Telescoping Bodiesby Camila Legaspi, Guy Johnston, Hannah Hirsh, Kat Kulke, Olivia Lloyd, Senna Kaine, Suzanne Doré on Mar 7, 2015 1 Comment
A young man is standing 2 m from the edge of a cliff that overlooks the ocean. The distance between the top of the cliff and the water below is 12 m. The man walks two paces and jumps off the cliff (assume he jumps straight out, rather than up a little first). The man weighs 80 kg. When the man hits the water, his (historically frail) right shoulder joint is 20º out from his body and his (historically sturdy) left shoulder joint is 37º out from his body.
Calculate the following:
The duration between jump and splash
The necessary force for dislocation of each shoulder
The force of collision between shoulder joints and water
Which shoulder dislocates?
The whole thing takes a few seconds. Bucking a historical trend, the left shoulder, not the right, pops out.
Determine the ratio between Shoulder Dislocations during Risky Physical Endeavors and number of Risky Physical Endeavors undertaken (SD:RPE).
It’s hard to calculate this ratio without more precise historical data. The young man now avoids Risky Physical Endeavours when possible, but he doesn’t want his friends to know this—he is so tired of post-dislocation weakness.
My weak shoulders have made me even more averse to physical confrontation. My metrics are average—6 ft, 170 lbs (big bones and butt, not muscle). My thrice-dislocated right shoulder would probably deliver 70% max hit potential, and my still loose left shoulder would struggle to reach 50% (it’s my weaker side, too). My main fear is the attempted left hook, which has two potential results: I land a feeble blow and my opponent laughs at me or, even worse, I miss, and the hyperextension of the arm slides the shoulder out of the socket and I am, once again, dislocated.
When sharing a bed, I am most self-conscious about my shoulders. Cushioning my head hurts, so I can’t sleep on my front, and I snore when on my back. The left pops out a little when slept on. Being big spoon on this side is out of the question.
But I don’t admit this—I can’t let such moments of intimacy include explanations for my physical insecurity.
Grandpa’s had two hip replacements and father thinks he’ll be the same. I guess that means me too, and that’s why I haven’t had surgery.
At least you’ll have some fun stories to tell during bicker.
– GUY JOHNSTON
At the start of high school I became a Serious Distance Runner. I was scouted during soccer practice by a tall man who asked me, “You don’t get tired, do you?” I did not.
I joined winter track, which was held outside all through our miserable winters. Dealing with unpleasantness was as important a skill as the miles we logged.
I was good at punishing myself, which meant I was a good runner. I woke up at five in the morning to go to meets that ended at ten at night. I did one varsity event and then two and was then competing in four per meet, the maximum number allowed. I went to meets that required certain times and finishing positions and this meant competing. Running is technically a team sport but you are jostling your teammates on and off the track. Always being measured.
I compared myself to my teammates in both body and times. You spend hours each day with these people; they are your world, your life and beauty influencers, your fashion magazines. A girl the year above us had a painfully slight body and correspondingly low times. She asked all of us our weights and heights. She told me I was skinny. A year into her college track career she had to be hospitalized. She had been running seventy miles a week and existing on several hundred calories a day.
Before track, the reason I pursued thinness was a disease. Now, it was sport. I chased it with an obsession usually reserved for my academics. Constantly doing fractions in my head, both for times and energy exhausted. If I run this lap one second faster I’ll beat my personal best. If I run eight miles I can eat two handfuls of pasta for dinner.
It offered me power over my body just as much as it chained me. My parents could no longer levy concerns about my size, because I had an excuse: I was a high-level athlete. If you took a group of distance runners out of the uniforms, interrupted their endless loops around a painted ring, often what you had were girls who were Too Thin. And we were untouchable. In a time of foolish groping and men’s eyes and scrutinized bodies, we were not quite Woman but Other—Runners. Trading the parts and pains of womanhood for ones we could control.
“Are you hungry?” means “Do you want to eat?” During the darkest part, this distinction became a logical dilemma. I wanted to eat but it was an impossibility, the same way you want an outrageously expensive piece of jewelry. My hunger was so constant that it subsumed all other feeling. A dull and constant ache. Acknowledging it meant releasing my grip from the balustrade, the support that I hung onto.
Once I fasted for three days because I wanted to understand true hunger, one so powerful it would force me to eat again. What I realized was that I was past that point. I had successfully suppressed all mental or emotional signals; what would come next was not a sense of “hunger,” but physical signs. The fainting and the dizziness and the atrophy. I could feel my leg muscles untangle in bed, curling in and consuming themselves like the Ouroboros. In recovery we joked about the grossness of our lanugo, the fine baby hair that grows across a malnourished body. How it disgusted boys.
And for the first time, I had no desire for men. It seemed a fair trade, and I went towards death with a knowing smile. Finally freed.
I am still surprised when men find my body sexy. The first time a boyfriend complimented my breasts, I laughed. He did not understand that I am still getting used to them; I do not find myself beautiful yet. “You look like a woman,” a friend’s father told me, recently. “For years you were like a boy.” I do not miss the mental imprisonment of my former body, but I miss being able to flee from my femininity, from men’s desire. From my own desire to answer them. From needing food or people or anything but myself. From being simply Runner.
