Friday, June 3, 2011

Incarceration


All her life, she had lived with the sensation of being trapped in this body. Not merely the myriad aches and pains she suffered, despite doctors’ constant reassurance that there was nothing wrong with her, but also the mundane demands of the prison bound her. The body hungered, and she must feed it. The body lusted and demanded satisfaction. The body tired and would sleep whether it was her will or not.

To follow the jailhouse rules evokes more nuanced prisons. If she ate, what should she eat? Would the food liberate her from her from the demands of the stomach, or weigh her down, or knot up her intestines, or simply be so unhealthy as to create further discord with the body? Inadequate sustenance would result in hunger pangs just a few hours later. If she had sex, there would be sweat and other bodily fluids. There might be pleasure, but then again, there might be pain, or lack of satisfaction, and if there were pleasure, that sensation might give rise to other, more debilitation sensations: a desire for more pleasure, a desire for a lover who would surely let her down, other desires she could not name. Besides, there was no easier way to transmit a disease that would further trap her in her body.

If she slept, she would dream.

The dreams might be wonderful, weightless flying dreams in which she escaped the bonds of the body, in which case, she would wake up even more tightly bound, stiff-jointed and shocked into the sharp reality of the morning.

The dreams might be nightmares.

Externally, she had friends, family, colleagues who looked at her and saw nothing unremarkable. No one could imagine that this vivacious and quick-witted woman had been a prisoner from birth in the same shell that liberated others with the power of movement, of choice. Like an animal, she concealed her weakness.

When the Saab plowed into her, she had been consumed with the heaviness in her legs, wondering how she could cross the street at all, how the crowds of pedestrians around her managed to do so without loathing. Preoccupied with forcing her limbs to comply, she did not notice that she had stepped out of the crowd.

“I’m having an out of body experience,” she thought, looking down at the broken frame of a woman beneath her. The Saab sped on, and witnesses were asking each other, “Did you get the license?” and “Is she dead?” They moved slowly, at a great distance from her perspective, waving their cell phones as they repeated the emergency dispatcher’s advice.

There was blood, spilling from the hated cage, pooling in the gutter. “I’m done for,” she thought. But the crowd declared, “She’s alive,” and, “See? She’s breathing,” and, “It’s OK, the ambulance is coming.”

But who cared? At last, freedom! She could fly!

Some part of her remained tethered, shackled, really, to the body, but she wouldn’t let that bother her. The life would fly out of that clay contraption and then, her fantasies realized, emancipation.

The ambulance did arrive, and a trio of snappy and professional young people fussed over her body, slid it onto a stretcher, and deposited it into their vehicle. It was idle curiosity, she told herself, which compelled her to follow, see it play out.

She was never going back. It was just nostalgia, a last glance at a house one had lived in for many years but never particularly cared for.

How graceful and unencumbered she felt hovering near the roof of the emergency vehicle. No longer plagued with discomfort, she needed nothing, wanted nothing. And how weak the foolish mortal frame appeared from here, the awkward limbs bent and broken, the messy fluids leaking from fissures in the meager protective skin.

A bloody handprint on her charcoal gray skirt bothered her, although she no longer needed business suits. And the hair: she could see gravel in the scalp, and worse yet, a few brown strands pulled forward and sort of caught in the eyelashes.

“Fix the hair,” she wanted to say, but she had no tongue, no voice box. Those organs belonged to the prison she had escaped so willingly. “Just tuck it behind the ear,” she wished to tell the paramedic, but the ambulance zoomed on, and the EMTs busied themselves with bandages, blood pressure cuffs. And her blouse had come unbuttoned, too, revealing more than she had ever shown strangers in her life.

It shouldn’t matter; the important thing was being free of the body, but at the same time, she’d always taken pride in presenting a flawless outer fa├žade. No one ever guessed, based on action or appearance, of her pain, and now she lay in a muddled red mess, suit torn asunder, dirt on her head, and an artless lock of hair to complete the dishevelment.

Anyone could see the body’s weakness.

Why should she care, she wondered, as they trundled the body into the hospital, zipped her through doors and down corridors. Good riddance, defiant shell. I don’t need you anymore.

But right up until darkness closed in, she wanted to fix that strand of hair.

The dreams of that darkness were good dreams. She didn’t resume the burden of the unwanted form.

She woke up in that old carapace, no longer flying. Her eyes opened to whiteness, and she smelled clean sheets and disinfected floors. One hand flew to her forehead like a trained bird, but someone had tucked the hair behind her ear. “What a nice hospital,” she thought.

Later, a doctor came in, explaining that she’d broken both her legs, she would be in a cast and couldn’t walk for at least two months.

“I’m stuck in this bed for two months?” she cried, horrified.

“No, no,” he corrected her. “We’ll send you home in a couple of days with a wheelchair.”

“Oh.” She smoothed both hands over her temples, her thumbs sliding back behind her ears to meet behind her scalp. “Do you think they could bring me a comb?”