I’m no masochist

but sometimes it’s nice to watch yourself heal.

To cut a staleish loaf of bread, have the knife slip, and open a tiny slice of your finger instead. Watch the blood cry “alert!” and rush over, carrying magical healing things, and — “we’re giving her everything she’s got!” — go too far, spill out the opening. To close it with a paper towel and medical tape until it can keep itself closed without you, then watch the skin stitch itself back together.

I decided to go to Philadelphia, which was my first mistake.* The first night we went roller skating, which was my second. The second morning we went running, which was the third, but danger only comes in threes. I was looking at all the things one looks at when they don’t know a place. The sky, the air, the people. My phone was blowing up. My glasses were slipping down my nose. Everything had my attention except the ground, which was rudely uneven. My foot caught on a sidewalk joint. The rest of me continued pitching forward. My palms caught the ground but it wasn’t enough. My right shoulder and elbow caught the landing. On gravel. 

My shoulder skin scraped off. My elbow opened. It’s not a big deal. Just blood and skin. We kept running, then returned to an apartment in a warehouse with piles of rusty nails everywhere. Just kidding, they weren’t rusted. We went to the roof and held the door open with a piece of plywood. On the roof was a tank full of hungry sharks. Just kidding, they’d just eaten breakfast. In Philly we stayed with a doctor who lived in said rusty-nail warehouse, and who told me about skin and healing. I place all my trust in him. He had band-aids. He told me this: 

When a boy and a girl clink together, baby snakes fall out of the boy and rush into the girl’s nest, trying to reach her golden egg. The snakes will mostly die as they try to maneuver around a video-game style contraption of swinging axes and flaming swords. Perhaps one snake will make it, perhaps two. Then it will poke its head in and win the golden egg. 

The exact moment of entry, sperm into egg, means everything. The exact direction of entry means everything. This vector will guide the orientation of everything else. It will guide the structure of your body building itself. It will guide the shape of your skin. Your skin knows up from down. It knows where to send the healing juices. It knows when there is a piece missing on the left, and it will double itself to fill the gap.

The orientation itself doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it exists, and that it guides everything else. When this structure is upended, it means cancer. It means cells growing in every direction without guidance. It means death. 

I want to help. But I can’t. I don’t have the instruction manual. I am the instruction manual.

I’m in a writing group that meets once every two weeks. We all met because we like a certain author named Bud Smith. We are oriented towards Bud. The Buddies live all over the country but we went to Philadelphia so we could fall out of trees and let ourselves heal. We met in person for the first time but we’ve known each other for eight months so we hugged. Hugs are funny. Every hug is a battle: whose arms go on top, and whose arms go underneath? Who dominates the hug and who lets themselves be hugged? I’m shortish, so I default to underneath. I let myself be wrapped up. But sometimes, when I want to grip someone tightly, I hug from the top. 

Now I’m in Wisconsin. Seth and I arrived last night. My mom waited for us at the bottom of the escalator in the dinky Madison airport. But I noticed something strange. She held out her arms for a hug… diagonally. Right arm up, left arm down, facing me. So I brought my left arm down underneath her right, and my right arm over her left. It was a hug of equivalence. No one was on top, no one on bottom. 

I turned to my stepdad. He held out his arms the same way: right arm up, left arm down. I think he’s oriented himself to my mother’s hugs. Later I met up with my brothers, one by one. Guess how they hugged? Right arm up, left arm down, holding them out like stars. 

-Denise


Elliephant of the week: cats orient to no man

*Much love to Philly. I love Philly.