When my mind left, when I could not hold onto musings more complicated than yes or no, when the words I was so proud of stringing together fell through numb fingers, I had one clear thought: save me save me save me. In the end, I did not let them.
I am allowed to run again, and I can feel myself getting back to that place. I won’t take it too far this time. Promise.
– SENNA KAINE
Seventeen-year-olds are not supposed to have holes in their bones. The same way seventeen-year-olds are not supposed to get gum grafts, or drink Ensure, or need medication for acid reflux. It’s not normal, not natural, not right. Our bodies are young and fresh and resilient; they pull all-nighters without coffee, drink ‘til four without a hangover. It’s a bit like living on your parents’ money. All damage will be covered, no real cost, just that mild, ephemeral twinge of guilt that comes with abandoned responsibility. Nothing is permanent.
As soon as I arrive at the clinic, it becomes clear that, like Sunday crosswords and nutritional supplements, most orders for DXA scans are for women between fifty and ninety-five years old. The waiting room stinks of cleaning product and floral perfume; I estimate the median age of my peers to be about seventy-two. The woman next to me greets me with the confused pity you might offer a teenage boy buying tampons. I smile, feigning comfort. She has that battered, old-woman skin that looks as though it’s covered in powder foundation a few shades too pale. Like her skin itself were granulating. I look away, direct my attention to the sheet of paper in front of me. No, I’m not pregnant, I write. No kids. Thank God.
An aide in Winnie-the-Pooh scrubs ushers me into the back room. We’ll make this quick, she tells me. No worries. I nod, hoping I appear too visibly distracted for small talk.
A DXA scan, it turns out, is essentially a glorified X-ray and, on the whole, a far smoother process than you might expect. You don’t even have to completely undress—a paper johnny gown is provided more out of courtesy than decency; so long as you’re comfortable baring your torso for twelve minutes you’re welcome to undergo the whole process clothed. I lie on the faux-leather bed and try to picture invisible radar beams jetting through my skin, past muscle, lighting the bones underneath.
Blinking against the flash, I seriously consider my doctor’s order for the first time. What, after all, is being documented by this sterile white light? I’m seventeen. My skin is smooth, tight, just recovering from its last bout with teenage acne. But underneath, what if I am no different from these sandpaper-faced women in the waiting room?
The camera is done with my hips, moves on to the spine. What if my bones are porous after all? And, if so, what does a porous bone look like? Spongy, or brittle but still firm, like coral? I have trouble imagining my skeleton as anything other than one of the solid, slender, bleached-white diagrams we dissected in AP Bio textbooks. Your bones are your body’s foundation. My foundation’s been stripped now; it’s rotting. How long before the rest of this structure comes toppling down with it?
There are holes in my bones and they are invisible. Most days, I pretend they are not there. It is too easy. In the mornings, I go running, feel my muscles breathe and admire the beads of sweat that collect, this cleansing, refreshing of the body’s goods. I can hear the throb of blood in my temples, my chest, my thighs. When my lungs are screaming, I am strong.
Afterwards, I look in the mirror, watch the heat of my breath fog up the glass. Who can say I am brittle? In seventeen years, I have sprinted down highways and jumped off of quarries. I have climbed mountains, cut both knees open and laughed. I have fallen down, bled deep enough to see my own bone, and what I saw was white and smooth and firm as the rock that exposed it.
This is not in the X-Ray. In grayscale my bones are filmy, fragile, half-solid, like soap. As though every new day will strip away minerals, gnaw the chalk edges, tear up the sponge underneath. Some avalanche erosion, just out of sight, outside of feeling. The waiting could be permanent. Nothing will hurt until it breaks.
I have never broken a bone. I think, sometimes, they are buried too deep for easy damage. If I crack, it will be the slow, creeping kind of fracture, the stuff of ghost movies. You won’t admit you’re not alone until the demon’s in your bed sheets, and the whole room is infected.
– KAT KULKE
I told you earlier in the night that I was okay with us going to my room but you had to leave after, because I need to be alone to sleep. That’s just the way I am. But when we lie in my bed, the closeness is pleasant at first. Our hands move lightly over each other. I am still coming down from that quivering feeling you made me feel in my legs and down my spine and deep in the dark roots of my nerve tissue. Still wobbly-kneed. Every time we make eye contact, we (or at least I) become self-conscious as one does under the gaze of another person and smile, bemused all over again that we are lying here naked. If I were one of those people who do cold and systematic studies of human behavior, I might name this giggly shyness the “first stage of post-coital dissociation.”
When else am I truly alone with another person in a dark, enclosed room where I have no interaction but with them, almost no external stimulus except for them? Maybe I need a respite from you, or you from me. Maybe I need to not exist before someone’s eyes for the first time in the twentyish hours I’ve been awake today. To not think of myself as being looked at.
