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The Blue Knight
by Tatia Mgow

       What a word: Tumor. It cannot be mine. It cannot be true. They must be wrong. It must be a rumor.

       “You own it,” they said.

       “I never bought it,” I cried.

       “Take care of it now or you might die.”

       Ah, there it is. I was slipping into rhyme in an attempt to bring structure to the chaos coursing through me. I had done it since childhood. Parents fighting? I had a haiku for that. Mean kids at school? I had a limerick for that. Brother arrested? I had a beat for that. War and pain? I had verses for that. But this diagnosis was beyond rhyme or reason.

       Outside of the bad news clinic, under an olive tree, I sat. Metal-green leaves, leathery and lance-shaped, dangled over my head. A peace offering to me? Admittedly, there was an arrogance on my part. Me? They were talking about me? Wasn’t this supposed to happen to people I didn’t know?

       In the arboreal splendor, a bird sang sweet. The feathered one knew nothing of my diagnosis. The clinicians offered no prognosis. “A wait-and-see approach” was all they said. I wondered if I would soon be dead. There I go again, trying to rhyme my way out of it.

       The traffic on the street moved, unabated. No one noticed me, no one looked at me. They lived their lives while I contemplated my end. How dare the world go on without me? How dare they act as if everything is okay? I’m no virgin to bad tidings, but this news hit different.

       

        The days that followed, we lived in fear, but I had only one episode of tears. My partner, DeeJ, and I fought to keep our spirits high. We played music, the soundtrack of our lives, but the tunes that once brought dancing joy only brought melancholy and a sense of farewell.

       My mother called: Should she travel to me? Should she be there if this was goodbye? I declined her request. Perhaps her absence would keep me alive.

       I was tortured by the belief that my death would let others down. Who would do this? Who would do that? Ah, but you see, the world does not revolve around me.

       Practical matters provided much-needed structure. An advanced directive, financial concerns, the old “getting your affairs in order” scenario while I concurrently underwent pretesting. Chest X-ray, EKG, blood drawn, type and cross, an offer to meet the priest. I became exhausted and surrendered to the process, physically present but mentally detached.

       The morning of whether or not I would live another day was serene. A typically hot August day was not to be found. Instead, a fragrant morning, a kind sun, a temperate breeze. These are the things that brought comfort and ease.

       We were silent in the car as I was brought to face the knife. My partner, DeeJ, was afraid, not prepared to lose half their life. Cards and phone calls from family could not abate the fear. The time was ripe. My fate was near. The waiting room was not quite right. I paid out thousands to a woman with a hard face, uncaring of my impending date with the sharpest blade. On the battered television screen, there was news with ugly scenes. A mass murder, too common, too accepted, drove a stake through my frightened heart. Barbaric images flickering that no impending patient should have to contemplate.

      They call it pre-op, that purgatory. In a dimmed room stacked with patients, my nurse was robotic, following a list of orders, not taking into account that I was human. See me! Can you see me? No, I was just another patient on the conveyor belt.

       I was parched, having consumed nothing after midnight. When the nurse gave me a sedative to take by mouth, I eagerly slurped the liquid like a stray cat finding a fresh water source.

       Then, the gurney began to move. DeeJ kissed me on the head, told me they would be waiting on ahead. A new nurse arrived and took me away from all that I loved. Her pillow-soft body wheeled me down the hall. My arm was too heavy, I could not wave to DeeJ. With the relaxing pill, I was beginning to fall.

       DeeJ then reappeared, running alongside the gurney, unable to let go. At the doors for authorized personnel only, DeeJ disappeared into a glow.

       Through my gauzy filter, a figure appeared swathed in dark steel from head to toe - The Blue Knight. He asked me if I was ready to fight.

       I saw the stainless steel table. A man covered my mouth, but I had nothing to say. Naked, alone, with strangers. I felt the cold on my back and all went black.

       In the theater, I surrendered everything to The Blue Knight. My body. My dignity. My very life. When it came down to it, there was only The Blue Knight and me. For the armored one to do this, to be more intimate than any lover, I needed to believe that I was more than a vehicle, that he was more than a mechanic. I needed to know that I was extra, that I was special.

       With his glinting sword, The Blue Knight expelled the invader and delivered me back into this world on a river of blood.

 

       They shook me in post-op, alarmed that I was so difficult to rouse. Anesthesia hovered and asked me to come back. He said that the operation could not have gone better, but I had lost a lot of blood. He compared the invader to the size of a small watermelon - juicy and thick, swollen and red.

