Part One: Something Like Death (Adrift)
I can’t explain the sound other than to say I heard it in my head. Loud. Crack. A moment of thunder inside my body. But first there’s gotta be lightning if only to measure the distance between what you see as happening and what has actually happened. In my case, it occurred in reverse: thunder, one, lightning, two. Boom boom. Mother Nature giving me the finger.
The sight is gruesome. A flapjack of my right foot. It’s called a calcaneus, I learn: “She landed on her calcaneus. I think she fractured her calcaneus. The skin-wrapped provision past her outer right ankle is her calcaneus.” All these years of balancing on one leg with the other twisted just so and, still, I’m rendered an idiot by the bone’s Latin roots. But the sight. If sound is first, then sight is second. The foot is so familiar. The foot is our foundation. They’re lovely feet, mine; I’ve been told on many an occasion. Not by the likes of creeps who would prefer their tongues between my toes, no, but by the sorts who appreciate beauty wherever it resides. I once knew a guy who prejudged a woman’s pussy by her feet. As in, the uglier and more gangly the foot, well, you get it. How reductive, of course. But how intimate, the foot? These moments at the beach, the pool, a yoga class. Covered, but not. Exposed, but only to those who deduce. If reflexology finds every crevice of our foot corresponding to another body part, then it’s like the whole of our naked selves, guts and all, is revealed when we removed our shoes, when we slip off the sock. Then what of the fractured foot?
There’s no way to describe pain. It hurts. On a scale of one to ten, tell me what you feel? It’s irrelevant. Someone can have an eight the way you have a two. I could say it felt like the whole crust of the earth, that apple layer, thin as skin, was shooting through my foot, leaving the girth of the mantle, the heat of the core, seized. But what does that mean? Magnitude. I can say my heel cracked as if on a fault line, two tectonic plates grinding, seismic shift felt in my body. One piece of Humpty-Dumpty splitting in two, no longer riding on the same surface. Crack. Splayed. Shifted. But how is that measured other than a shudder and a splash of disinterested sympathy from the receiver’s end? Pain is solitude. And yet.
The foot feels things before the rest of the body processes said feelings. Before we even know there is something to feel. And yet. I don’t know the back of my hand like the back of my hand but I know the both of my feet by the touch of my hand.
And the smell! Perhaps not pussy-strong, but scented nonetheless. A foot is to French cheese as the vagina is to fresh seafood. The scent is subtle and salty. Enticing. The Pacific Ocean is enormous and rough at that part of the planet. Loud. It didn’t bear my entry. It didn’t request my presence. I thank it, her, walking out into her expanse. You are wonderful. I respect you. I respect you. Thank you. An enclave, shrouded by cliffs on either side, Costa Rica on a clear day’s distance. All sea shells and hermit crabs. Tiny fish and turtle eggs. The smell of the decayed and the new. Brown menses after a missed period. Salt water up my nose.
The taste. A broken heart. A broken promise. Sour, but not quite. Foreboding, if that’s a flavor. The anticipatory pull of a sunset, only to have the sky turn black without a sherbet segue. The screams from the back of my throat like something spicy. Burping up the two plates of gallo pinto from breakfast. Swallow this, he said, it tastes like the ocean. Mineral rich. Full of all the good stuff we can’t get on land and must supplement on the daily. But that’s all afterthought. Barely a thought. Not even a though. My foot is broken and I can’t walk.
All morning on dry land, salt spitting back in my hair from the white wash of the surf, I practiced my board mount. Funny footed, I am. Belly down, hands paddling into sand, I jump up and land with perfectly bended knee. Oh the bended knee... A Virabhadrasana 2 of sorts, but with worse alignment. Do it again, I’m told. I do. Oh, the I do... And so it goes. I know how to get up. I know how to balance. I got this.
