In its lines, crevices, scars, pockets, and spots, by body knows things I do not.
In the beginning was my body, within a stranger’s body, when she carried me. She gave birth to me, surrendered my body to another–to the unknown, an early act of parenthood. Her body knew my body and, for a time, my body knew hers–her voice, diet, rhythms, and beat. My body knows pieces, still; it carries within its mysterious quarters a memory I cannot muster. The months I have cherished my own children and known them in my arms, at my breast, my body was not held–or was it? My skull shaped by beds I’ll never know, my scalp, arm, and upper thighs marked by an instrument that goes unmentioned. My body was there, a place to which I cannot return, a silent time without stories. My body knows loss from the beginning.
My body traveled a great distance, spanning time zones and ocean and mountains of paperwork to find another mother–the one who would shape me in a different and known way.** She would have to learn my body, my preferences, my smell, my scars, my height and my weight. She had not counted down to my birthday but my arrival date. This body arrived to her arms, not her womb, and our bodies learned one another in defiance and miracle after all that had been. My body learned her movements, her gestures, until we looked alike. My body preexisted my words, even cries, and so the new parents were given a code, a package of evidence–a creature with bodied clues.
Without knowing a great grandma’s height or a father’s profile or a mother’s love handles, my body grew–a surprise, a tribute to those unknown and a thank you to the nurture. Toes lengthened, body hair scant, skin darkened and legs stretched–only this body knew when to stop, where it would inflate, how it would carry. Strong teeth? Super. Fallen arches? Tolerable. Low blood pressure? Salt. Weak bones? X-rays. Tall stature? Notable.
This body–my body–indicates more than I share, and often what I would rather not. Its dark, heavy hair contradicted the sameness I wanted in the early classroom. Its swelling in the college dorm betrayed I was not from this country anymore, cells unaccustomed to the diet, the stress, the wealth. Now its perky white hairs in the back, and doughy mopey pouch in front indicate age and stressors and labor pains and concessions untold.
This body’s unpredictable acceptance of sperm and making of eggs, its growing of children–three–demonstrated an internal power, sacrifice, priority, for other. Organs, move aside; skin, stretch to untold tautness. This body’s building of large, rudy, oversized newborns revealed a new built-in feature. Like a hat trick, pelvis opened, muscles gripped and body unfurled an unknown strength, bearing itself along with life. Big life.
My body has meant different things to different people. To the Kenyan children, a Japanese tourist. To the Korean elders, a charity turned foreigner. To a church, a potential sexual temptress–a thing to be clothed and controlled. To the photographer, a mark of diversity. To my sons, a pillow and mold, a jungle gym and keeper of all the things. To my self…my body? It’s complicated.
This body hiked mountaintops in snow and heat, my least favorite things, 4, 7, and 10 days. It doesn’t like to run but it will. This body likes 63-78 degree weather, and feels safe in water but not up high. This body has strange creaks and inflammation, tethered to no particular injury or athleticism. It has lived off of tuna and green beans. It has carried heavy backpacks, heavy children, heavy shame and a heavy heart. Its eyes go blurry when it hasn’t rested, as though enough is enough after enduring all nighters and babies. Its stomach has accepted foods and muscled through water throughout the world. Its tongue will not roll an R. This body has stood up against Goliath odds and crumpled under small potatoes. Some days all the life gathers in the head and a migraine demands a stop.
My body know things I do not. Things I wish to know and things I deny. My body knows as a road map. I am only the passenger. I try to help. We began the journey as strangers–now slowly becoming friends. I try to listen and talk to it and feed it. What lies ahead is a mystery, this bossy body a slow capsule.
My body is a secret that whispers a word at a time.
*This prompt is from author (and a friend and role model) Lisa Borden, during a writing and running retreat I had the pleasure of attending. It was part of a focus on embodiment which has continued to be a challenging theme for me. I wonder if this opening prompt is a good starter for you too, dear embodied woman, on this international women’s day, as we learn to love ourselves so we can loves others well. Try it this week?
**Visit here to meet my mom, whom I wrote about on another international women’s day.