It was maybe 49 hours post surgery and I was watching The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Dreyer, admittedly an unlikely choice for post-op recovery. Call it the irony of grooming the Netflix queue and selecting this film for no other reason than I had never seen it before and it was an IMPORTANT film, a hole in my understanding of film history that needed to be filled.
I probably chose it months ago. Maybe even before December 9th, the night of my diagnosis. Getting the call from the surgeon and him saying in his kindly voice “you’re going to want to write this down”
The acting was broad and theatrical. It rolled as a series of close-ups and pans of men’s faces. Disapproving, but still very human. They looked a bit like Franz Hal men without the beer and ruddy cheeks. The stern church men, judging poor, dirty-fingered Joan of Arc, who had this way of looking up at them as if she was appealing directly to God. They asked simple questions. Her lips moved but we didn’t get the benefit of subtitle and so I’ll never know how she responded, particularly since I’m neither adept at reading lips or fluent in French.
It was dull to be honest. And moved at a plodding pace, shaped at a time when the fresh language of film editing and framing was being created, a bit like the Greeks inventing PI and irrational numbers. But I was riveted. There was something about the endless flow of faces that yes, looked like oil paintings. Each person moved in a way that made it clear they had breakfast that morning. It held me.
Poor Joan’s predicament was lost to me in the endless maze of details about God and church dogma. She came across as simultaneously a simpleton, a crazy homeless street girl, an artist on her way to martyrdom. She looked up with those big eyes, big tears flowed down her perfect cheeks and yet she was unable to defend herself and stop the tragedy.
She walks to her chair. The red hot coals are sizzling. A pan of faces, her audience, watch, rapt. Like a train wreck, I can’t hit the pause button or fast-forward.
I know she’s going to burn. After all, that’s why you sign up for a dramatic experience called Joan of Arc, you are waiting for that moment, the moment where she burns.
But it was the walk to the chair that haunts me.
I waited for surgery for three months. During that time I got my ducks in a row. I found out all I could, took tests, found a new surgeon and scheduled the date. As it drew closer I closed up shop. I finished the first act of a new screenplay, wrote notes to a friend on her screenplay. I didn’t write my will but the spirit to write it was certainly there.
I made sure to tell Tim I loved him.
The day before was bumpy — horrible. Got a speeding ticket. When I told the Cop, a fresh-faced local kid that I was on my way to the hospital for surgery, he wished me luck as he handed me the ticket. I had this thought that these are the lengths that I must go to get blessed. I was injected with radioactive dye, surprise. Was told that I had UTI and needed to get an antibiotic that was the atom bomb of antibiotics to clear things up quickly. I needed it TODAY. And then I had to fight my surgeon’s office because they had scheduled me for a procedure the next morning at 7:30 that I knew I didn’t need.
Wednesday night the real earnest minute-by-minute waiting begins. I wait through the night. We wait for 10:00 am when the parking rules change. We wait in a special curtained off alcove, me in dual patient robes and Tim at my side, for Doctors to come, take my history, and then leave.
Lines are drawn on my skin by the Plastic Surgeon as if I’m a paper doll and she is preparing instructions for the next person on the assembly line, fold here and here.
And then it’s time. It comes so under the radar. The anesthesiologist, a sweet chubby guy shows up and grabs my IV pole. I hand my glasses to Tim. We walk down one corridor make a right then a left.
I am walking like Joan of Arc towards the big moment. Images float around me in a myopic haze of blobs, color and panic.
They open the door. I slide onto the table. It’s startlingly warm.
I’m covered with what feels like bubble wrap.
I breathe in the anesthesia.
I feel like I will pass out.
And then I do.