It’s all so fast, an instant, the instant when you know you aren’t ready, but still you go for the gust, for the gold, anyway. For the wave, for the marriage. All of the things. You get on the board and you take the ring because you’ve trained to do the next indicated thing. You’re in the water now. You’re in a foreign country now. You’ve got something to prove. You’ve been together for five years. The ocean, longer. Other people do it all the time. Make it look so effortless. The waves were perfect little crests before you walked out. Surfboard, an untamed animal in the brisk of the water. Hands on either side. Right ankle tethered by a thick rubber string. It’s happening. Left finger blinged with a just-shy-of two carats diamond set by your favorite fancy New York City jeweler. It’s happening.
The surf instructor who creeped me out with his hopeful eyes, noticing my T and A in a bikini because of course he would, is now my best friend, my most trusted confidant. It’s me and him against the wave. With the wave? For the wave? The wave. The wave. I miss the first. Fall off. Water up my nose. Stub my toes. I’m done. I’m ready to call it. Walk to dry land. Have a glass of white wine. Whatever. Maybe there’ll be fish tacos for lunch. That sounds good. Better than this chaos. But I can’t quit. My ego bigger than my id. He turns the board to face the shore and leans me into the wave. Go go go, he says. This is your wave, he says. His confidence is bold enough for the both of us. I believe him. This is my wave, I say, I’ve got this. And yet.
Injury isn’t linear or rational. It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t processed as narrative. It’s disjointed and fucked up. It sucks. And then there’s surgery.
The impermanence of bone is taken for granted. We need this structure for survival; without it, we are reduced to a sloppy spill of intestines and blood and mush and muscle. With nothing holding us in place, we slip. But to think of this eggshell support system is too overwhelming. If everything can be, probably will be, broken, then what’s the point? Maybe just to put it back together?
Wheeled into the pre-op room. Here, wait here. As if I had a choice. Scared shitless and trapped to the tethers of my PICC line, I can’t move. Woman across the room is wailing, pre- or post-op, I can’t tell. But the pain. I put my hand with the free vein up to my ear, lean the other against my shoulder and start humming. Numbing. The practical applications of Pratyahara. Nurse walks up and asks if I’m okay. My mental state is something to consider? I point in the direction of Wailing Woman and am wheeled, again, across the room. It’s lighter here, but, even with all the technology, it’s the Dark Ages. Humans primal in animalism. Writhing. Crying. Screaming. Silent. Anesthesiologist comes over. Tells me surgery will be on my stomach. Tells me I’ll need a breathing tube. No way, I say, that’s the deal breaker. There’s always one. Or many. Twist me like a pretzel into any unconscious position, but don’t make me think about breath. Death closer with the obvious absence of lung control. He rolls his eyes and says he’ll talk to the doctor. Oops, I think, now he doesn’t like me. It’s a bad deal when the guy giving you the drugs thinks you’re a bummer. And yet. Probably don’t need to worry about being liked when I’m about to be sliced. Concessions are made. I’m on my side. Did you give me the drugs yet? Tell me when I get the drugs. Do you promise I’ll wake up and feel nothing? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. The doctor/nurse/aide choir assure me I’ll wake up to nothing. I’ll wake up.
I gotta bad feeling about this, Doc, I don’t think I should do this, Doc.
Did I actually call him “Doc”? Unlikely. And yet.
You’d be weird if you had a good feeling about it.
He’s a wise guy, my Doc.
I’m wheeled into the Bright Light of Operating Room. I ask for sunglasses; I’m a wise guy. They put on the Rent soundtrack. They ask if that’s okay by me. It’s okay by me, I say, I know all the...
