FROM THE INSIDE OUT
It started with my body,
I'll only ever say this in brief because words on paper cannot bear it. This story was carved into my bones.
I called him Mr C. Fatigue, for he was my arranged marriage and I, his child bride. I was all of sixteen when the creep moved in. I never said, 'I do,' but there he was anyway. Constantly. Relentlessly. Ruthlessly. 'Til death do us part.'
I learned how he liked to have his cups of tea: decaffeinated, no sugar, and never ever coffee—nothing that might cause too much excitement. I memorised his daily routine: fourteen hours of sleep, waking stiff and sore, an hour's swim, then two blissful hours of pain-free ease before the crank skulked home. He accompanied me to parties, refusing to be left behind but always sullen and resentful during, and punishing after. He joined my high school exams, distracting me with his cloying, foggy neediness. By the time I finished reading the question, I'd forgotten the beginning of it. Never mind. My hands were too red and swollen to handle writing the answer anyway. I became the dancer who never danced. The top student faced with not graduating. Every night, alone in our bed, I huddled in foetal position and covered my face as tears streamed down, counting the hours to a morning I didn't have the energy to handle.
There is no fighting the body. Tissue always wins and there is no escape. So I tried to make my way in our marriage. I grew up and went to university—skipping the drinking, the partying, the roaring freedom of being twenty. I got a job, in a hospital no less. A supervisor asked me, 'Where's your enthusiasm for learning?'
Probably the enthusiasm was stuck with my breath on the jagged edge of inflamed ribs. Maybe I accidentally tipped it out with the bottle of ibuprofen I emptied each day. Perhaps the enthusiasm was lost in the pain so invisible that even I sometimes doubted it, even as it gripped me; even as I could not take my weight in either hands or feet so instead drew myself across the floor on shins and forearms, a neutral expanse of bone between aching joints.
Occasionally he'd leave, vanish abruptly, for days, weeks, even months on end. It's amazing how quickly, each time, I'd seize my freedom. Denial moved in instantly, laying down an impossible distance from the pain. A magical road winding to a whole new reality. When someone spoke about chronic pain, when somebody wanted advice on chronic illness, when publications called for writing from people with disabilities, I'd think, That isn't me.
I'd always hope he wouldn't come back. But dogged, loyal, unwanted husband that he was, he always did.
Thus have I heard:
Ours was an intense intimacy; my bones, his breath. He muted all the voices around me, the outside world disappeared beyond our narrowing horizon. He demanded my complete attention. Listen, he said, gripping me tightly, until I gave up fighting and lay still.
When the body howls louder than the world, it turns you inwards. Because for all the expectations, demands and norms the world might have, if your bones weigh you down, you cannot walk to school, to work; you cannot work towards the promotion, the accumulation, the mortgage. No—you must stay with your bones. Wait until they rest upon the earth, until ease sweeps in, and space opens inside. If you move too fast, your bones begin to rattle and then you're right back to where you started. I learned to creep forward, inch by inch, not a breath away from my Mr C. Fatigue.
We could be happy. Lying together, flat on the grass, watching leaves dance in the wind, in strobing sunlight. In water. We loved water—suspended together in armistice.
It almost felt wrong; finding peace, accepting the unacceptable. But I came to know his touch, his traces in my bone, and appreciate the way he lay me down. How he had me throw off forward propulsion and draw inwards instead. Inward to a secret place, where beneath a hail of pain bearing down there could be this: a small agreement, a mutual understanding; a pause.
I wouldn't wish you on anyone, I whispered to Mr C. Fatigue.
I wouldn't wish you on anyone, he whispered back.
I traced his face with my fingers. He stroked my hair.
I write in past tense, as if I might make it so. Just last week though, I woke to him holding my hand. Creaking knuckles. Tears before my eyes opened.
Like many a longtime marriage, there's longer periods of estrangement, more time apart. I go to work. I travel. I write. I go to parties and don't even mention his name.
Maybe he knows this. That in his absence, denial still numbs me; a fire blanket snuffing out his memory, his voice.
Maybe he comes back to cradle my bones, to remind me, to remind me.