It is a strange thing sometimes, this being embodied.
Living inside skin, falling asleep to the sound of the heartbeat, feeling love and affection for a thing and the instinct then, to reach out and touch, feel the ways things merge and maintain separateness, coming up against and crashing into, and in all of it knowing a sense of forever being held.
Because here I am, in a body. My body. And she is good.
I was supporting a woman at her birth recently. I was there, holding the mom in my arms while she labored, counting through contractions, breathing up and down like climbing and descending. I was there, as she summoned every part of herself to push her baby into the world, and I was there when a whole new person was now here, alive. And it occurred to me, as if I had never really understood, that it is sometimes a hard thing to be born.
Even when there are no complications. Even when all is well. Still, something in this baby had to choose to come, to be here, to at some moment in time, fully enter her human body and form, and be born into a world that was waiting for her.
I had never before felt the separation part of this, the way I did that night. That to choose to be embodied, born to the world, meant to leave behind another thing. And it does. And this baby did. As did I. And I came, and was born, into the flesh.
A nd though I have at times fled as far as i could go from my own body, she has never left me.
My leaving was learned. Was survival strategy. Was choice to sever and disconnect, for fear that the feelings would devour and destroy. It wasn’t just one thing. It was all the things. They were too many and too much. So I left. It was my way through. But it was so incredibly lonely.
I spent a long time trying to find my way, fighting my way, back into my body. I fought to be here, in and with her. Fought like angry drunk impulsiveness, fought like hunters with ready arrows, fought like you fight for what you love, willing to do the unthinkable.
From the outside, it looked like I was hell bent on destruction. But it was me doing what I knew to do, to come back home. Which I did. It was a terrifying and costly thing. And dear god was that night was brutal. But it brought me back to you. And evacuations are done.
So I am here now.
Here, where I can travel through history and years, mapping my stories through the scars on my skin.
Here, with stretch marks that show the way this was once home to my child too. Here, with less of of the body than once existed because cancer came and took without warning or waiting for permission. Where menopause changes things, skin and bone and even the heart changes they tell me. And none of this was my choosing, but we make do, and I’m here.
I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.
Here, with my over active reflexes, the slightest tap of knee sending my leg jerking up and out. Here, with my right eyelid that droops, and the thick vein on the soft inside of my left arm, and my tendency to bite my bottom lip.
And my body. She has been the very place from which I know life, what it is to be human.
It is an extraordinary thing.
The contraction of pain, the way heart hurt is felt in every cell. The vulnerability of breaking and bleeding. The murky disorientation when waking in the middle of the night in the summer, eyes adjusting to the dark, feeling the heaviness of heat. The rush of water, cold, and how good it feels to stand there drinking, gulps full, first thing in the morning. Tired muscles. The comfort of arms coming up from behind, wrapped around, holding close.
Laughter. Deep rest of stretch. The sting of needles etching image with permanent ink.
The first time she touched me, and it was the smallest thing, but nothing could ever be the same again.
Walking, feet against ground. Bare skin against soft sheets. The heave of chest and pounding legs and fists in fits of grief and protest. Shivers. Ache. Ease. The way his fingers linked through mine. The way it is to dance, ecstasy and slow salvation and uninhibited joy. The way the jaw loosens and languages and worlds come tumbling out.
All of this exists and is known in the flesh, in unapologetic incarnation.
There are all these things I do not understand about being human. But this I know. This body of mine. She has been so, so good to me.
Cancer is a bitch. It has taken parts of her from me. It has hurt. And we’re here again. In the loss and the taking and the unanswerable questions. It’s a rough ride, even as it brings me ever more deeply into my own embodiment.
“Do you hate your body? Are you angry with it?” she asked me. And I knew what she meant: do I feel betrayed, let down, my own cells turned against me?
I wish things had never invaded, intruded, from the first time it happened so many years ago, to the cells that turn from clear to cancer. But the answer comes clear and without hesitation. “I love my body. I can’t bring myself to hate her. She’s too good. I belong to her,” I said. And I do, belong here. And I do love her so.
I love her the way you love a wild thing, not meant to be tamed. I love her the way you love your origin myth, your beginnings, the salt water womb you once came from. I love her the way you love your best friend, having their back no matter what. I love her, as I love the heart she houses. I love her as home, and as that which takes me to the edge of adventure and risk and welcome breaking open. I love her whole, complete.
And in all of this, what I’m trying to say is: dear body of mine, you have made me so tremendously happy. I am born into you, again and again. For each time, for every time, for changing while never leaving, for always, thank you. You have taken such profoundly good care of me. And now it is my turn. I’m going to take care of you.
You. This web of cells and memory and feeling, bone and blood and heat. My house of belonging. My way of knowing.
My resting place and my wrestling space. I love you.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard