I roll the vial between my hands, warming the milky liquid, the bottle clinking against my silver rings. I sit on the chaise near the bed and peer at the razor-thin lines which encircle the barrel of the syringe. I wear my + 3.00 cheaters in the slanted pink frame. They make me feel like a movie-star and I hope to chase the doubt I feel too often, but most heavily on Thursdays.
After I draw the measured amount into the syringe, I set the not quite empty vial on the floor and invert the syringe upright as if I am a scientist in a lab. A quick flick of my middle finger expels any air bubbles. I depress the plunger to release a drop which pops over the edge of the needle, hanging as if fearful of the fall. It trembles and slides along the needle.
I breathe, feeling almost as satisfied as I will be after the injection. I can understand how addicts love the needle. “Ready?” I ask.
At four o’clock on a humid afternoon, the sun beats into the bedroom and I want to think the flush on my face is from the heat, but I know I am anxious, frightened that I will do something wrong, waste the dose. This is not the first injection, yet it feels as if it is. I never get used to this moment, and I suspect my husband does not either.
On Thursday, every Thursday, I fetch a vial from the egg shelf in the refrigerator to begin the process of administering his medication via a subcutaneous injection.
Thursday is named after the mythical Norse God, Thor, bringer of the storm, who wields his hammer into thunder and lightning. His hammer can, on occasion, possess healing properties. We did not choose Thursday. Our first monthly supply arrived, a series of four vials, accompanied by four needles, on a Thursday afternoon, announcing and declaring the beginning of the aggressive treatment regime we had chosen. I had never thought of Thursday as magical, or as a special day.
Each Thursday I approach him wishing I felt the booming power of Thor with his thunder and flashing light show, instead of the need to vomit. I feel the sweat bead on my forehead, and tears begin to sting at my eyes, but I do not succumb. A single drop of sweat, like the drop of medication, crawls down my hairline. I brush my face with the back of my arm before I study the serious red line blinking, triple checking that I have drawn the proper dosage.
Thursday at 4 p.m. is our scheduled time as the monthly delivery arrives via UPS. The driver knows us. While he can’t change his schedule, which depends on how many other packages he hauls, he assures me he will never be later than 3 p.m. The yellow package with red and white tape sits until four o’clock. I have to stab my husband fifty-two times.
I think of how many more times this regime will occupy our Thursdays. “All right all ready,” he says. “Let’s get it over with.”
I hear his impatience, but I have to angle the syringe to the proper forty-five degree angle for a subcutaneous injection. The tricky part is to extract the needle exactly as it entered. When I do not, his skin raises a welt, lumps appear. I think about how many times my hand wavered.
“Stop pushing me” I say, not taking my eyes from the spot I decide is perfect. “Always telling me what to do.”
“Always” he says. His voice is flat, the innuendo of our life together—always and forever, Mary and Neal—lays flat, as he does on the bed.
I touch the leg. I feel him tense. Like Thor and his hammer, I grant more pain than comfort. Sometimes I want to be unconcerned and to find a calmness in the moment. Then, I rethink the sharp needle, the metal intrusion, the immediate redness, the feel of his chapped skin against my hands. I don’t want to embrace this moment. I want to erase it.
I do want to excel because my love demands this, however the truth is more selfish. The better I get, the faster mortal time passes. I need to get this right to deflect our unspoken dread of more than fifty-two weeks, of a future with vastly different fifty-two weeks. My fear dribbles out as armpit sweat, and I smell as if I have been working heavy labor for days.
I can never allow Thursday afternoons to become a habit. Habits invite carelessness. Carelessness begets mistakes. Mistakes can lead to an overdose.
I never feel comfortable with the medication, certainly not the needle. I wonder if Thor is frightened by the power of his hammer, booms of thunder, casting bolts of lightning. Perhaps not. Lack of fear may be the definition of a god, and my trepidation the true essence of a mortal.
I cannot be responsible for anything other than a properly executed injection. I can hold this success in my hand, regardless of anxiety.
The red line radiates like a stop light in the mist.
I never think of the medication as a miracle, or a gift of life. As I approach the target with the needle, he grimaces and turns his head. He too is afraid of the needle.
I stab him. The oppressive heat of the day presses on me as I jab his raw flesh, obliterating the world we inhabited before the treatment. Before. That time is an elusive memory. After. A lovely sounding word.