And I’m out. Where does time go when consciousness slips? It’s still existing around, if not inside, us. A few blocks away, my mom and (ex-) fiance were biding time with a bottle of wine and a bowl of pasta. Laughing and forgetting that my vitals were being monitored. My dog, oblivious, was curled in bed with his second favorite person, kicking and barking in his sleep, no doubt, as he is wont to do every single night. My book club babes at home with their partners, maybe fighting or fucking or tea-drinking. My dad, a time zone away, noodling on the guitar, anxious and afraid. But still in time. While I lay dormant, a sheath of self, the surgeon hacks with precision. And yet. Metal through bone is not a delicate process. Rock paper scissors. It’s loud and hard. Shards, no doubt. A million tiny pieces of bone like glitter in the air. In my hair? Happy New Year! Happy New You! The closest to death I’ve ever (not?) known passing through like dilaudid in a vein. A direct line. Lineage. Everyone has their last breath. An inhale without an exhale, they say. A passing without a time. Taking the last bit of this life with them to the next place. Empty space. Happening often in here, this hospital, this place of sterility for the sick and not-yet, never healed. My heel. My god. Where am I? What’s going on? How did this happen? Making small talk five hours earlier to a friend who brought me flowers and fashion magazines was the hardest conversation of my life. And that’s not hyperbole. What is there to say in the blinks before you go under. How do you know if you’ll go up? And how far up do you want to go? An out of body experience or just a little breath retention? I wanna say those hours were lost, but that’s a lie. They were there. They existed. They weren’t mine to have. The shell of me experienced a thing that the sentient didn’t. I don’t understand. I can’t understand. Where did it go? Who am I? No, but really, who? Where do I go in the absence of pizzazz?
Time slips away at other instances. On the phone, with a lover. Instagram stalking like a sport. Time slips. Time lost. But never like the threat of the blank monotone hum of a monitor’s linear rebuke.
A pinky swear severed. I wake up in the same pre-/post-op room screaming/writhing/crying in pain. I’m an animal. I’m alive. Now, yes, the feelings are felt. Perhaps death is absence as much as anything else. Senses intact, I’m here. The nurse ponders my pain. There should be none. Should like a curse. I should’ve been lured back to the living with the laze of an afternoon nap lasting a little too long, waking unsure of the time or the day or the year. Instead, I’m here. He didn’t start my lower leg block, my nemesis, my anesthesiologist. But I’m alive. Not that I thought I would die, but do we ever know? No. I mean, sure, we will know, I suppose. Yes. We will. And still.
Part Two: Something Like Birth (Anchored)
There are things I’m afraid to say. And there are reasons I stay too long. I want to be a mother. Check. I want the growing inside me. Check. I want to give birth. But what is the giving of the birth? To whom? The child? Yourself? Your partner? The semantics elude.
I donated my eggs when I was twenty-two. I said it was because I had a Women’s Studies degree and was interested in surrogacy. That played better than, I just moved to LA and would love to make a “quick” seven thousand-ish bucks. High horse versus reality. Push my proverbial glasses up my nose-bridge versus flip my hair from my shoulders. As it were. The process was long and laborious. The doctor who specialized in IVF told me my eggs weren’t multiplying as they should. Slacker eggs. Teetering between Gen X and Millennial eggs. Maybe I should consider freezing some. Should like a curse. A certain important hormone level was too high for a young girl like me. Cue the panic of the potential lack. Cut to a week later, I realized my boyfriend was shooting me up in the fat of my ass instead of the meat of thigh. Cut to another week later and I was housing a baker’s dozen. Ready for release. And still. I’ve carried the weight of those eggs ever since.
My mother went through menopause at thirty-nine. But why? She was miserable. Precipice of divorce and sexuality shaping past procreation’s proclivity. Hot flashes before forty. But why? My dad’s sister never had children. Married to her husband for more years than I’ve been alive until cancer sucked her up and spit it out on the other side. But why? I wasn’t ticking when she was alive. Never got to ask her why.
Pregnancy is like a right of passage. Even if aborted, it happened. Even if in vitro, it’s proof. Same as sprouting boobs in the fifth grade. Woman. Same as period in the sixth grade. Woman. Same as being fingered in the seventh grade. Woman. Same as sex in the eleventh grade. Woman. Same as every third day before your period when every man can’t help but turn his head, no matter how unbrushed your hair and teeth are. Improper grammar and all. Woman.
A needle in the vagina never sounds like a good idea. And still. The egg retrieval process. Gnarly, but not too much. Anesthetized, but only a bit. I woke up with a little cramping and a lot of sass, thousands of dollars richer and a gift certificate to a spa.
Bakersfield, California has a person walking around with my DNA. He’s somewhere between ten and twelve. How do I know it’s a he? I forget. How do I not know his age? I don’t know. There are the things we forget so to survive. And still.
