Certain memories are buried deep in flesh. Some are nice–dormant seeds waiting to be awakened–while others are more like caged creatures, pacing the floor and gnashing teeth. There’s something to be said about the power of unfettered freedom but there’s also something to say about confinement.
Days go by in a series of repetitive motions. Up at 7:00, drink two cups of tea, pack the lunches, brush the hair, convey the two small bodies to school. I stand at the kitchen sink, atop the rug I bought to cover the patch my feet have worn in the floor, washing the same dishes I have washed countless times. The cushions of my writing chair are imprinted with the shape of my body; that chair has been sculpted into a lifelike creature with a personality of its own, my flabby, dogged chum. I make the same meals, always using this knife to crush the garlic and that lustrous cast-iron pan to cook the meat; the daily tidal ebb and flow of laundry, toys, and books is steady and timeless as a river.
I could do this in my sleep. Sometimes I wonder if I am asleep.
But still, my routine allows me to lose myself. When I’m sitting in that chair, my imagination roams far, far away.
I love to dance. I used to even do it on stage. I remember the musty smell of the studio, how light from the skylight would filter down through air thick with dust and how black the soles of my feet would be by the end of class. I’d dance until I was dizzy and drenched with sweat. I danced alone in my bedroom with the music turned up, to Prince’s Purple Rain in the passenger seat of my friend’s Bronco, in huge warehouses in masses of sweaty bodies. I danced in my pajamas in a hotel nightclub in Shanghai with an Australian girl named Rochelle. I haven’t danced like that in years but I often dance in my sleep and when I do, I wake up happy.
In a hospital I lay shut tight in a florescent, airless room made of linoleum, plastic, metal, and synthetic fabrics, flanked by strangers wearing scrubs, tied to the bed with wires and tubes and monitors, and the weight of my soon-to-be-born daughter pressing down on my tailbone: I have never felt so trapped, ever. The need to escape welled up in me like a tsunami of frustration. “Get me out of here,” I yelled. “Get this thing out of me!” And then, moments later, she was in my arms and everything else dissolved like fluff.
Was it opium or travel fatigue or some parasite that had me glued to the hard cot in a plain room in a cheap hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand? I lay there for hours without moving. Sunlight seeped in under the door but I was afraid to move because I didn’t want to stop having the thought I was having, a thought like a dream, a dream like a snake, a snake with the tip of its own tail clamped in its mouth. The snake spoke to me out of the side of its mouth and the words went around and around in my head, growing bigger, fugue, a widening gyre of understanding.
In a corner of our bedroom behind the bureau, pressed up under the eaves, stands my spin bike. It looks like the antithesis of freedom: heavy and immobile, and when I sit on it I have to bend over slightly to avoid hitting my head, but it doesn’t matter. I stuff my feet in the pedal cages and earphones in my ears, turn the music way up, and I’m off, pushing hard and singing dizzy, taking deep breaths and wailing (because nobody can hear me), beating imaginary drums in the air (nobody’s watching), swinging my arms until they turn into wings, legs pumping into pistons and even the sweat feels good, as clean as an ablution, everything liquifies and I have to close my eyes because I’m bubbling over.
I’m wearing my old Levis and the sweater I’ve worn three days straight. To look at me, you’d never know. The past isn’t gone, it’s inside me: memories, trips, travels, thoughts, emotions, and dreams, I carry it all with me to he grocery store where I fondle mangos, feeling like a fruit myself, a heavy melon rolling along down the aisle. I smile and nod at strangers and look into their eyes for a second and then blink away, touched by the knowledge that that we all have something amazing hiding just under the surface, that we’re all trapped in these weird bodies: trapped and freed.
How do you escape?
This is the 8th entry of my series called “body talk.” To read more, go to my home page to select.