The Body Grown Into (and out of)

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We all start out as about seven pounds of bundled flesh and bone, a tiny work-in-progress shot out of a warm womb where we were wrapped up and insulated, to now be a body lost in the sticky confabulation of the world. Pudgy digits, a few fluid-licked strands of hair, slapped to life, all bunchy folds and apoplectic cries, the body stretches out, already attempting to expand its limits. The body learns to crawl and eventually it rises to bipedalism’s curse, saying howdy to a newfound freedom, all rosy faced and tottering towards self-reflection.

The arms and legs fill out as the rest sprouts upward or outward, the feet executing length to support sudden doublings of height; and the body creates sex organs and extra hair in certain places. Somehow, these growing bodies still belong to us. We get to manipulate their larger parts to do things like run track or steer power mowers or highlight verses by Longfellow. We get to use these sudden lofty and extenuated circumstances to do our living from, hard and soft, these groping limbs and rambunctious musculature that does our bidding, for the most part. Sometimes we grow into macho men, sometimes petite darlings of the establishment, and some of us get to be ugly — really, really ugly…our bodies even difficult for another body to look at.

Some bodies will love other bodies, too much sometimes, but more often, not enough. Two bodies in motion, rapt with the splendid attention of touch, consumed with the nuanced strangeness and sameness of another body so much alike and also so different from our own. A body slips through another body, melds with it, grows together with that other body, somehow, though still apart, always, too. Brushed our body’s lips on another body’s lips. Entwined our body’s fingers with another body’s fingers. That ineffable scent that a body brings with it, the hint of longing the head’s hair unfurls to make or the pungent reek of an armpit, the satisfaction and repulsion of the senses, which the body takes and gives as it learns what bodies to be wary of or come closer to. And when one body gets tired of another body, lying too close to it, too often, and somehow scared of our own body too, sometimes, as if seeing the face of that body in the mirror is at once a shock and a comfort: a stranger to ourselves. A body screams with its mouth at your body. Your body makes tears with its ducts to ruin your sight. And then, your body is a body alone, again.

Bodies to part with, to never see that other body again, the one we used to hold so close to our body, to know the funny little shapes and scars and mysterious places of like it was our own body, almost.

These bodies we have, they allow us to defecate and blow snot and ride roller coasters and sweat and tie knots and catch spiders and have minds to think with, or not, as we choose. Without a body we could never experience time, which is what being alive is, really: galloping and clodhopping through the world caught in time’s constant drag and pull. And as our bodies keep at it, time devours them. Fingers get crippled with arthritis. Bones lose their density. Hair goes gray and falls out from the head. Eyes carry the bags of years and those years’ longer scars.

We park cars with these bodies. We write love letters with these bodies. We fart and burp and sneeze and sing and squirm and hula hoop and enunciate with these bodies. We put clothes on to cover these bodies, to keep the eyes of other bodies from seeing them, unless we want our body to be seen, in which case the body is presented naked, in parts or as a whole, as just a body, as it is, skin and hair and nails and moles and pimples and mosquito bites over sinew and tissues and organs and bones: the inescapable vessel in which we reside. We dive with these bodies into pools of chlorinated water that are so unnaturally blue that it hurts to look, and while under that water we hold the breath that keeps these bodies going. These bodies that are mostly bacteria and liquid. These bodies that manufacture blood and urine and uric acid and cholesterol and interferons to fight off viruses and sometimes vomit. These bodies forget and remember all that a body has ever done. These bodies keep growing hair and nails and skin, replenishing their substance, turning over from old to new, over and over, until all’s slowed down for that one final halt. These bodies that are always as young as they’ll ever be and as old as they’ve ever been.

And we grow out of these bodies, somehow, too. The lapsed pastures of aging dole out wrinkles to the flesh, and aches swindle through legs that formerly hurdled and sprinted so easily. Muscles shrivel. Brains go astray. Lungs cough and wheeze. Kidneys fail. Legs twitch and quake in bed on restless nights. The heart’s valves breakdown and pump irregularly, suffering a little more with each beat. These bodies we have only to make other bodies with: their sole purpose, and therefore ours too. These bodies that will meet, that will come closer than together; and then depart, strong and weak, leaving one body to grow another body inside. When the times passes for making other bodies, well, all that’s left is to decompose, to make way for more bodies to come, to lie down in darkness and allow the space this body has always occupied to disappear. That fullness that once was all we knew, that place where we got to go through the world from, to suffer and love and hope and be despondent too, that body that we filled as it grew, that we sat with and stood with and slept and fed and got drunk and flossed the teeth of and washed and sprained and healed and hurt and cared for and knew every inch of so well for so long. The body that grows and grows, until it doesn’t.

And then — perhaps in the slow pause of a muggy summer afternoon, on the porch with a few blueberries in a hand, gazing at a strip of begonias between the weeds of a garden, cheeks puffed and toes warm in a light dab of sprinkled sun, pondering that special click the traffic light makes when it changes from green to yellow to red — your body’s heart stops doing the only thing that it has ever done, and oxygen no longer makes its way to your body’s brain; and that body, all at once and forever, is yours to reside in no more.

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