A Catalogue of Repetitive Behaviors
I read articles about my new diagnosis: “signs of high-functioning autism in adults include repetitive behaviors, trouble reading social cues, robotic speaking patterns that don’t communicate true feelings, invention of unusual descriptive words or phrases.” My wife thinks this diagnosis should make me feel better. How to explain lonely feels like lonely no matter what you name it?
Do you remember those girl nights? Soft, unburdened? You might run your hands slowly down your hilling body, girl-young you didn’t yet know the ways a body could be dismantled. Here I do imagine you female.
Reconstruction. Tonsils. Biopsy. Arthroscopy. Bowel resection. Cold knife cone. Biopsy. Spinal tap. I try to hold on to a running list of things that men who know better than me my body have done to my body.
I track pleasures through color and sound. When we wake the morning, our love is like an alarm—blaring pink-orange-morning-blues swirl and striate like cream in coffee. Love wakes the body like cologne lingers on the neck of the past: this chair a proposal, this shirt a birthday surprise dinner, flashing lights and garbage truck rumble an awake-all-night kiss. When love wakes to love, these years crumble to dust—divine and needing, needing to be kept, beautiful—fuck, what you and I have created: love wakes in my abdomen, in my teeth and blaring hair. We are not falling out but diving headlong into a warming gray wonder.
Some days, I want to explain what birth has done to my body: each new ache, rash, crust of white lifting itself to upright on my skin. Today, it’s my jaw. I tell myself, give it two weeks. Mostly the catalogue of ailments is stored, forgotten. I have trouble, lately, with the lie of it all.
In my accounting of scars, I’m tempted to name the deepest invisible rather than raw and feathering at the edges, tight with glisten and pull. This scar is every time I pushed, blank faced, nothing against your reaching out then walking away. When I seem most not to want, that is the hunger, like a child reaching out her arms each night into a glowing, motherless dark.
My wife writes a letter to our son every year on his birthday. In the days after this diagnosis, the rhythm of footfalls and the running washer across our house keep me awake and safe. I hear the clocks’ ticking in every room. I know the smell of her neck so well—lift me from the bed, help me with the socks.
I try to hold on to pleasure: the first time my wife’s tongue inside me licked up toward my heart as if she had bit into an unexpectedly ripe fruit. Every day I think about leaving her for her own good.
Screams pile loosely in my throat and lungs like buttons. All of my children have one day choked: cracker, small plastic hair claw clip, pool water, trachea swelling to bark and stridor. Like blankets falling from tall shelves, some catastrophes paralyze me—large firework cannon tipped toward a crowd. Mothers know the full silence that lurks white and soft before sound erupts from a mouth.
Some nights, when we fuck, your elbow holding my arm down above my head bites too hard into the fleshy underside of my upper arm—pain just deep enough makes me start to cry out stop, but I don’t.
Time here moves fast and slow. I run toward a here without railings or a here with my children to hold tightly by the shoulders. Here, inside, is a space that pushes toward a devouring center. Here is painful, not the empty but the filling whole swelling with gratitude. I’m so packed with gratitude I can barely stand or speak.
How to hang the head and make eye contact, how to apologize (not sorry), how to feel sorry, feel guilt, turn loathing to guilt, to anger, to guilt, how the organs have been hollowed from our bodies, blood drained down a central system, how to carry in the shoulders, how all the small cysts of guilt reside and remind us how to walk and lilt and what we should be carrying.
Don’t you remember the floor, the corner, and every night you promised to stop tomorrow, repeated the list in your head, whispered the words into your mouth. Today, my wife says, Holding on is an addiction—let’s number and track the pain. Allison, your body is a shame you carry in the rapid whisper your tongue makes of one, two, three; how you keep the hurt, always lose the remember. Lose crowds out memories: the weight of your son in your arms, your daughters’ fingers fat with sleep and wrapped to red around your finger. Allison, knowing should feel better.