When I first came to my doctor, he told me we do not have our bodies, we are our bodies. I believed this then, but I do not know if I believe it now.
For one thing, in the course of my treatment, my doctor has also said that I am not my body. I think he is speaking loosely when he says this. I think he means, “Just because your body is a problem does not mean that you are a problem.” But still.
My mother says it, too. “I am not my body,” she says. But she does not say it the way my doctor says it. My doctor says it softly, to me. My mother says it quickly, to herself, in a dry voice, over and over, with her eyes shut tight, as if it were a single word of many syllables.
“Iamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybodyiamnotmybody,” and so on.
I certainly do not think she means it the way my doctor means it. How can she? There is a language barrier between the living and the dying. She cannot mean anything the way my doctor means things, nor can anything mean to her what it might mean to him, because she is dying, and he is not, and that is the least of their differences.
Of course, my doctor would say that he is dying, that everything is dying. But this too is loose speech. He is not dying in the way my mother is dying, or at the same speed. He is not dying so as you would notice.
I myself am not sure how my mother means the things she says. When she says, “I am not my body,” I think she means, “My body is dying, and I do not want to die with it,” or, “I am not torturing myself, my body is torturing me,” or, “I am more than my body, and when my body dies, the other part of me will go on living, and when your body dies, the other part of me will meet the other part of you,” by which she means me.
My mother did not always talk this way about her body. She did not talk about her body at all, only about other women’s bodies, especially my body. She said horrible things to me about my body, things I will not trouble you with, except to say they are things not even a stranger would say. Perhaps it would occur to a stranger to say them, but in the end, he would keep them to himself. In the course of my treatment, I have had to repeat some of these things to my doctor, which is very painful for me, to have them said to me and then to say them myself. I think this is why he goes out of his way to assure me that I am not my body, and also that I am not my mother, which he knows I often worry about.
My doctor has worked tirelessly for my benefit, which is more than I can say for my mother. But lately I find his little theories about my body, and about my mother, irritating. I do not think he knows as much as he thinks he knows. How can he? He is not here, at the foot of my mother’s bed. He does not know what it is like to look at a body the way I am looking at my mother’s body. He does not know the truth of his own words, that indeed sometimes we are not our bodies, we are our mother’s bodies, and when our mothers stir in their sleep to touch the bedsores on their buttocks, we too feel we have bedsores on our buttocks, and we touch our buttocks gingerly and are puzzled and disappointed to find no bedsores. He does not know, not really, how something like this changes everything about everything for everyone, even about tiny, unchanging things by which one assured oneself that some things would never change, no matter what one did or had done to them, like the little bedside clock with the porcelain cherubs on either side of the clock face, seeming to hold the clock face in their little hands and bear the clock face up to heaven on their little wings, which I am looking at right now, as a break from looking at my mother.
When I first went to my doctor, my mother warned me against him. She said he knew only my side of things, and heaven only knew what I told him about her. She said I am always seeing the worst in everything. My mother, myself, everything. I cannot deny that she was right about this, and she was right in a way my doctor is not quite right when he says I am not my body. He has never even seen my body, not the way my mother has. He is not that kind of doctor.
David Hansen's stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Fairy Tale Review, Conjunctions, and The Tampa Review. In 2019, his story, “Hell,” was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson prize in short fiction. He has an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and now he lives in Rochester, NY, where he teaches creative writing at the University of Rochester.
To stay up-to-date with him (lol), follow him on Twitter at @davidddhansennn.
Photo by Rita on Pixabay