We were becoming what we are,
- Collapsing Stars
Think of your body in pieces: slight, pale shaft of your ankle; cup of your lower lip; gulf above your collarbone, deepening at the shoulder; palm; knee; thumb; thigh; cheekbone; stomach; wrist. Sometimes I play this game with myself— focus insistently on a single shinbone or fingertip. The word for the cleft in your upper lip? it's philtrum.
There are all kinds of reasons to be occupied with your own body: pain, pleasure, vanity, hypochondria, medical necessity, grief, growth, aging, sudden scarring, or that cataclysmic shift into beauty that sometimes happens to girls about sixteen, who wake up, look in the mirror, and think: Jesus, where did this face come from? My own desire to map myself has some measure of most of these things in it.
In its wholeness, my body betrays me on a regular basis: all stumble and stutter and shake, all soreness and bruising and tripping on the bathmat and lurching like an awful thing, but in parts— in parts my body is remarkably unmarred, remarkably smooth and good and sometimes even giving. A few little scars: one soft one on my spine, some others at my ankles and in the furrows behind my knees. Small reminders I've been peeled open, but not much. It always shocks me. I think, somehow, that there should be more evidence. How is it that looking at my face, or my feet, or the widest moment of my wrist you can't see how wildly flawed it all is?
Some things I've known my whole life: it is not degenerative; I am not dying, at least not any more rapidly than most of us.
I will probably need my knees replaced by forty.
When you fall, you should turn your face away from the ground and, if you go hands first, bend your elbows or you'll break an arm.
Pain can often be mostly concentrated away. Hierarchies of pain are impossible. I am so lucky.
Some things no one prepared me for: I will probably never carry my own child. If I do, the stress on my body will rob me, maybe forever, of my ability to walk. A dear friend desperately wants to have a baby before it's too late, and worries she's waited too long, so I think about this more and more.
When I stole myself to ask a lover if it bothered him, my faltering body, he said: it doesn't matter; it's such a small thing.
Often I am angriest about my inability to be really, truly, safely solitary.
It's sometimes a problem for my work; my best readers learn to say: the body can't be so many things everywhere all the time.
It awes me: stock-still, or in my peripheral vision, sometimes even moving: my arm coming up and down off the table. My God.
I am afraid of this essay. Afraid it will be trite or self-pitying. Afraid I am doing it badly, or just wrong. Afraid it's rabidly selfish. Afraid I am only re-writing some version of this over and over again my whole life. But there have been so many reasons to write it lately.
A few weeks ago I sat with a friend on her studio floor. We'd been talking about women and gender and birth, and I said that I often felt left out of these kinds of conversations about the feminine or what it means to be a woman, because there isn't space inside them for my kind of body or my experience of the world, and there isn't enough writing about it out there. That's what you're for, she said, and I wanted to kiss her and kill her: for seeing me, and being so goddamn unflinching about the whole thing. She's right, of course.
Listen, body, we are nobody's tragedy. Listen, I know you, I can name you all over. Listen, just a little farther to the desk chair, the sofa, the bed. Just a little more trouble. Just somebody's hand on the back of your neck. Just your shadow on the street. Listen, I love you. Listen.