I’m standing in the dark looking at my x-rays with Stephanie, my new chiropractor.
Tears stream down my face. I see my body. All of it. Even the IUD I had put in just before my trip to Rwanda because I vowed I would not have my period in Africa.
I can no longer turn away from the physical pain I so rarely mention or acknowledge. The pain that has been with me, moving but constant, for so many years.
Suddenly, I understand. As a bodyworker and massage therapist, it’s hard not to. But the dysfunction is so obvious a 4-year-old could point it out – kind of like “one of these things is not like the other.”
My left hip is significantly raised. Several inches significantly raised. I laugh and explain that I have a really bad case of what my friend Brian used to call “bus leg” – the stance he would take while waiting for one of four different buses that ran up and down Haight Street in San Francisco, one knee bent, leaning into the opposite hip. He would light a cigarette in the hope that this would hasten its arrival.
My body is telling my stories.
Stephanie laughs and points out that not only is my left hip raised, but my right hip is rotated forward. I step into this position – exaggerating the rise of my lift hip and the twist of my right – and I immediately feel the pain.
Stephanie shows me my cervical spine, my neck. It is devoid of any curve and tilted to the right. Cocked like a dog considering what his master is saying and whether or not to ignore it.
I tell her the tilt makes sense. That this movement, right ear dipped to the right shoulder is the motion I associate with my mugging in 2007.
Just two months sober and back in California, I am held up at gunpoint on a Sunday morning in Oakland. Blocks from where I attended massage school, where I taught, and where I treat clients each quarter, returning “home” for a busman’s holiday.
I pick up a coffee from Carerras and am talking on the phone with my friend Robyn when I feel a flurry of activity around me – circling, swirling energy, like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil. And then a gun inches from my nose.
“Give us your shit and we won’t shoot.”
“They are kidding,” I think. “In about 30 seconds they are going to say ‘We’re just fucking with you, lady,’ and I’m going to tell them this is not funny.” But they never say that. I think I am dreaming but I don’t wake up. And then I slip back through the rabbit hole of reality and scream a scream I didn’t know I had in me.
They just look at me.
I think about everything in my bag. My passport and how my husband and I are supposed to leave in five days for Mexico. The flash drive that has all of my files on it and has not been backed up. My keys. But I am frozen. I cannot say a word. I cannot push out a logical sentence like, “Let me give you the money but I keep the rest, ok?” Because this is not logical.
Instead, I cock my head to the right, opening up my shoulder and allowing them to take the bag I am wearing across my body. They pluck my metallic-pink cell phone from my hand and are gone.
I scream and piss myself running back toward the school. I have attracted attention and people who were not there just a moment ago are asking, “Are you ok?” I do not realize they are talking to me until one grabs hold of me. I tell her my story and she calls the police while a man takes my arm and walks me back to the school.
My friend Tim picks me up that afternoon. I get a new passport and go to Mexico. And when I return to Chicago, I engage in EMDR work – trauma therapy. I get relief. But the story is still in my body.
The story is my body. They all are.
The car accident on New Year’s Eve day when a Ford F-250 with a horse trailer goes through the back of my Honda Civic Hatchback. When my husband takes the car to the shop on January 2 and they ask, “Did everyone live?”
The piece of my cervix I have removed when I am 24 – ridding my body of its pre-cancerous cells. And the doctor in California who, upon examining me for the first time, says, “If anyone asks, this is not what an ordinary cervix looks like.”
My breast reduction when I am 40 and the shame and depression that follows me for years like an ex-boyfriend who won’t let go. Faint memory now, like the scars that run vertically from breast fold to nipple.
My body has held on to each of these and made them its own – painting over experience with a broad brush stroke of pain. Not unlike the stories I repeat so often that they become my pained reality – whether or not they are completely accurate. My skewed perception becomes truth.
I come home from my treatment, take my boots off and place my naked feet on the hardwood floor. I feel the ground beneath me. Supporting me. As if for the first time. Whereas before I seem to have been standing on only a part of my feet, tottering.
I have fallen into my feet. Into my body. Into truth, and the possibility of a new story.