Outside, the city is still quiet at this pre-five-o’clock hour. The wind haggles all the trees, tossing them around, telling them dangerous stories. Yesterday when my sweetheart and I were out for a mid-morning run, we looked at the bruised-cloud sky and said, doesn’t it seem like rain? But, of course, it’s California — we all know it doesn’t rain in springtime. Oh, wait. Surprise.
that our living is not guaranteed?
Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
– from “Elegy,” By Aracelis Girmay
Something has shifted in me recently. How do I want to talk about it? It feels precipitous, actually, to say anything at all — I have these slight shifts and feel like something has changed irrevocably, but then, lo and behold, it’s been over a year since I’ve had any alcohol, and it’s been years since I could take a drag of a cigarette. My body changes its mind like this and says, I need something new. And I have learned to listen, to attend. I have learned how to hear that the body has needs that are as important as the needs of these words.
How can I talk about athletics or bodies? I have spent all of these years only in my head. This was one of the biggest capitulations, I think, the way I climbed as far into my head as I could after my stepfather his hands on my body, though I never could get in so deep that I couldn’t feel him touching me.
I was an active child, would almost certainly have been an athlete if not for the anxiety I felt about my body, my deep disappointment in my own skin to save me, to repel his hands. I had been the sort of kid who spent an entire day riding her bike around the neighborhood, around the city, weaving and unweaving stories into the air around me as I pushed through neighborhood after neighborhood. The whole city was mine, because I had a body that could take me there. I played softball and ran sprints. I swam and played basketball at my dad’s house — once there was a dad’s house to go to.
The part in me that wanted to move then still wants to move now. And the thing in my body that’s still clenched from the spasm I had back in November 2012 loosens itself when I exercise vigorously — the numbness in my foot abates; this is why I think the numbness isn’t nerve damage but a still-clenched fist there in the part of my body closest to my core, a thing that maybe doesn’t trust our security, our safety, doesn’t believe that we are actually free.
The body carries so much of the story we don’t tell, we never tell. The body carries the physicality of our experience. The body knows and remembers.
I was trained, as a teenager, not to trust the messages from my body — to read every physical illness as psychosomatic; almost any time any one of us were sick, my stepfather wanted to know what we weren’t talking about, what issue we were hiding from that was causing this illness. How come we weren’t thinking our way well? Why were we weak enough to let ourselves get sick? Now, imagine that conversation when you’re not able or allowed to name the thing that is actually making you ill, like a terrible game of “Taboo”: Explain why you are sick to your stomach without using the words rape or incest, since those words are not allowed in his ears.
Maybe I’ve written myself back into my own skin, finding words for those long unspoken truths — the body has let me back in again.
I don’t yet have a lot of language for this body, for what happens in me when I treat my body well. The few supplements I’ve been taking have made a massive shift in how I feel inside my own skin. Eating differently, moving, getting vitamin D from the sun — there’s something about deciding that the body deserves its kindnesses, too, that the body deserves forgiveness, that I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I never learned what my body was capable of. I am loving the experience of physical tiredness — reaching the end of the day exhausted from not just the mental labor of the day, not just anxiety and panic, but, more, from being able to move. It is, I understand, a profound privilege to “get” to be tired from moving my body — rather than fatigued because I spent the whole day sitting on my butt looking at a screen, holding my body in this unnatural position, contortion, butt flat, legs bent and held still, arms up, fingers at the keyboard, head tilted down, eyes tiring from scanning this inorganic light.
How do I get to the words for how extraordinary it is to want to be in my body. To want to feel like I live inside here. To want to be in the body as much as I want to be in words. There is a shift happening here — how words don’t have to be an escape from the body. They don’t have to be at odds with the body. The body can be here, too.
These days I wake up and do a single round of sun salutation — stretching out the back and legs, saying good morning to this skin and these muscles, shaking the dreams loose, releasing them into the whole of this stream of nerves and blood vessels. Later I will lace up my sneakers, put on shorts and a t-shirt, and run slowly and certainly around this flowering neighborhood. I am not competitive about this — I don’t have to run faster than anyone else. I have reached a place in this learning to run that I like the experience of running itself. (Madness!) It’s becoming it’s own meditative process, a place where I can say hello to myself and my thoughts — just like with morning pages.
Once upon a time I came to the notebook to get away from this body, from the feelings here, from the fear and loathing. I came to the notebook because I didn’t want to be in my skin and the words helped me forget what I was feeling, helped me feel something else. Or rather, the words helped me contain the feeling — naming it made it safer. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe we can still be an athlete of a sort — we can get back to that girl who rode and ran and swam just for the sake of being in her own body’s capacity for joy.