You Can't Escape Your Body
You were my favorite hand. That’s why I flung you out when my bicycle skidded sideways, as if it were being pulled out from beneath me, and the pavement became a wall that expanded until it filled the world.
It was like high-fiving God.
The dark city vanished. It was just you and me revolving in space—barely me, almost all you—and your wrist had a molten crevice, and stars were embedded in your palm, ringing a high pure note of pain that was strangely perfect and almost beautiful.
I didn’t mean to sacrifice you. I’d gladly have given your slacker sister, my right hand.
While I’m still assembling myself from a thousand scattered pieces, a flock of birds descend on me and turn into concerned strangers.
Instantly they seem like the only real problem.
I announce that I’m okay, and chuckle to prove my point. I stagger upright, and with my left arm folded T-rex-style across my chest, hobble with my bike through the gathering crowd, ignoring all further inquiries.
The bike I leave unlocked against a wall. I’d known it was shit, but to save money I’d ridden it anyway. Fuck me and fuck that bike. Let it be stolen.
I limp down stairs to a waiting train, where I lower myself painfully into the seat and text my boss:
Had a little accident, might be twenty minutes late.
But now I can’t procrastinate any longer. I have to look.
My right thumb: wrenched and radiating chill spikes.
Elbows: bloodied and banged, but whole.
Knees: reddening my jeans, with holes disclosing a sort of magma jam. Unpleasant, but just scraped flesh.
Finally the left wrist, which
has a quirky new angle.
Staring in horror, I can’t uncurl the fingers.
Whole-body shivers hit me like a shower of sparks.
In shadowless hospital light I bite my bookbag’s zippers to get at my notebook, and with my lesser hand crabbed around the pen, I jaggedly scrawl You can’t escape your body.
Then: I speak so crooked with my spare voice.
My left forearm has doubled in size. But I can’t think about that.
The coffee machine eats my two euros, then stares at me insolently. Should I kick it, should I scream and one-handedly pull out my hair?
Abruptly everything’s funny: no coffee, no money, no hand.
Please just give me back my usual problems
and I promise to be grateful for them.
Several million years later the nurse calls me in for x-rays, and to maintain my arm in the proper position I have to growl and hunch over, twisting awkwardly sideways into a rough swastika, with one bloodied knee coming up.
Cherry-cheeked and cheerful doc informs me I’ll need a permanent titanium plate. They’re sending me home for the night, but in the morning I’ll need to nip on down so they can slice open my wrist halfway to the elbow.
They won’t even put me under.
For now he’ll need to straighten out the bone. He tightens white weaves over my fingers, then hangs my hand from hooks and attaches weights to my bicep.
I’m left alone for twenty minutes. One by one my fingers tingle, then wink out of existence.
Just a big ol’ frozen lobsterclaw.
The happy-go-lucky doc returns, his high spirits somehow gruesome. With hands as strong as machines he mashes my wristbones back into place, going hmm, hmm, squeeeeezing, hmmmmmm, SQUEEZING, hmmmmmmmmmm, rolling and and thumbing and pulping while my wristbones crackle like papyrus scrolls.
I suspect that the doctor is a professional sadist, crushing patients for his own sick pleasure. I rob him of his satisfaction by staying silent.
“You’re very brave,” he remarks, being unable to see my face.
I’m released at three a.m with my arm in a plaster coffin.
After a nauseous train-ride I find my bike almost where I left it, so obviously shitty even the thief noped out. For some reason I decide I should drag it home single-handedly.
With every step my knees and elbows squeal.
At home, in the grip of a sort of weightlessness, I pack and pace and scroll through memes I don’t find funny, and think about the food I’m not allowed to eat, and the water I can’t drink.
I wait for their call.
Eight. Nine. I am sleepless, parched, losing strength, trying to just lie back and let time bear me along but totally unable to be still. I spend most of my time staring at my sleeping phone and waiting for it to scream.
My hand is a hunk of frozen ham, and the wrist has a chasm.
My chest does this weird chugging thing that is like crying without tears.
At noon I break and call every number I can find, and after nearly an hour in the wrong telephone queues I find out that the orthopedic ward has had a crazy Friday, unbelievable, catastrophic—and they can’t operate on me till Monday.
Two days waiting to be sliced.
Holding my mind stiff as the wrist, so that everything is muffled and far away, I stay inside my tiny room, which is not unlike a skull with a single rectangular eye. The electric heat parches my mouth, wastes my skin. Posters crackle on the walls and my notes blacken at the edges.
Feasting on garbage food brought to me by an angel, I walk my good hand like a spider over the tabletop, then push off, ascending.
My surviving hand, floating in space.
