On loving the body I live in and with
I was in college and deeply involved in theater. We were doing an exercise blindfolded, in a dark room, and we were instructed not to speak but to get to know each other by touch — a group grope. Afterwards one of the participants told me he’d noticed my rib cage was unusual for the way it went straight down rather than curving in at the waist. He said this without judgment; he was simply offering an observation. I hadn’t ever noticed this anomaly about myself, this certain way my body was different from other bodies. Bill Ochs is forever imprinted on my memory for having said that.
Over the years others have made comments about my body, and I always remember them. One summer in middle school a fellow camper noticed I had a protruding pubic bone. My former mother-in-law, measuring me for a sweater, was shocked at how broad my shoulders were. On the gurney in a New York emergency room an intern told me I had good childbearing hips; later, another doctor noted that it was unfortunate I couldn’t bear children because my nipples were excellent for breastfeeding. (I will not linger on the inappropriate nature of these comments from doctors.) My hairdresser has told me I have a long neck. After a hot yoga class in which we all faced the mirror, a young woman who was new to the studio came up to me and said: “You are a beast!” — a compliment about my strength. And, the most touching observation ever reported to me about my body was made by a seven-or-eight-year-old boy who I was reading with in a volunteer program. One day he pointed to a small lump of flesh between two of my knuckles. “What’s that?” he said, poking the lump. How keen-eyed he was. I hated to tell him I didn’t know.
Have others experienced such comments, or have I invited them? I don’t know. But I do know that I have an elephantine memory for them. I have always taken a keen interest in bodies, my own and those of other people, long before I was afflicted. I thought of becoming a doctor, but I didn’t want a doctor’s relationship to bodies. I wanted to observe, appreciate, describe. Personalize, not depersonalize. People have remarked that my fiction is full of descriptions of bodies, and that is probably true. So much of character stems from bodies we live in and with.