[Image: Black & white x-ray image of a torso in charcoal pinned with matted string.]
This week words run dry. Run through dust run on sand; deep chord buried in earth. This grounding rod, this live wire. I have been remembering. A body collapsed in flames, the faulty wiring. Electrical fire causes house to go unaware, memory is a shot in the dark. Postherpetic neuralgia, sciatica. Inflamed sensory ganglia, impinged nerves. Is this pain reminder or distraction? She asks if I would consider myself chronically ill. No, but I am always hurting.
Every pain I’ve had my mother claims as hers first. Tuberculosis to assault, damaged spine to broken womb to phantom pain and shingles. Dry eyes and splintered throat, fatigue and aching joints. Not enough red in my blood. We have fractured the same bones, only each of her ailments she claims were worse, even without proof of them. See her eyes glow, her smile widen, words leak in through my skin. Now you know how it felt. And I do. She says this as I am strapped to a table, have needles flowing with electrical current sunk into my nerves and asked to move the joints they are stuffed in. I sob and shake until compliant. Breathing shallow and even until my brain shuts off. Everything she went through, I have felt. Born and bred to empathize. I am made up of this stuff. Sculpted of her worst mistakes. She walks away to take a phone call as I reach for her hand.
In some indigenous cultures, the future is considered behind us, the past before. We can only see what is ahead of us, look out into the past. Ancestors unaware of what will come; I am terrified of the children I cannot have. If I am looking into my past don’t you think I’d know by now, what am I reaching for?
I watch a movie in which a woman gets raped and a part of my brain thinks what it is seeing is real. Another part sees it for what else it is, a screen, unreal, a society’s sick idea of entertainment. I am raped and a part of my brain is nowhere, thinks what is happening is a screen, unreal. Our society’s sick idea of entertainment. Shake until compliant. First degree trauma can leave no trace. This moment is wiped clean while the dark translucent film rolls over and over. There is no looking back; this thing I’ve been digging at for years. Contradiction laughs, echoes in my mother’s voice. As a child she forced me to wash memory away. Every piece of abuse had her hands grasping my thin arms too tight, forcing me down on the stairs so hard wind left my lungs. Imagine windshield wipers erasing it all. Threat leaks through where worry should stand. Don’t get up until it’s gone.
Mother, an infection in my blood. Bacteria I couldn’t exist without, lining my gut. Blood erases itself every 120 days. Memory passed down as it hands itself over, new cells engulf the old. Sacrifices itself for this end. Memory absorbed, left over. Lingering. 120 days to learn 120 to forget.
If blood is memory I am sucked dry.
She picks me up late after surgery, this one minor. My wisdom teeth have been pulled all at once and I feel like a fool. Sit in the doctor’s office yelling with a lisp that I was roofied. The nurses laugh, thinking I am referring to the roofalin I was given for the procedure. When she finally arrives, she is on her phone. She looks up and snaps her fingers, pointing to the car. Signs the required paperwork, laughs at my swollen face. Covers the mouthpiece to tell me I look like a chipmunk. My mouth full of gauze and blood, she has no idea of all that I am storing. We drive and I believe the car is moving backwards. She looks at me through saggy mask of skin, demands I calm down. I live with her and have not seen her in weeks, not since her husband took me to the ER after breaking ankle and tailbone. She called to tell me the neighbors had baked me a cake. It was eaten by the time I got home. Here and now she gets off the phone, tells me the doctors call the drugs I’m on a truth serum. Starts asking me questions, one after another, gathering all of the things I have kept from her. Secrets; the only way to feel separate. I am crying and she is asking, asking, gleaming with all she has fished for. Hook in mouth, she won’t stop the car as I vomit. I remember nothing that was said, only the gaping emptiness that was left for me to search. What is a body emptied of secrets, left to find it’s edges? What are we without?
These years I eat painkillers like candy. This competition, holding pain up to the light to compare who has suffered most. Maybe it was her, I sit here pinching myself, numb. Survival of the fittest. Fighting over torn lungs and old blood. Mold grows in the lining, clots ripping us up. All her tests come back negative. I come back positive again and again, each time beaten.
The red blood cell contains no nucleus, cannot multiply on it’s own. Red blood made deep in bone, in marrow. Subtle pulse, fade. Each cell replaced, new life slicing the year into thirds. Passed down passed away. Vein and vessel, capillary to crown, I wear her. These pathways spiderwebs, this knowledge an internal scab. Clotting.
It is Christmas Eve and she sits in her closet, gleeful and gushing with tears. She has been in there for almost seven hours while my brother at the other end holds a gun to his head in the dark. She delights in his pain, sits and polishes it with a shirt corner. She reminds him how terrible his life is, piles his worries up and flips through them for him to see, moving picture of grief. She loves us only for the sympathy we bring her, admits she cannot feel anything unless she leeches it out of us. I can hear him sobbing through the phone, then his own laughter at what he might do. Tapped into our pain, lapping up what little of us there is left. I take the phone from her and she screeches. Listen to him breathe until we’re both asleep, thin wire and waves reaching across the distance we cannot. I hold my breath to keep my heart from jumping out of me. I am immune to nothing.
These stories that have been told for us, about us. Stories swept away. If I’ve been living a lie, haven’t I still been living it? I am told the body remembers, shuts off. Electric fire, power out. City can see nothing of before, whole system down. There are no targets in the dark. I am left with this plague; what of a body forgotten? what if nothing came before?
Out of arms reach out of eyesight all of my ailments fade. The only thing that remains of her is in the mirror, like a blemish. Bound to my back my bones, even cut away. Scrub the skin the glass before turning it away. Mother love, motherless, this myth. I do not have to love her just because I wear her blood like the silky red robe she hid beneath.