When I wash the dishes one-handed, the bowls hop around clanging, till I laugh a dusty and infertile laugh.
I open the window to save my life but find I’m angry at the birds.
At night I spoon the cast and count the hours until—
The hospital is a pale promise, a white hole that had been waiting all this time while I stumbled around in stupid health.
I roll over, and formerly joined bones rub on one another, sending sparks thudding into my brain.
But it’s just arm surgery—how can I be so cowardly?
How do people with cancer ever survive?
Not just illness but treatments, curative poisons,
the scalpels catheters wheeled beds intermittent beeps,
surrounded but utterly alone.
Sepsis. Chronic pain. Complications.
My blanket pins me to the mattress.
I am being buried alive in my bed.
It’s coming it’s coming
and there’s nothing I can do.
Morning of, I wake at four.
I take my first shower since the.
Outdoors, a cruel chill. Plump drops.
Bus-stop flapping with newspapers.
Eerily empty bus.
Wobbling heads on the metro.
Rain-dust side-streets under construction.
The hospital—a block of solid light.
Admissions unstaffed. All empty chairs.
Me reading white-faced in unbearable silence.
Clerk. Papers. Hallways. Increasingly ominous signage.
The gatekeeper who takes my earthly belongings and gives me a hospital gown, gauzy underwear, blue plastic bags for my feet.
I lie on the bed they have prepared for me.
Nurses roll me toward the gathering conclusion. We joke, and there is more of that unpleasant crackling laughter that cannot possibly be mine.
Someone removes my glasses, and I enter the blur.
I’d chosen local anesthesia but I am seriously questioning my wisdom as they jam needle after needle into my armpit, shoving the steel spear around and jolting my fingers into a dance.
Every time I whimper, a certain nurse oohs and aahs, sounding genuinely hurt for me, and her sympathy strikes me so deeply I almost cry.
My arm begins to go away. The doctor pinches it.
“Does that hurt?”
“No, but I can feel it.”
“You’ll still be able to sense movement.”
Wait a fucking minute—WHAT?
We cast off. I say nothing but I want out. I’ll adjust to life one-handed. It wasn’t fair—I hadn’t asked for this body. It was thrust upon me. It’s a prison, only I’m the prison, destined to degenerate or be shattered, needled and pinched, shaved, scrubbed and flushed, cut, cut, and cut.
I am borne into a terrible room where seven or eight personnel await me.
What, so many maids of honor for my marriage to the scalpel?
The high priests arrive in masks. They stretch out my radio-static arm and sharpie where they’ll cut. I feel every nuzzle of the sharpie’s blunt nose.
Where’s the knife?
I begin to tremble.
Where’s the knife where’s the knife?
Slowly the talk trails off. Someone grunts. The empathetic nurse—I’d forgotten she existed—bends over me.
“Are you cold?”
I shake my head and begin to cry.
I’m given a shot for anxiety and a shot for sleep.
But they don’t wait. As the knife noses into my arm and tugs open the wristmeat, my head snaps up, I shudder. The surgeon growls, and I apologize in anguish, crying very quietly so as not to make it harder for them.
I don’t fall asleep completely. My hand is subject to squads of white-suited mechanics; it is like a white spider with five limbs and they’re carving up its abdomen and pulling out its intestines.
The ghost arm threads cold white veins into my chest.
It takes no time and forever.
The nurse appears from the fog and gently asks if I’m okay.
I nod—a lie. Her soft question seems like the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. She’s close enough I can see her eyes, and they are fantastically feline, shaped like mosque-tops, with squiggling ornate eyebrows creased into eloquent sympathy. She’s so beautiful and so real. I cry again.
She stands up and out of my life.
I’m rolled to an empty room high above the city. The orderly opens the window, life blows in, and he leaves.
I grope for the bed control and slowly ascend on the rising pillows.
Outside, the sky up close and impersonal. And the city: the city: the city.
The back of my right hand is speckled with purple amoeba that flex and bounce as I thumbwrestle my pen.
In the distance, like a dystopian future approaching, towering glass hives bear billboards flickering through lurid ads, but nearby the old streets twist like the worn thoughts of the solemn, brick-browed buildings.
The arm’s still dead. It feels like it’s latched onto me, a parasite sucking on the stub of my shoulder. From the cast runs a thick tube dripping blood into what looks like a watercooler jug for mice. In my mind the surgical cut’s a flaming ladder, and the titanium plate plank-thick.
I am this thing that clutches its broken limb and sings.
When the sky darkens, I see my face in the window. Greasy hair thin as spiderlegs. Pate shiny with sickly sweat.
Eyes like archeological excavations.
Smile, buddy: this is what luck looks like.