I once had a small wart on the fleshy part of my right hand. No one could see it but I could feel it. And I did: whenever I felt nervous I’d press it with my thumb, worrying the wart.
What is a wart? A rebellious bit of flesh that won’t lie down, a little piece of you that refuses to conform. Warts are harmless but weird, mildly freakish, and difficult to ignore. It’s like your body is trying to tell you something, something you don’t want to hear.
I remember my mother bending over my little brother. He must have been about six years old, a grubby little kid with dirt behind his ears and ripped clothes, holding his hand out to her. She leaned over him, her long tangled hair hanging like a curtain while they both inspected the palm of his hand. It’s a wart, she told him. If you’re clear that it is unwelcome and you concentrate very, very hard and tell it to go away, then it will. You have to decide you want it gone and then stick with it. My mother had said the same thing about the ants in the kitchen and in fact they did eventually disappear, so my brother screwed up his face and leveled a death-stare at the palm of his hand.
His wart did go away, but mine was with me for more than twenty years. Nothing could remove it, not salicylic acid or liquid nitrogen or dirty looks. When I first noticed it I must have been about 20, still floundering in the failure of my first love, alone and adrift. But that wart stuck with me for more than twenty years, through various schools and careers and relationships, it was there every time I shook someone’s hand or waved goodbye: my faithful, steadfast companion. That wart was with me so long I almost forgot it was there. It had become normal, just another part of me, an intimate detail only I knew about, until one day I was just done with it. I scratched and scratched until it fell off and that was that.
Where did the wart come from and why did it go? I have no idea, but I can still point to the exact spot where it used to be. It lingers nevertheless, like a phantom limb, just like my childhood memories, like every old fear and friend and boyfriend that visits in my dreams. It’s not there anymore but it might as well be.
There are things my body knows that my mind doesn’t; my conscious mind literally has no idea.
My man tosses the keys and I catch them before even registering what’s happening. He and I have been sleeping together for more than 20 years and sometimes we wake in the morning to discover we’ve had the same dream. When I ride a bike I move and shift subtly, imperceptibly, for balance, but if I had to tell my body what to do, I’d surely crash in a bloody heap. I have given birth, not once but twice, a fact that still baffles me, and I can’t tell you how it happened because my brain had to shut up and let my body take over. When I type, I watch the words grow like inchworms on the screen, letter by letter, but I never think about my fingers. If I stop typing for a moment to notice, I feel my lungs fill and fall and smell the faint scent of lavender wafting up from my sweater. The typing is miraculous; the scent and feel of cashmere against my arms is magical. How does this happen? Every day, every moment, my body is doing all kinds of things that my mind doesn’t notice.
But of course it’s not just my body, it’s everyone’s. Our bodies are amazing, unfathomable territories. We’ve traveled in them but we haven’t traveled in them. Our skin and flesh and guts and bones have secret lives we’ll never know about. Well, maybe not exactly secret, because our bodies whisper things to us all the time, murmurs we don’t hear or understand. Maybe we don’t speak the right tongue. My friend Lisa says that bodies are where we store the truths and memories we don’t deal with and that they have their own intelligence, one we could learn from.
Actually, I’m only imagining that Lisa said that, because I can’t get her on the phone right now to confirm. Lisa and I have been friends since preschool and when I close my eyes, I can see her face and hear her voice. I can only say that about a handful of people, perhaps because I’m a head-person, one who tends to think instead of feel, the type that is accustomed to searching for keys that they’re holding in their hand or finding bruises of mysterious origin or realizing at lunch that they’ve forgotten to eat breakfast or reading so long their limbs fall asleep. Have you seen the sci fi movie where the scientists keep a brain alive in a glass case? That could be me. So if anyone’s body has something it needs to get off its chest, it’s mine.
So if my body could talk, what it would it say? If I stopped to listen, what would I hear?
What do you think?
I think I have more to say about this so I hope you won’t mind if I continue this topic.
For those who have been wondering, I have received 2 more rejections for my novel, What Would Water Do, which brings the total to 11 so far. Although I have yet to hear from more than 20 other agents, I have given up on finding one. No worries. My job search is taking all my attention. If you know of any part-time jobs in the SF Bay Area, send them over here. Who knew after all that school and work all I’d want in a job is a flexible schedule?