We shift around in the tiny twin bed and I rest my head on your shoulder, but it’s too hot in here and your sweat, or maybe my sweat, soon coats my cheek. And my discomfort runs deeper. Proverbially “sleeping with” a friend—no more than that, and I don’t want more—doesn’t bother me. But to literally sleep with you is to act out affection deeper than what we share. Maybe that is why I cannot relax enough to lean into you. Lying next to each other is so intimate it’s intrusive, far more than you being actually inside of me could ever be. I arrange my limbs into the small space your tall, sprawled-out body leaves unoccupied. At 8 am, sleepless and too cramped, I finally ask you to leave. I watch you get dressed. We kiss goodbye, more because it lends everything an air of resolution than because we have the urge. After you leave I peel the sheets that smell strongly of you off my untouched mattress and lie there, blessedly alone.
I was one when the doors of an elevator closed on my left hand, which was too small for the doors to sense its presence and avoid sliding shut. For some reason I was only sliced, not fractured or crushed. I must have started to cry from the startling pain, the shock of something foreign coming into my body. I suppose my parents rushed me to the hospital where doctors stitched shut my palm and my tiny-nailed fingers. I have forgotten all of this in the same way I have forgotten my birth—it is a memory I am not supposed to remember, floating somewhere on my consciousness like an oil slick.
But I still have scars curling down two of my fingers and across my palm, stretched across my hands as they grew. Misshapen like rubber bands at the moment they snap. They feel precious and personal, lustrous white birthmarks as hard as knotted rope. I could be identified from these scars, like a long-lost daughter in the dénouement of a play. I’ve never had the hospitalizable injuries that most people experience (appendix, bones, tonsils), but no one I know has experienced quite the same ones as me.
Once I forswore makeup for 22 days. I was worried because I felt I needed makeup to correct my face to normal every morning, erase pillows under my eyes, shameful red blots on my cheekbones. I thought I should wean myself off of expectations of perfection. I’m not getting any younger, so I’m only getting less perfect.
I’ve always considered my mother more beautiful than I am, but when I see her in the morning light without red lipstick I remember she is old. (My face has wrinkles too, fine as hairline fractures.)
Her eyes, though, have always shone bright.
I once dreamed my nails grew long and twisty as tree roots. I cut them overzealously, recklessly, getting dangerously close to the soft, raw flesh and then clipping more. It hurt but I kept cutting away across the quick until they were diamond-shaped, sectioned into razor-sharp points like shark teeth.
– SUZANNE DORÉ
In precept, my heart hiccups and halts and skitters to a sprint. It feels like waking from a half-remembered fever dream, fear without a source. My hand leaps from table to chest. Across the room, a boy with sleep-heavy eyes looks up at me, startled. He stares, perplexed, as my hand creeps slowly to my neck. As the preceptor fiddles with the projector, I press two fingers to my carotid artery. A moment ago, my heart resided in my chest; now I feel it pulsing in my ass and in between my toes. I pretend I’m adjusting my necklace and try to make it look like I’m not counting. Sixty beats in a minute, ten in ten seconds; a normal resting heart rate. I count. I lose track. I start again. It’s too many. I start again. It’s more.
My face is getting cold, and I can tell I’m pale by the way the sleepy boy is looking at me, but my chest is getting sickly warm, and I think that maybe all the blood is draining from a microscopic hole in my heart and filling the cavities of my chest and that I will be dead soon. I suck in thick air, but it only seems to get as far as my neck. I squint at chalk letters, but my vision is glossy and I can’t hear my preceptor’s voice over the roar of blood in my skull. A sudden urge to get the hell out of here lifts me from my seat and I mumble and stumble to the door.
It’s cold for November, and I am outside waiting for the panic to subside. I fidget and hum, tapping and rocking on my heels. I can flee every precept, but I am still (always) trapped in my mind.
My therapist says I need to learn to trust my body. She recommends religion and suggests I go to yoga, but I borrow a friend’s bicycle and go to a cardiologist instead. The doctor clips wires to my fingertips and shuts the door behind him. I am alone with my heart. He returns several minutes later, looking cheerful.
It’s a mild abnormality, he says.
My face prickles.
Nothing to worry about, he says.
I ask him to check again.
A nurse hands me a smallish box with a picture of an elderly woman grinning on the top. This will let us watch your heart for the next thirty days, she says, so if anything strange happens, we’ll know. Do you smoke? I nod, sheepishly. Do you drink energy drinks? I shake my head. She nods her approval. Cigarettes aren’t so bad, she confides, it’s Red Bull that will kill you.
Red, white, green, black. Chest, breast, tummy, back. I stand in the mirror, pressing sticky electrodes to my skin. Wires feed into a hockey-puck sized monitor that transmits my heart sounds to a control center in Indiana. When I think about this place, I like to imagine it as an old telephone exchange, like rows upon rows of listening ears pressed against sweaty receivers. I still don’t trust my body, but somehow I trust them.
I slip the smallish box into the mail-slot, the elderly woman still grinning as she slides into darkness. Thirty days looks shorter from this side. My heart nudges me in my throat. We’re alone again; we’re alone—
– OLIVIA LLOYD
A picture of my mother sits on the third row of my father’s shelf. The picture is faded. A black and white headshot, accentuated with shades of grey. