Last year I went to the ballet at the Royal Opera House. My seat was in a box just off stage left, from where I could peer directly down into the orchestra pit. I don’t remember much about the ballet (La Sylphide I think), but I do remember looking down at the conductor and thinking with some sadness that I am probably too old to ever be able to do that. By which I meant, at thirty-six, it was unrealistic to think I could ever become an orchestra conductor. Not that I ever aspired to be an orchestra conductor, or a musician of any sort. I terminated my music career at will upon graduating from the eighth grade (everyone knows high school marching band is for losers), having scaled the heights of third chair flute in the Fort Myers Middle School band. But in that moment at the opera house I sensed the realm of all of life’s possibility slipping away just a little bit as I came to grips with the middleness of both my age and achievements in corporate management. It would almost be tragic if it wasn’t so narcissistic.
Of course I blame my parents for this obscene level of self-belief and sense of control over my own destiny that allowed me to think well into my thirties I might be capable of one day usurping Sir Simon Rattle if I just tried hard enough. They have always thought I am smarter than I am. (My father still thinks if I would have taken my SATs again I could have breached the Ivy wall instead of settling for my respectable yet second tier university). I suppose this life philosophy has served me well despite the inherent dose of denial. But it also explains why I am having so much trouble coping with a factoid my neurologist let slip on my recent visit.
It turns out those three sessions of intensive steroid treatments I did back in March only treated my symptoms: the brain swelling which subsequently caused me difficulty in speaking. They did nothing to address the underlying cause, a series of lesions on my brain. In fact the aftermath of these lesions will always be with me. Should I ever have want or need for another brain scan, I will first need to be shot full of dye so the doctor can tell any new lesions from the old ones.
None of this squares with my core belief system of you are generally in control of your life, even if I no longer quite believe I have enough years left to learn how to conduct a philharmonic. Surely there must be something I can do to rid myself of these lesions, some combination of oily fish and pomegranates and yoga if no miracle drug is yet available as my neurologist claims to be the case.
And so in the absence of any answers from science I have turned to the transformative power of language. Lesions are for lepers or people with venereal disease. They simply will not do. Therefore, I have decided I have les ions, which I like to pronounce lā-ē-uh, with a trademark French grunt on the last syllable. It still sounds vaguely scientific yet at the same time foreign and alluring. And best of all it makes me feel, just for a moment, like I am in control.