On My Estranged Relationship With My Body

and how at home with it others have been.

Photo by Femi Matti

How many ways can one body be ransacked? Almost immediately after the delivery of my second child the doctor said she was a little concerned about my bleeding. She said there was another way, but that this way was quicker. She placed an unfurled fist and half of a forearm inside me and swiped out a handful of clots.

It feels like that months later when the baby grows teeth and starts biting my chest while he nurses. It feels like that years before when I’m hugging my knees at the foot of a fuckboy’s driveway — suddenly sober, suddenly alert, and really, really wanting to go home. It feels like that this morning when I awaken sweating from a nightmare that seems instead like an uprooted memory. Familiar. Crawling. Gutted. All wrong. Askew.

How do you know what is true? How do you know that what you’re experiencing is the real thing, that it counts? Sometimes when I’m in pain I have a hard time believing myself about the severity. Sometimes when I’m in crisis I say it out loud and feel like I’m being hyperbolic. Sometimes I don’t comprehend the full scope of what has happened to me until I see the weight of my words landing in someone’s facial expression. A worried brow and a mouth agape.

Imagine what dismissal does. What a scoff can do.

When I was in first grade I had this best friend from school. Her little brother was in poor health. When I was over her house he would toddle over and stroke my arm or pet my thigh or rub my back. I would always cringe. His mom saw my discomfort once and said, “I’m sorry, this is just how he comforts himself.” From then on I’d cringe only on the inside when he touched me. On the outside, I’d feign welcoming smiles. So many small ways we learn what our bodies are for. Who they belong to.

Am I/Are we communal property?

As a kid I’d go to sleepovers and have a great time. But in the morning, before breakfast, I’d get this knot in my gut, a nauseous longing to be in my own space. Homesickness in a literal sense. As an adult I sometimes get that feeling inside my own skin, like I can’t find sanctuary in this body, like my spirit’s not computing with the vessel. Like dipping out of it is the only way to feel safe.

I try hard to remember when I began backing away from my body, even at the risk of regretting it. I rummage around in my own head for the key. I think maybe if I can pull myself into myself, I can take some of my power back. Climb into the cockpit. Steer the ship. But I don’t know what it was that did it. There are a million small things. Some big things. More coming. All of it is enough to make a person the person that I am.

Earlier today I saw some person I don’t know admit to raping someone in a comment thread on Facebook. They were rattling off a list of things their angry ex could expose about them before she got a chance to. It was supposed to be a “gotcha” moment.

I took a short story class once and we learned about listing as a rhetorical device. My professor said that when listing, a writer must take caution not to mindlessly equate the inconsequential with the important. She asserted that we must make sure that everything in our list is of the same value, holds the same weight. The stranger listed the rape with other things she might use to embarrass them. Things like sexual kinks, things like chat rooms they frequent.

Oh. Ok.

photo by Femi Matti

Every time I’ve gone to the emergency room I’ve felt guilty. Like nothing I’m dealing with is as bad as anybody else’s problems. Like I am the inconsequential thing in the list of people in the waiting room. Sometimes, more than I want the doctors to say that nothing’s wrong with me, I want them to say that I have the least harmful cause of my symptoms. Because then I am still right about how it feels.

I am fragmented. Assault has split me from myself. My life’s mission will be to make it back home to me. To figure out how to be with myself. To listen to myself, to believe myself about the severity of it all.

What is it like for everybody who hurt me? Do they have to try to forget like I try to remember? Do they remember? Is it a skeleton in their closet that doesn’t even haunt them? When they open their closet door and everything comes tumbling out like in an old cartoon — does the skeleton come drifting out as lightly as the beach ball, the t-shirt, the kite?

I tried watching Black-ish last night like I often do, but last week I read the details about what Anthony Anderson did to a woman. I couldn’t stop looking at his hands and feeling sick. I couldn’t stop searching his face for some sign of torment.

“How does he get to have this?” I said out loud.

How does he get to have a life where the bad parts don’t have to be a part of him?

And what pieces of the woman can’t connect again?