The Body

December 7, 1996

Sometimes it feels like the body is not me. I live behind my eyes. As a late elementary schooler I used to get lots of headaches but I don't remember complaining of any physical complaints except above the neck. Later, in jobs, I tended to ignore the body, being careless of its limits, lifting stacks of books or bolts of cloth until my back gave me shootimg pains. And still I slump before a computer or hunch over a book, as I am doing as I write this in a notebook and again as I type it into the computer. I feel guilty when the body's problems keep me from doing things; that cold shouldn't keep me from walking to the library, that tiredness shouldn't keep me from going to the movie with my friends.

Of course, the body cries wolf a lot. I remember the feeling that dirt and sand were clinging to me under my clothes, though I was sitting on the school bus and only the soles of my shoes had even touched the ground that day. I remember a Halloween costume I had intended to wear all day -- just a black shirt and miniskirt with red lace tights and red devil's horns -- that I couldn't. It just caused a prickling sensation like everyone was looking at the parts of my body usually more thoroughly covered by denim. I know the feeling of suddenly being aware of my breasts; suddenly they are sticking out much farther than in actuality they do, like everyone must be aware of them as I suddenly am, everyone wants to touch them and I feel his hands cupping them. I must smash them flat in sports bras, I must drape them in layers of loose clothing, so they will stop feeling like a target. And then there are those phantom pains inside me, a ring around the inside of my vagina that makes me clench all the muscles in the area and say, "Bad body. Stop that," like I'm talking to a dog.

Can we reach an agreement? I pay attention to the body now, knowing that to let the lover continue when the body says not to will only end in tears and fighting. I try and treat the back better, doing the exercises they gave me at Student Health Services. Unless I absloutely can't get out of class, I don't make the body sit still when it cries out for movement. What else do I need to do stop the false alarms? This treats those alarms as if they were sheer attention-getters rather than true attempts to warn me, sent by a being that's just not quite sure when the situation is serious. But how do I teach the body how to know when things are OK?

I'm still not wonderful under pressure from others at being confident that this body belongs to me, not them. I do stupid extremist things like cheat on the bodyfriend who pressures me for sex, to prove to myself that this body does not belong to him, that he cannot dictate when and where and with whom its sexual pleasures take place. But it takes another man touching the body to prove that even to me -- I don't even feel that much like I own this body myself. Perhaps I shouldn't feel like I own it and can use it like the others want to use it. But as yet I don't really know how to live with and cooperate with it, either.

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