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Fragments of a Conversation
Body at War
I can't remember a time when my body was not on guard. Ready to decide - stay and fight or run away. My secret daily routines as a child included having a bag packed at all times. Scanning every building for places to hide. At a very young age, I knew if I were running from someone, don't go up, don't go into rooms with no exit or window, don't get trapped. This isn't the sort of information a child should have to know, is it? I don't even remember where or how I learned it. I just knew I always had to have a plan. If I couldn't make myself safe, I could make myself ready. I lived in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and finally landed in Texas. Every place I lived, until I moved in with my husband, I had a bag packed. Every time we moved, I made plans for where I would need to go.
Even now, when I walk into a room, I note the easiest exits, the paths of least resistance, in case I need to leave quickly. I never unlearned the habit. When was the last time I actually had to do that? I can't remember. I've never been safer or had circumstances like these, where I should feel so content and secure, before. I feel safe at home, safe with my husband - but especially in public, the habits remain.
When my doctor asked me how long it had been since I'd had a solid week of good sleep, I couldn't remember. It hasn't been months or years - it's been a couple of decades. When did I last have surgery? I slept a lot then, I told him. That's not what he meant. I don't know then, I said, I'm an insomniac. It doesn't feel like my mind is ever entirely at rest. Even when I'm exhausted, I still try to function in my half-awake state, holding conversations, getting ready for work - only truly waking up some time later wondering how I'd gotten my clothes on, checked my messages and managed to make coffee, while apparently still sleeping.
Now I have to question the consequences of living so many years ready to fight, or ready to run.
My recent diagnosis has me wondering if the effect of a lifetime spent looking for a fight, has left my body with no other way to behave. An auto-immune disorder means my body is essentially at war with itself. Is my body tearing itself apart looking for a threat that doesn't exist? My doctor is trying to trace the battle lines for clues - why are these muscles being affected, and not those. Why the muscles, but not the joints?
More questions from my doctor. "Do you meditate?" (Yes.) "Do you practice yoga?" (Yes.) "When are you most relaxed?"
"When do you feel safe?"
Body at Peace
"When I dance."
"So you relax when you dance? What is that like?"
"How much time have you got?" I ask. He shrugs and leans forward. On my phone, I show him a video of me dancing with Mr. X at Copa. It is clearly not what he expected to see. No gymnastics, no jumping or kicking. Just walking.
I tell him, it's not relaxed in some passive, nap-like way. I don't know. Can you relax actively? He shrugs.
Cradled against a man's chest, listening to the music through his body, breathing in the smell of his cologne, I can feel safe. I don't know what combination of factors creates that alchemy, but it works. I listen to his breathing, a few breaths go by, and we're in synch. If we pay attention, we can feel a little of each other's history in the way we move, in the tiny ways we adjust to each other. It's different every time.
It's not just that being held that way feels good - of course it does, I don't think that really surprises anyone. But for me, for someone to make the effort, and to put in the energy, to make me feel safe, to make me feel like something precious in his arms - to put his embrace before the steps he wants to dance - that makes me feel safe.
Safe enough to stop running. Safe enough to stop fighting.
I can surrender.
"I prefer to explore the most intimate moments, the smaller, crystallized details we all hinge our lives on."
Poet Rita Dove