       The Blue Knight set me up in a room fit for a king or a queen, surrounded me with ladies and lords-in-waiting. The room, a kaleidoscope of glassy things, where from the dusky corner, The Blue Knight pulled the strings. My hand reached out to him. For comfort. For connection. But The Blue Knight receded into the inky shadows. I experienced a sense of desperation. I needed him, but he would not come to my bedside.

       In a brief moment of lucidity, I believed that with the cutting over, the hardest part was behind me. But I was wrong. What followed was pain I believed was dispensed only in a supernatural Hell. It was a depth in which I had never before been plunged, a fall down the deepest, darkest well where I writhed in agony without relief.

       In that noisy mechanical bed, I got no sleep as the monitors set off alarms and sent nurses rushing to my side. DeeJ paced with worry and fear, but I was gone, drugged and captured by a specter unseen.

       In the days that followed, I stumbled down the hospital corridor with my steel and plastic partner, my IV stand. I had been ordered to walk, ordered to stay active. Alongside me, strangers, also patients, the walking wounded, were also on the clinical racetrack. They were slow. I was winning the race. I wanted to keep going, to get away from my room, away from the needle they frequently plunged into my belly to prevent blood clots.

       Through the parallax view, I saw The Blue Knight only in flashing glances. In his armor of blue, his face was concealed and he was standing, always, at a great distance from me. The glint off his armor was blinding. In my state of total vulnerability, a break in my psyche then occurred. Though he kept up his resistance, I unequivocally considered him my savior. My weakened state bizarrely believed that without The Blue Knight, I could not function, that his very existence provided me the oxygen to live.

       His flinty exterior, perhaps it has to be so. To do what he does. To see what he sees. I was there in the chamber of oncology. I heard the screams. I heard the cries of disbelief as judgments were doled out. He can’t absorb the strife of us all. He had to save himself, too, from this cancerous brew.

       And then, in a breathless moment, when he was required to make his rounds on me, there was a sliver, just a sliver of the human instead of the mechanical knight. He told me he had won many battles, but sometimes, he lost the war. And then, he looked down at his feet and took a deep breath. I could see the sadness carved into his face. I could hear the echoes of the ghosts who haunted his space.

       When he raised his head, the impenetrable Blue Knight was back. The human was gone. Blank, lifeless, unwilling to share. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t dare.

       My sentence was delayed another week. The tumor was too strange. Another pair of eyes, a pathologist at the university, would have to discern its margins. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the counting down of the clock.

      When my sentence finally came down, I learned that I was free of the beast. Cured under the knife. In my state of repair, the shattered remnants of me sought to be whole again, but I found myself afraid of the dark - not because The Blue Knight was there lurking in the shadows, but because he was not there.

       I felt different in ways that I could not fully understand. I no longer have the body I was born with. I don’t feel like me. I don’t look like me. Am I a man? Am I a woman? Does it even matter? I am a human who was given the gift of being born again, but I could not ride on that wave of gratitude just yet. The experience caused me to emotionally regress. Not even DeeJ could save me from the childish slide. I was convinced that I would only be okay if The Blue Knight was by my side, even if he remained at a distance in the shadows. I sobbed that I needed him. Each day that took me further and further away from The Blue Knight, from his rescue, I felt like a vessel unmoored, allowed to drift on the sea, hit all too often by the rogue waves of life.

       But I could not cling to my perceived savior, The Blue Knight. He was already off on his next quest. To wage a battle. To win a war. To save a maiden, if he could.

       Only the passage of time can hold up the retrospective mirror, if one is willing to reflect. At a distance now, removed from that chewed up space, I can see now what I couldn’t see then. I had transferred all of my strength onto The Blue Knight. I had believed only he could save me. But soon, I began to realize that I fought the battle. I got up and out when my body refused to move. I battled the demons that visited in the night, nightmares fueled by opioids with their sinister come-hither.   

       Physical therapy offered up its own challenges, my body demanding to rest or worse, to surrender entirely. Beneath my baggy shirt, the disfiguration, the ragged scar from sternum to pubis, its own special burning Hell.

       My mind pushed back at the unseen forces that demanded that I give up or give in. I fought to break through anything that was trying to limit me.

 

       The battle to recover over the next several months was an education of my body, of my mind, of my core, and my spirit. I was not a victim after all. I did not need the man in the dark shadows to rescue me. I saved myself.

 

       I am The Blue Knight.

Tatia Mgow is a daughter of the land of Zulus, an observer of life from travels that have taken her across the world. Her work draws from the personal, that which touches and connects humans to each other and to the natural world, with an emphasis on empathy, understanding and growth for a better world for all.

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