Even in the engagement with all the yelling and fighting, I clung to surrender. White flag waving, I wanted to yell out and say, “Okay, yes, okay. It’s all going to be okay. I will become the docile woman you think you want. And you will be potential actualized that I know I need. And we will get married and we will have the baby and I will name her Lucia, pronounced loo-chee-a, and it will be so good.” And yet, I didn’t. It’s not and we couldn’t. Because when it isn’t, it isn’t and you can’t force the is. So we didn’t. We surrendered.
And still. Longing doesn’t care for circumstance.
Cut to waking up nauseous at four in the morning. I find solace in an old robe and a couch pillow on the bathroom floor, my face smushed to the toilet’s bottom bowl. How disgusting this place is when sober. All the smells. All the hairs. All the missed piss on the seat’s lip. Every flush yields a match. Every match, sulfur. And so it goes. And then it comes, violent. I shrug off the robe. I sweat. There is no A to B. There is no segue. Bullets, my sweat. There’s a source for every cliche, they say. The whole outer armor of me prepping for battle. My eyes water. Saliva soldiers beneath my tongue. I spit. And spit. And spit. Watching the puddle spread with the microbes of New York’s tap. My whole body preparing for the cleanse. I have no control. No matter how conscious I am of what I eat and how I move, I’m my body’s bitch. Regurgitate. Release. Restored. I find solace back in sleep. An hour later and repeat. This time with the dry heave. I didn’t know anything could be more catastrophic than throw up. I was wrong. The promise more threatening than the production. The imagination more succinct than the tangible.
When you can read into anything, how do you know what’s real? Is it the way it makes the hairs on your arms stand? Is it the hours of kissing, of holding, of crawling into bed with a bad idea? Is it in the thing you want the most? The thing you won’t admit? Or is it when the whole of you acts in unison? A climax, of sorts or reals. Either or. Or both. It’s slippery, the truth. Grab it if you find it, the truth. I dare you. I double dog dare you. It’s gonna bite you.
I need saltines and Gatorade. I need sleep and a dog walker. Maybe marijuana, but I’m so straight-laced, save for copious amounts of biodynamic wine and an odd latent craving for champagne. I fall asleep again. It’s 9am. I wake up again. It’s 10:30am. I’m sweating and frozen and it must’ve been centuries. I don’t want to feel my body again. It’ll revolt again. And still.
There are some sentences you don’t have to finish when speaking to a woman:
You know when you stick the tip of toilet paper up you to see if it’s coming...?
It, The Master of All Euphemism. It, The Impetus of All Life.
She’ll nod. She’s done it. And so it goes. No matter her desires or chance of an accident, the experience is universal. Woman. We, all of us, have a collective body experience. And still.
There was a paradigm shift between I Will Get An Abortion No Matter What and I Will Be A Mother No Matter Who that happened around twenty-nine. The former, though never ideal, always available in a desperate times/measures moment. The moment was never desperate. I was “lucky.” The latter hit me on the head like an over-stacked Ikea bookshelf fallen. Didn’t see that one coming. Should’ve saw that one coming. Should like a curse.
There are more questions in birth than death. One is finite, the finish line, the crossing over. The end. The other is possibility and potential. All the things we didn’t do yet, were waiting to do still, terrified to do until. Question begets question. Circle begets line. But time time time. It always comes down to the clock. Plan for the everything and come up short. Plan for the nothing and live with your parents your whole life. Where’s the middle in the black of this white? White of this black. Where’s the gray?
Is my body giving me answers or am I reading into what I’m scared I want? Am I searching for the next fall, the next break, the next story in this accident, this mistake? The slippery slope of what-were-you-thinking? And then:
Omigod, that could have happened. Blood.
Praise all the things I never bow down to. Blood. Praise be to all of it.
Context is everything. You fall and ouch and blood is a bummer. You oops and fuck and blood is a Hail Mary. Residual Catholicism in the sign of the cross, the kiss of the fingertip, the counting of the rosary. It’s all metaphor.