He built crosses to bear his sole, but settled for lessons in basic anatomy. Tears flowed uncontrollably from his eyes whenever he bit his tongue. He was preparing to die and didn't know it. Obsessed with body mechanics, Rembrandt painted his portrait. This, after a series of crucifixions. Whose autopsy is the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp anyway? Is it Christ's?
As his thoughts festered, he developed a strange sensation in his mouth. To satisfy his curiosity, he bit nervously at his cheeks. He chewed on long cigars and snacked on hot sauce and taco chips. Soon he couldn't eat, speak, or laugh so the doctors removed parts of his jaw. After the surgery, he was forced to keep his mouth shut so that his wounds would heal. He learned to keep everything inside.
Time went by and his condition grew worse. Again, the surgeons removed diseased tissues. This time they sutured his mouth for good. He was strong, however, and unwilling to surrender. To nourish himself, he injected pureed foods through a tube inserted into his stomach. To talk, he stretched open a slit on the right corner of his mouth. To laugh, this he couldn't manage anymore.
I hadn't seen him since my father died a year earlier. At the time he was robust, jovial and cantankerous. Now, after losing 90 pounds, he languished in the back seat of the Continental waiting for me to come out of the airport. I was distressed by his appearance and agitated by that strange gurgling sound he made. It was hard to believe that he was still alive.
He was glad I had come. He didn't have much time left, he said. We drove home and spent the evening talking about my trip to Armenia. He thanked me for lighting a candle in his name at Etchmiadzin.
The next morning, I was suddenly awakened by his silence.