Peculiar Ailments of the Body

When I Swallow an Orange Pip:

An accident. I am five, sucking on a slice of orange and laughing at silly things only children find funny. The seed is hidden within the pulp of my orange. I feel it at the last moment in the soft, slippery back of my throat. And then, it falls. Slices my esophagus like a zipper splitting my body in two. For weeks I imagine a tree sprouting from the lining of my stomach; one morning, a full-fledge branch with confident leaves would protrude from my mouth and offer my mother an orange. Disney princesses, I have already learned, sing among flowering trees; they do not become one. I pray that I will not become a gnarled, knotted outcast, pitched from the pretty princess club, destined to die unloved and alone. To remedy, I listen to my mother when she tells me stop fidgeting. I perfect my comatose princess pose, sleeping flat on my back, legs pinned together, hands clasped to my heart, stilling myself until the of the day Prince Charming finds me.


When I Nick Myself Shaving with a Hotel Razor:

Without so much as a sprout of pubic hair, I intuit from the issues of Seventeen my body should be bare, except for the waterfall of hair from my head. In the bathroom of the Holiday Inn, while my parents take a nap, I press the first razor I have ever held to my legs and dry-scrape. Blood squirts out, quick and red, and I scream. I explain to my parents that I wanted a comb but dropped this on my leg instead. So clumsy! They return to sleep and ignore other symptoms of my viral growth: my desire for a bra to announce my quiet breasts after a summer pool party where we girls stuck water balloons into our bathing suit tops and a boy proclaimed that I looked “hot.” Others nodded in agreement. I marvel at how easy this power is to wield, if only I smile and simper and allow versions of myself to tear off and writhe in the lizard brains of boys. Sure enough, I get my first real boyfriend shortly after, the first couple among our friends. He is too handsy, too eager. I break up with him soon after, at recess while buying a brownie at a bake sale. He is crestfallen and becomes moody. I act sad too; it would be rude to seem okay. Our friends mourn the loss of us. One girl gives me her crucifix necklace to wear. For support.


When I First Have Sex:

In college with a boy so thin I could make out individual ribs in the hall light seeping in from the under the door of his dorm room. He is nice. We drink cheap beer on his narrow bed, and I want to feel older. It’s going to hurt, he says, and I steel myself against his chest but, by now, my body knows how to handle pain. This pain, I would later learn, is different from love, a worse pain, when my chest would feel as though it could cave in and burst at the same time, and my stomach would drop when we were apart. This might not be a documented physical ailment, but I can feel it in my body.


When Menstruation Becomes Painful:

With both feet firmly planted in adulthood, my period, a constant now for close to two decades, suddenly ripens into a new nuisance. The obstacles of youth centered on logistics: how to slip a tampon into my sleeve without classmates noticing. These new afflictions are physical: clotted, thickened, serious oozing. Stabs of pain like an invisible hand is using a fistful of my organs as a stress ball. The biological clock does not present itself as a serene chime but the gong-clang of desperation. The body requires procreation. But what of the mind?

Girlish fancies of true love have proven false with the comings and goings of many Prince Charmings. The husband I have chosen is a good partner. He nuzzles into my neck at night after a long day and says, Wouldn’t it be sweet to hold a baby between us. To teach him how to cook, or bring her to the park. Our bed would be a lifeboat needing nothing else. I reply with a non-committal grunt. Men can get by with being incidentally involved in child rearing but not women. And how could we not commit, when a fleshy part of us is pulled out, severed, and released? Imagine your cheek, your calf, your kidney, which milks you of everything and wanders away to explore new life.

Eventually, I tell him that I would rather die than shred my vagina and unfurl into suburban oblivion. That puts a crude end to the procreation conversation.


When I Allow My Skin to Gnarl, Roughen, and Crack:

At a certain point, the aging process cannot be kept at bay no matter what potions and serums are used. I had anticipated sadness, but I had not foreseen liberation. A childless woman is often met with pity, a satisfied childless woman with derision.

Let them gawk. I am my own true love.


When the Last of My Teeth Ache in the Quiet Night:

Teeth remember. I gnash on a thread of memory and suddenly I am sitting on the kitchen counter, swinging my thin adolescent legs, feeling the graze of knife against teeth as I eat peanut butter from the jar. Like bone, my teeth have been with me since the beginning, so close to the brain that synapses likely deposited memory in them by osmosis. Then, they erupt and emerge in your mouth, meet the air of every place you have breathed, every word you have said or swallowed, every kiss you have given and received.

Not many left now of teeth and days.

At night I think about what happens after. Where the body goes. When you return this body, I think you are to make a list of all the strange wears and tears it has weathered. Perhaps an instructional record for engineers on how to mend this sheath for the next user. Or for research on how to improve our bodies, so that the next models will not experience the same ailments. If research has been the case, I cannot imagine these improvements have been made for female bodies, knowing now the afflictions I have been through. We are to take them on, struggle through the frustrations and the pain, so that we seek help through effort and money to fix ourselves. Otherwise, how will they use our bodies against us?

These ailments will stay. They will continue to cycle through our bodies. Each time, they will deposit a fine dusting of memory ’til the wisdom collects and calcifies and we are born stronger and ready to fight. So, though our bodies are made to seem like a hindrance, we keep on and learn to live better the next go-around.


Toilets: A Journey

A toilet is a place, too, like a seaside resort or a centuries-old city is a place. A visit to a toilet bears recounting, too.


Q-tips; under-the-tongue thermometers; ear thermometers; once, a meat thermometer; a Neti pot, swiftly rejected; toothpicks; anal beads; lollipops from the doctor’s office; lollipops from the bank drive-thru; upwards of 57,000 pounds of food; 43.5 gallons of alcohol; needles; the lip of a pipe...

49 Orgasms, 15 Women

The orgasm that is like an escalating inwardness
having stopped throwing up after four days of sick,
which is like a Joy Division drum track.