I wrote this letter to my body a couple of years ago, after I came out of surgery. Anesthesia, for me, is an out of body experience, or hyperspace, or coming out of stasis or starship cold sleep. Waking up from sleep is like that too, sometimes, if I've been dreaming hard.
Oh, body. I like you okay even if I crack jokes about wishing to be a brain in a jar. It can be creepy and nostalgic and connected-feeling to look at your calves and see the exact sturdy calves of my grandmother. Animals and inheritance. I can think of each part of you and what you have meant to me; times you've hurt me or I've hurt you, times I've blessed or cursed you, skateboard accidents where blood poured out and I felt so sorry for the careless damage to your lovely complexity; yet later, other times I've hated your sluggish response, the kneecap crepitations, the sparkler fuse from sacroiliac to the painful flipper of my right foot, the way you've been dead weight I have to lift with my hands from bed to wheelchair or drag behind me like heavy, ugly meat. Your stubborn refusals to breathe and the exhaustion. You're so fragile & yet robust, like a car that's utterly dependable to keep running and yet that makes worrisome mysterious noises, rumblings, backfires, leaking oil and fumes into the driver's seat. A spaceship with a rogue AI in some of its limbs and engines, so that the wires that come out of my pilot-self in the navigation console are getting strange messages. My orders get lost on the way to you, eddying in electronic backwaters, static on the line, sensory input down. You refuse to be a perfect tool for me, you buck and protest, you're a horse and I'm the rider, and you let me know it.
The instant my baby came out and I held him in my arms, I felt like you and I were whole. I was all together in one piece. A sense of rightness washed over me. We were solidly together, machine and brain, flexing our powers, no more static or disconnection, all the nerves and wires working right. Right. Solid. In the center. Connected. Geometric. A moment of perfect mathematical understanding. Numbers and equations mapped to a graph that I understood, beautiful algebra, numbers becoming a physical object. That was me! Connected all the way through, really inhabiting where I am. For so many months I had been not-alone, with another person in me, always conscious of that loneliness assuaged: then he was outside me but still connected by the cord, and I could see him, and he wasn't part of me anymore, and I was alone and whole. I was me (again? finally?) and there was a shock of recognition. I welcomed my baby into the real world, I held him and realized I was me and no one else. All the parts of me that I had separated out, because I could not possibly be THAT, or that, or that other thing, or that quality, or at least not all at once... those parts met and merged and were happy. I imagine death to be like that, in the best of worlds. In labor, after labor, I was proud. My body and I worked together like olympic athletes, will and flesh.
The times I've cried, so rarely, after sex where like magic I am my body and understand it. When you, my body *work* and when I am you, and don't feel so alone in my head. When I'm not fighting or struggling. When touch feels good instead of a battle for control.
I feel like that today. Waking up from anesthesia was a nightmare, almost knowing, almost conscious, but knowing I could not move, trying to become pure Will, pure consciousness, and wrassling your unruly mule... finally I could whimper a little.. fighting for breath... I said "help" and then "cold, please, warm" and a nurse came, told me to breathe, "What... beep... beeping..." You have to breathe, the oxygen monitor beeps, remember to breathe... the terrible weight on my chest, the squeezing. "shaking... legs... " She brought me warm blankets and an electric warmer to quiet the convulsive trembling in my legs, which made me remember the transition phase of labor when my legs were about to explode with the twitching and shaking. Laboring in the bath like a spastic electric seal. Finally I could move a finger. I could almost swallow. I said to myself the few poems I can remember, Where like a pillow on a bed a pregnant bank swells up to rest the violet's reclining head, sat we two, one another's best.... We then, who are this new soul know of what we are composed and made, the atomies from which we grow, are souls which no change can invade. Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, the holy tree is growing there, from joy the holy branches start and all the trembling flowers they bear. The changing colors of its fruit have dowered the stars with merry light the surety of its hidden root has planted quiet in the night. If I were tortured I would wish to have been a better memorizer. To be trapped in my mind completely, oh it is hell and must be endured. Tools for enduring. If I wait and promise then my body will come back to me. Do not think of the movie "Waking Life". Avaunt. I'm so glad I can hear. I can move my finger just a little. Thank you, my body. The doctor comes, I know her voice. She doesn't know how glad I am of her megadykey solidity. My eyes open a little to consecrate her a blurry angel. I am her for a moment in her radiant body, squeezing my own hand. I hear myself croaking "Sister".... "My sister... want ....my sister..." But she can't come in. "Do you hurt?" "No... hard, control, not to be in control." A sentence! Oh thank you mouth. If I had music, I could breathe. I swallow, almost. Stammering. Breath. It's so hard to breath and then the beeping, then I remember to breath and I say my bits of poetry again. That we are tired for other loves await us, hate on and love through unrepining hours, before us lies eternity, our souls are love and a continual farewell, unloose the cord and they will wrap you round, I see my life go dripping like a stream from change to change I have been many things, a green drop in the surge, a gleam of light upon a sword. Green, muscadine. Breathe, and breathe, and breathe... I open my eyes. There's a clock. I'm so happy, the numbers change on the clock, across the room, enormous, but I can't see what they are without my glasses. How great webs of sorrrow lie hidden in the small slatecolored thing! The woman next to me has been moaning, I heard them say earlier "your lung has to reinflate" and I say "it's so hard, you can breathe, you can keep doing it". I know she hears me. She moans again. "It's hard" she says. "Jamal..." Yes... I know... I want my sister, too, like she wants Jamal, whoever he is. She sounds old. Her son? "I'm breathing too" I rave to her. "It hurts" she says. Some nurses come back over. "Your oxygenation is 100%, you're doing fine, you're doing great, your breathing is great." I know otherwise, she is struggling like I'm struggling. It looks fine on the monitors but we are fighting, will over body. I make my eyes open again and I make the head turn. She looks at me too, amazing. How? "Hurts!" I tell her. "Damn!" she says, looking like she wants to laugh, but there's no breath for it. Yeah, she knows me, I'm glad. We are glad for nurses and monitors but also glad that other people hurt and know other truths. I moved my head! I'm looking around! There are other people! Like a basketball slamming through a hoop and into another universe, like a starship turning inside out in a black hole and coming out the other end in a spray of light somewhere it can't imagine, I'm not "making my head move" or "making my eyes open" but I am moving my head and opening my eyes, and I am them. My body, I'm sorry... I'm sincerely sorry for the ways that I demand to be the captain. So much of the time I am your patriarch. For a moment I see how it's wrong and I see how to be whole, all of us together in my body (me). A nurse comes to wheel me out, to the second recovery room, where someone will know me. I ask him about the World Cup. My brain thinnks in Spanish. I welcome, welcome, the effort, the enigma, the codebreaking, the healthy work of it, I could do a crossword puzzle, I could solve equations, I could parse a sentence, I could put all the parts of my body into a taxonomy, to be comforted that the gears are oiled and meshing. Sliding in and out of unity, body and mind, I'm not sure who is "I", but am happy not to be helpless. The captain slides into his chair, I am comforted, I'm back in the saddle, I can see forever, I could fight the laws of gravity and fly off the gurney, naked, and light everything up with the fire of thought, so that in that moment everything would be permitted, for everyone, and they also would become whole. I can't wait to stand up and walk, to pee, to talk, to look at someone who looks at me. Intense gratitude. I'm so glad.