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They all make big promises, don't they? Telling you that you're never alone, swearing to be there in your hour of need. Some even say they will have and hold you all the days of your life. And they mean it, I know. And they try, they do.
But you and I know that isn't the whole truth because when the contractions hit, when you are laid out on a labor bed, having a reckoning with the pain old as woman herself, no one can help you then, no one can reach you or save you or climb inside that skin with you and share your burden. When the darkness descends - sickness, sadness, fear - I remember that I am alone with you, body, inside of you, sharing this life, this set of experiences that is distinctly and uniquely ours. No one else can ever know the reckonings we've faced, dear body.
But somehow I've forgotten, body, that you are my home, my freedom, my comfort and protector. When I am sad, you release tears. When I am happy, you burble out waves of laughter. When I am scared, you pound the muscles in my heart, igniting a fight-or-flight response, raising the hairs on my arms in awareness of danger and giving flight to my feet to carry me away from the threat.
Without being asked, without recognition or praise, you spend everyday tirelessly squeezing blood through my veins, air through my lungs, food through my intestines. Because of you, body, the unseeable, unknowable firing of synapses, the miraculous biology of thought, becomes words, sentences, stories told effortlessly through your lips. Because of you, I can eat, drink, walk, dance, kiss, sing, cry, scream, hug, leap.
So why is it that lately all I can see is that because of you, I stumble? How can I look at my arms and, instead of thinking those are the arms that lift my sweet boys, only manage to think I really shouldn't wear sleeveless shirts in pictures? When I put my morning medicine in you, body, I curse you for not getting it all right, for not knowing how to regulate yourself like you're supposed to, for being broken. I call you useless, and I blame you, and I try to ignore you.
This is not a new problem, body, as you well know. I hated you in my youth, when you blossomed too early, when you were too fleshy and plodding while everyone else was wiry and lithe around me. I blamed you because I could never catch my breath when I tried to run, because no matter how much I starved you, you refused to shrink, because I believed you were the reason I felt alone.
I hated you even when others should have been to blame, when people hurt you. I hated you for being a victim, for being chosen for violence. I hated you because you survived terrible things and left me to come up with the words and the thoughts to try and make sense of the senseless acts done to you. Done to us. I hated you because even now, decades later, I am ashamed to tell people what we went through back then.
I hated you four years ago for giving my baby boy an extra set of chromosomes. I blamed you, and I hated you for producing a faulty egg, for giving my son a body that others would laugh at, for giving him a mouth that would always talk funny, for giving him muscles they told us would always be too flaccid, eyes that would be cloudy, heart that would need to be cut open and repaired. Even when his body was a miraculous thing, a beautiful, healthy thing that defied the odds, though I praised the Good Lord for his body, I kept on blaming mine.
And I hated you this spring, when you couldn't support my third baby, when you couldn't keep it alive, when you silently held on to it and let me weave elaborate dreams about its life for weeks after its tiny heart stopped beating. I hated you even when you were ready to release it, when we went back into the solitude of that pain of expulsion, that reckoning. I hated the way you turned my dreams of another beautiful child into a bloody, humiliating mess. I thought, three months ago, that you had finally committed a crime I could not forgive, body.
I didn't know how we would continue to coexist after that last betrayal, old friend. But I should have seen it then, as I should have seen all along. You are a miraculous, resilient, beautiful thing, body of mine. Though I was in mourning in those moments, they were nonetheless powerful, humbling moments, moments when my body succumbed to ancient instincts and stood at the precipice of birth and death all at once. I knew suddenly, as I have known it secretly all along, that the wisdom programmed into these cells works with such blessed complexity, such unfathomable intuition.
When I need to cry, saltwater spills down my cheeks. When I need to eat, acid bites at the walls of my stomach. When I carry a child, my uterine walls expand. When I am cut, platelets bind together at the sight of the wound.
There is a seemingly endless series of intricate tasks performed, unnoticed and unappreciated, by this body that I have childishly decided to regard as some kind of vending machine. I want you to be beautiful in the style that is currently accepted so that it can garner me praise. I want you to be effective and tireless so I can abuse you and recover seamlessly. I want you to be reliable and hassle-free, running like a dependable foreign car on cheap American gas.
And while I am moaning about the unfairness of living in a less than perfect body, you just keep filling my lungs with air, just keep surging blood into my petulant heart, just kept regulating my temperature and my blood sugar and my heart rate. While I am busy wishing you skinnier and faster and better, you are absorbing vitamins and flushing toxins. You ignore my whims and simply continue on with your herculean feats, day in and day out.
You hold the children you grew inside your womb, the children you produced milk to feed. You join together in love with my husband. You taste the food we share over dinner. You hear the music I play. You speak the words I think, type the ideas I spin into stories. You move my feet when I want to walk, clasp my fingers when I need to grab something.
The joy I feel is felt through you, in you. Because of you. When I feel less alone, it is because you have opened up your arms to accept an embrace. When I marvel at the bodies of my children, it is because you have used your eyes to take them in, your hands to measure their growth, your hips to carry their weight. And yet I have spent my life reducing you to some awkward prison that keeps me from what I think I'm supposed to have in life.
Not anymore, body. Not now that I've seen what you are, what you have done for me. I will remember now, when I start to think of you as a product to be managed, that yours is an ancient wisdom, an endless series of freedoms bought by your tireless service. You are a beautiful thing, body of mine, not because you look like the folks in 2012 believe you should look, but because you give me life and breath. Because you have given my sons life and breath. And because, when everyone else proves they cannot carry me through, your strong shoulders never fail.