How will I be after? My thoughts hide behind the red line on the slender syringe. After. We shall not be as we were. I know I have lost a part of him. I am embarrassed to worry about myself when I should worry for the man who needs this medication. I thought all he needed was love.
My hands quake.
Without turning his head near the leg, he says, “Don’t worry.”
The tiny girl inside me tap-dances on my confidence. “I’m not.”
His voice is not like himself; he is not himself, and will not be himself for a Vivaldi year. How we will return to ourselves is a mystery. Worry circles round and round.
Before he raises his pants, baggy now, despite the humidity he shivers, his skin puckers into goose bumps, as if his body wants to hide the welt from my eyes. His thigh, skin rawer than the week before, glows pinker than my lipstick.
It is forty weeks and we have lived, adjusted, and managed.
I convince myself this too is part of love. Romantic, I think not. I recall our vows, spoken before a justice of the peace. I understand why in wedding ceremonies we are asked to pledge our love in sickness. Anyone can love in health.
If love is sufficient then I should not fret, but I do. I purchase expensive wrinkle cream to stop the creases in my forehead from deepening, and I always use scent. I will not allow him to miss my beauty, as he has missed so much this year. I hope he remembers.
After the injection he raises his hand to touch me. I don’t recognize his smooth skin—his callouses gone—he has lain ill that long. He cannot keep his eyes from glazing in pain. I wipe beads of sweat from his forehead, cooing as if he is a child, “There, there.”
I do not want a child. I have never wanted a child.
There are conversations not held, or held too closely in love. We have become adept at wearing our shields. He promises he will not grimace and I say I will not shiver. We love our lies as much as each other.
The cat will not leave his side and she does not purr, but watches with her yellow slit eyes. When he wretches and dry heaves, we, the cat and I, arch our backs and the hair grows tall on the back of our necks.
Later I prepare his shower. He is unable to stand for too long so the water must be the correct temperature, the towels ready, everything in the proper order. I stand with him, every Thursday, a day I have come to despise.
I fluff the towels, smooth the soap, and adjust the shower head. He shivers, the cat meows and he melts into the bubbled soap. At that moment I rejoice that I am the one who soothes, the one who takes away the pain.
We do not cuddle under the covers on Thursday evening, we huddle—words that sound similar even look similar, but in the heart, in the bed, are not the same. We are not a team. Thursday separates us. He is the patient. I am the caregiver. His illness parts our wellness. He wretches again and does not see my face as I mop the floor, wipe the stain from the pillow.
On Thursday, I stay beside him, longing to run away, to take myself to the past or the future, wishing I did not have to stay. I stay. I will stay.
Then Thursday becomes Friday and I breathe because it will be a week before I stick him again. Tears flow on any day, but not on Thursday. Tears make reading the line on the syringe too difficult, and the cream around my eyes smears and this he cannot bear.
He strokes my hair and holds me, pats me, and whispers it is okay. I do not believe him and turn away. I have no poker face.
The next week I close my eyes as I depress the plunger and now it is eleven shots until the end, the same number of pounds he has lost this month.
His hand opens, closes, and holds nothing.
There is only Thursday, that damned day, and he says only a few more, then vomits and apologizes. For a moment, uneasiness grips me. What if this becomes our only memory, all others eradicated, and we will never have new ones, only the Thursday routine.
One of the side effects of the medication as it passes through the brain stem, which controls the diaphragm, is spasm. Thursday night thrums with hiccups. Thankfully, the cure for his hiccups is a pill, not another injection.
Years later, he remembers nothing of that time, not the injections, the welts, the itching, the pain, the hiccups that raged. He is free of Thursdays. He is himself, a bit different, almost the same. When I awaken on Wednesday nights I feel his warmth, his bulk, and solid flesh, yet I do not close my eyes again because I remember and cannot forget. I still hate Thursdays and never tell him that day has been stolen from me.
On Thursday evening, I roam the house in the dark hours until the next day. I worship Friday, dedicated to the Norse goddess Frigga, who manages marriage. I honor the goddess, and believe she will guard and care for me. On a Friday morning I drink coffee with my husband. I ask, “Isn’t ‘Six Days a Week’ a Beetles song?”
He laughs. “No silly girl, the song is ‘Eight Days a Week.’ ”