When you catalog your body, you should first start with the obvious things. The scar on your chin from that time you slipped, crawling across the living room floor next to your dog. Remember how your mother held you as your father checked the wound? That flap of skin hanging down. And then the emergency room and the bright lights... you pretended you were sleeping, but really you were awake the whole time, feeling that tug, tug, tug, like when your great aunt taught you how to sew on that snowman ornament three Christmases ago. Seven stitches for your seven years.
The things that you used to be so embarrassed of: that big freckle on the palm of your right hand, the little bump on your lip that came from nowhere and never went away. Now you’re an adult, and it seems so silly that you ever cared about those little things, but you know how it is when you’re a kid. That chicken-pox scar in between your eyebrows that you never noticed until someone pointed it out. It was that kid who told you, your freshman year. He was the one whose dad invented something. Key cards for hotel rooms, right? That sounds right. Something about the magnetic strip.
Isn’t that the way it always is? You never notice those things until someone tells you it’s wrong. Remember when your sister told you your eyebrows looked like caterpillars? Then you plucked them so thin they were barely there at all. You found out you had a big chin when you read it in a note, remember? That note for the photographer. “De-emphasize chin.” And that comment, you remember that. The one on that website. “She has a cowboy jaw.” “Man hands, no offense.” “BARF.” You remember that one, don’t you? Barf. Or that first time you read about yourself online, at the dawn of the Internet as we know it. “She’s the fattest one. Zero muscle tone. Last place.”
I’m getting off track here. We’re cataloging, cataloging. But you should include your man hands and your cowboy jaw and your fat, muscle-free body. I guess you can leave out the “barf,” it doesn’t really apply. But that reminds me, you should include your gag reflex. How you always cough and stutter and choke when you brush your teeth, a leftover from your old speed addiction, from when you were sleeping only two nights a week and the fatigue and anxiety made you so nauseous you could barely pass a toilet without that sour, bitter taste gathering in the back of your throat.
This is getting depressing. Let’s include some nice things. You love yourself, remember? You love your body. Your man hands may be weird, with their short, fat fingers, but you have nice feet, nice toes. They’re a little wide, your feet, but they’re still nice, even though the pinky toes curve in too much and the nail grows in that thick, sharp bend.
Your ass is great. And those tits! People love ‘em, even though you sometimes think they’re too droopy and they look weird in your armpits and your nipples are too big or soft or puffy. You have a nice stomach too, muscle memory from all those years as a dancer and doing crunches in your bedroom while you watched The Real World. Now it’s covered with that layer of fat, sometimes thin, sometimes thick, but in the right light you look toned and tight. Depending on how much you ate that day.
Your tattoos next. The one on your ankle your ex-boyfriend gave you with a sewing needle in that cabin upstate with no electricity or running water. It was the end of a bender weekend, the longest and deepest of your life, and your head was rolling from side to side while you sighed heavily and continuously. Rapturous pain, so far gone you could barely feel the tears in your eyes. Then there’s the one on your side, two mountains and a valley, and the horrible one on your forearm, the one you cringe over every time you see it in a photo, or the mirror, or someone asks you what it means. “It means don’t get a tattoo when you’re 16 years old.” Even though you drew it yourself, even though it is for your dead mother, even though you were sure you’d never regret it, not this, it’s too important to regret. Even though you were young and wild and lost and troubled, and it was during your speedy years and you had been awake all night driving across the state with your best friend. Even though you were desperate for something, anything, to hold you down, to anchor you to reality, to keep your brain from splitting and floating away. Even then.
Your shoulders are broad. You say they are like a linebacker’s but you’re just joking, they’re not that bad. But they keep you from wearing strapless dresses and cutting your hair short. You get freckles in the summer and you love them so much you wish they would stay all year. And you got lucky somehow, with your body hair. It’s dark but not too coarse, and the hair on your arms is light, almost blonde. Bleached by the sun. You get a little mustache, but it’s fixed pretty easily, and your hair hair, you know, the hair on your head, is thick and healthy. It’s also fine and can frizz easily, but that’s ok. It’s got body and wave and all that stuff that stylists tell you it needs to have to be beautiful. You’re beautiful, remember? People tell you all the time. But don’t you say it, just smile and laugh and shrug and say thanks and be modest, but not too modest because then you’re insincere and you have to be real. But not too real. Nobody wants to hear about your weird feelings and doubts and what you see when you look in the mirror. Life is fabulous! You are beautiful! Isn’t that a strange thing, to be beautiful. To make your money on your face. On your great ass and those tits people love and that thin layer of fat over your stomach. But you would be more beautiful if there were more fat on your stomach. That’s what they tell you, too. Or less. Or less in your thick, thick thighs, and more in your lips. Less in those man hands, probably. They tell you all of that, that’s what being beautiful is. Or you’re perfect in every way, now let me stick my dick in between those perfect tits please. Fap, fap, fap. Squirting emojis.
I’m off track again. What else should go on your list? Your asthma, your pale but olivey skin. That scar on the inside of your knee from that summer spent assisting those artists. Doing construction and smoking joints all day. You would ride home stoned on the subway and covered in dirt. One time you sat down next to that woman in white and she glared at you so hard you felt the knives hit your grubby legs, and you couldn’t help but laugh out loud, right in her face. Just move, bitch. I’ve been on my feet for hours. You didn’t say that, of course, but you wanted to. You thought it. You broke your foot that summer, too. Or, someone else broke it. Now when it rains, it feels like your right big toe needs desperately to be cracked but you don’t dare try, so you walk around all day with that strange sensation. Of something in between. Something not at rest.
And that’s what it is, this whole thing, your whole you: something in between, something not at rest. From beginning to end, moving, accumulating. Fatter, then thinner, then harder, then softer again. Collecting scrapes and bruises like a ripe, aging peach. Sweet, sweet, then turning wrinkly and old and fuzzy and worn and eventually to dirt and dust and disappearing and gone. But right now it’s here. Collecting, collecting. Soon you will count your wrinkles, you will count your grey hairs until there are too many to count, not just that one in your right eyebrow. You will make note of your drooping neck and the skin that hangs off your elbow and all the age spots on the backs of your hands. But not yet.