The Sum of Myself

a personal cartography

My broken heart lives in the inner arch of my right foot. A deep ache in each.

The triumph of my tongue over my reason, my desire for taste over my ability to avoid foods that I know disagree with me, lives in the inflammatory pain in my left knee. It comes and goes with my willpower.

Logic lives in my genitals. They’re for practical purposes. Peeing, pooping. Two babies came out of there. Pleasure can be felt there too, by myself or from someone else, although by myself is easier. Not a large deal.

Once a month a tight ache lives in my lower back. Not much makes it feel better other than waiting it out. Same thing for my emotions for a few days. It took me years and years to figure that out. Sometimes I’m slow to figure myself out.

A soft, slightly raised brown mole used to live on my stomach near my waist. One summer at Muay Thai training camp it sheared half off, so I had the doctor remove it the rest of the way.

Another raised mole used to live on my chest. It kept getting irritated by my boxing, so I had it removed too. That one left a tight scar that itched for years, and almost looked like a mole itself. Eventually some bit of caught-up tissue must have released to dissolved. The spot relaxed, faded, eased.

My mother lives in my hands. When I was a child I looked at her hands and thought how smooth and soft they were. I traced the lines of her veins where they stood slightly above her skin. They seemed extra soft there. Everything about them was soft, like one of those deliberately blurred camera shots. My child hands were the flat smoothness of youth. Now my veins stand up too, and I have that strange softness that I now know comes with ageing skin, and my daughter tells me how soft my hands are.

The stories of family and friends live on my face. If you look closely you can still see a small triangular scar on my forehead. My best friend, Emily, and I ran down the steep hill near her house as fast as we could. Gravity took my feet and for the briefest moment I flew. Then my head crashed into pavement and blood was everywhere. I screamed at Emily to get my mom. She obeyed, and ran all the way to my house, even though hers was closer. It was perfect five year old logic, and the brave act of a true friend. She moved not long after, but I still remember her as my best friend.

Above my left eye is another scar. I had planned a surprise birthday party for my husband, at a friend’s house. We went over there for dinner, then I snuck out to pick up a cake that I had hidden at home. I was in a hurry, so I parked in a different spot than usual, closer to a side door. I got the cake, put it in my back seat, closed the door, turned around, and sped…right into a pole. It compressed my glasses into my face, cutting the skin above my eye. After much swearing, I managed to improvise a bandage, and returned triumphantly to the party, looking like I’d been mugged. For the next week, everywhere I went, I got stares and stares and stares. And I didn’t even have an impressive Bruce Lee-style story to go with it.

The skin above my eyes itself is at least double the size it needs to be. Usually it looks fairly normal, if slightly wrinkled. But it can be pulled out, stretched, extended. A few years ago, my kids got pink eye, and in the course of caring for them I got it too. I’d never had it before, and I hope I never have it again. My eyes itched and burned. I awoke in the morning to find them gummed shut. They watered and oozed. And they ballooned. My eyelids, the whole area swelled up until my eyes showed only as small reddish slits. After weeks of stinging drops, the infection faded. But my forty-year-old skin stayed stretched. It sucked back down to the contours of my eyeballs, mostly, but it never went back to the way it was before. It changed, it grew, it’s okay as it is, but it’s definitely not the same.

Inside my skull lives sparking lightning. Sometimes it strikes behind my eye sockets, most often the right one. Sometimes it moves in great sheets across the top of my head. Once in a while, less frequently now that I have medicines to help keep such storms at bay, or at least to blow back against them when they start, but still, sometimes, a great maelstrom moves across the plains beneath my skin and the lightning burrows deep, even down to the depths of my stomach. On these days there is nothing to do but wait and suffer and wait.

Within me lives all of me. I am my parts, their sum, and then some. Some things you can see: my brown and grey hair; my ears that stick out; my nose that curves up. Some things I can tell you about: I look older in the summer, when the sun bleaches the remaining brown closer to blonde; I think my ears make me look like an elf, or a trickster; my nose is from my dad’s side of the family, and we still have relatives on the family farm in Ireland. And some things are going to stay a mystery until you spend some time and get to know me better (hint: there’s a reason they say to watch out for the quiet ones…).

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