Over the past year, since my mom got diagnosed with serious cancer, I’ve had yearnings wash over me for my body to be something else.
Sitting at the terminal in the Toronto airport, on the way to Vancouver, I’d be struck by the desire for my body to be spun from either end, like silk, until I became a wispy strand of nothingness. Standing on the streetcar, I’d feel the visuals of a rapid succession of tsunami-like sound waves aimed at my chest, pulverizing me. Sitting at my desk, I’d sense a hand pulling my throat up and out of me. Standing in the shower, I’d feel a flutter of being compressed into a non-space, like a beer can, under a busy man’s sandal, at an outdoor music festival.
And shocking as it may sound, these weren’t concerning to me. I knew what they weren’t. I knew they weren’t harbingers of something gone wrong with my mind. They were simply a picture book of dread, and the desire to shrink into its pages.
They eventually faded, as my sense of catastrophe ebbed. But I think of them, because there were so many of them, and - did they leave?
Dr. Gabor Maté explains that, “Physiologically, emotions are themselves electrical, chemical and hormonal discharges of the human nervous system.”
I first thought about the need to move emotions when I walked the Camino in 2015. When I got home, friends were curious to know my takeaway. What had I learned? I hadn’t gone to learn anything. I had gone because I’d come to know not enough about myself, other than that I needed to move. I had gone because I felt the compelling urge to move through space, but it was more than a compulsion: I knew that I was at stake. And I did learn that our worst emotions need to be moved out of us. They won’t leave on their own. And certainly, movement alone is not sufficient for everyone, but I found it was necessary for me. If emotions are a movement in us, we either move back at them, or they contort us.
I’ve been struggling with how still I’ve been this year, as this pandemic has plodded onward. I’ve alternated between my parents’ home, and my own home, each of which houses its own immunocompromised person. My movement has been extremely limited. To put it in millennial terms, since March 9th, I’ve only had one coffee not made by my own hands.
My dad and I have often talked about our shared nightmare of being forced to live out our lives in a small town. Oh, I go crazy, he shudders. He’s speaking in English, but in his native language of German, there’s a version of the future tense that doesn’t involve the verb “will”. Meaning that you can speak in the present tense, but it’s understood by fellow German speakers that you are referring to the future. He uses this verb tense when speaking about the future in English.
I go crazy.
You’re going crazy, repeatedly?
You are in the very act, right now, of going crazy?
You’re going to go crazy, in the future?
Oh yeah, me too, I say. What do you do in a small town? Just go to work and then watch TV at night? Day in and day out?
We like to make it worse than it is.
Except we are now, each of us, living in our own small ho[town]mes.
At night, crumpled in bed staring at our phones, our heads sunken between our jutting shoulders and our elbows stabbing into overworked pillows, I rotate my phone screen at my boyfriend’s face.
Don’t you just want to be able to move like her? To move through space like that?
It’s a video of ABT principal dancer Isabella Boylston, finally getting to dance in a studio again after all these months, set to funny music.
He inches his head back in its shoulder crevice, blinking at the screen now shining at his face.
Uh . . . no? But it’s cool. It’s very cool!
He wants to appease me, but he also moves his eyes back to his Reddit feed. I don’t figure out whether he really never has felt a yearning to move like that, but I play it on repeat a few more times in our shared face, with the sound on for good measure. He might change his mind, if he hears how free she is.
When I was little, I’d often come stomping out of my room, hiccuping with small person rage, demanding to know why I had to be in bed if my older brother and parents were going to stay up and laugh without me. I was less mad that they were permitted to stay up, and more disappointed that they would choose to carry on without me. How dare they exist, without me?
My mom soothed me and assured me that they were going to bed soon, too. In fact, they’re going right now, aren’t they! In contrast, my dad laughed at the tiny tornado I’d created inside myself. He hugged me and picked me up and swung me around in circles, the dusty right angles on our Persian rug becoming cul-de-sacs under us. And then, for just a moment, he grabbed me by my ankles and held me upside down, while I squealed with delight. My mom told him to put me down, chuckling and rolling her eyes, and my brother jumped up and down on the couch, giggling and asking for the same. After a second or two I was back on my feet, my fleece onesie softly petting its way back down my body, with gravity.
Looking at me in utter amusement, my dad always asked: And? How do you feel now?
He knew: I felt better.
I sit still.
You’re sitting still, repeatedly?
You are in the very act, right now, of sitting still?
You’re going to sit still, in the future?
ALLE DREI: all three.
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