You have a difficult time committing to your reflection.
On a Friday, you notice the posture of your neck and you want to file a restraining order against the skin which has begun to rebel in a grilled-cheese-melting-out-of-the-bread sort of way.
Eight months ago, you gave away your full-length mirror to the woman around the corner who said it had “been awhile since she had taken notice of her bottom parts.” Now, sometimes you miss knowing the exact pattern of your cellulite behind your thighs.
You wish your hair was shorter. Straighter, yet more queer. You imagine it darker. Lighter. Streaked like the young ones do. When you walk, before all the passing windows remind you otherwise, you imagine yourself more boyish, younger, less crumpled.
You are eighteen, when you fall in love for what you think is the first time and decide to add another hole to your body. You pierce your eyebrow to match hers. She wears thick rings, several at a time. You are still figuring out the blur of your identity, so you do the same. Your skin is not strong enough to handle the weight, so the skin flap covering the jewelry gets thinner and thinner. Then, one day after a fight with her or yourself (who remembers), you rip the rings out. You don’t remember blood; you barely remember her now.
You often forget to clip your toenails. You have a difficult time remembering your body that far down.
If this were a movie, your love match would look at all your scars and ask for the stories. While Arcade Fire played in the background. Or Devotchka. Or Boy George. You’d point and lift and reveal as though this were a moment of foreplay. As though your scars are sexy. As though each pale slur is a love letter or romantic elegy.
Your teeth remind you of your adolescent rebellion. You wish you had an addiction to floss, and not to late night jelly beans. You told a lover once that you used to wear braces. They were convinced you meant on your legs.
“What do you mean you’re an atheist? Clearly you’re a Jew. I mean, your nose.” This was spoken by a co-worker. Or lover. It might have been a student. Or a cashier at the corner bodega. You never let anyone touch it. For years, you feared it was unstable and could collapse at any time. I mean, the drugs. I mean, the smells of trauma you collected in there.
The truth is, you like your nipples, even though they are over-dramatic and highly caffeinated. You just wish they lived on top of a mole hill, rather than a mountain.
You can’t really remember much about the state of your vagina. (See stanza three). You feel the hair, when you’re in the mood to touch yourself. You know it’s appropriately sized. You know about its unconfirmed mood and anxiety disorder. You still don’t know how to approach it.
You are eleven. Or twelve. Maybe ten. Your orthodontist, who had a fetish for onions and rubber, yells at your small lips. “I need you to open wider,” he growls. You tell him you are making the largest circle you can and that if he is insistent on mouth-shaming, he should speak to your mother who gave them to you.
A magazine tells you that those who are most symmetrical are considered beautiful. All you can think of are butterflies. You learn from several lovers that your breasts are not the same. And that one thigh seems fatter than the other. And your hair grows longer on one side. And even your nostrils are not proportionate. You want to know why balance is so desired. Even uniforms have flaws. You grow tired trying to figure out ways to even yourself out.
On a Saturday, you are laying naked against a woman who asks you what your favorite body part on yourself is. You remain silent for what feels like three and a half days, but she is patient. She alphabetizes her list and you start to panic that you cannot even think of a bone on your body you don’t feel infuriated toward. Finally, you say, “my back” because you’ve forgotten what it looks like. Because your mirror is too tall to even see it. Because you’ve stopped turning around. She smiles, pleased that you had decided on something. Some part of you which you could call beautiful or at least preferred.
Your internet is down, so there is nothing left to do but count all the moles on your body. You give them names like Pre-cancerous and Harold. You connect them, creating shapes on your flesh. Your forearm looks like a heart monitor, rising and falling. Your thighs have flat-lined. You find three-quarters of the alphabet on your face. Some people call them beauty marks, but they just look like potholes to you. Punctuation marks. Reminders of how little you protect yourself.
It is evening and the air is roasted dark. You know it’s still there, but you cannot see it. You lay on your hands, so you cannot feel around. You can hear the nearby hissing of your mirror, two rooms away. You feel words on your tongue, keeping you up. You try to swallow them, but they are dry and thick. Gristle. When you sleep, you dream of symmetry. Of calendars. Of paved roads. Here, in the night, is when you get to leave your reflection behind. Here, is when you are everything else and nothing, before you become what you always were in the morning, when the sun wakes.
Aimee interviews Anne Waldman in great weather for MEDIA’s latest anthology, Before Passing.
Read more Aimee in her latest full-length collection, meant to wake up feeling
Photograph by Gina Williams