Kissing doves

Flat on my back in bed, the covers pushed off to one side, my legs straight in front of me, my shoulders and rib cage sinking into the mattress. It is morning, the beginning of my routine.

I start by resting my right thumb in the almond-sized depression at the base of my sternum, then pressing to feel its depth, its concavity. I want the top of my abdomen to be continuous with this space–instead of subtly rising out of it, to be as sunken, as concave, one continuous valley from sternum to pubic bone. I trace the line of it with my finger, feeling critically every rise, every contour. After four months of this secret discipline, there are few contours left. But I believe I can still detect them, and I resolve to continue my project.

Standing in front of the full length mirror, I press my toes and the bones of my ankles together, and look up. I am in my underwear and a t-shirt. Methodically, I tilt my pelvis, the bones of my hips, forward and back, watching the space between my upper thighs. When I rock my hips backward, the aperture widens. When I swing my hips forward, the gap narrows–but it does not close. Not anymore. A persistent sliver of light remains. There is no denying this objective measurement: Where the rounds of my inner thighs used to touch like kissing doves, now there is this gap, this absence of me. Clear and satisfying.

When I am in the hospital some months later, my godmother comes to visit. She sits on the side of the bed and holds my hands in hers. She tells me, “You listen to the doctors; they’ll help you through this. But listen closer to yourself. You are the only expert on your own body.”

A young woman’s expertise in her own body–it is a true and a dangerous thing. I knew only one type of expertise until then: the thumbprint measurement, the ability to make myself magically disappear, one space at a time. But she was telling me of a different expertise: one that comes from inside, one that grows and expands, like the body of a girl into a woman.

Sometimes we must get to the worst of ourselves, the deepest emptiness, before we can be filled with something new.

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