixon-lookalike masks on sale for Halloween or a costume ball.

To be sure, it was all a bit sobering. But the upside was that, with the hour-long bit of goth-inspired, all-black retail therapy that followed, we managed to find inklings of laughter & adaptability – or they found us.

Six weeks still lie ahead before getting to the other (lighter) side. But, don’t you know it, this too shall pass. Amen.

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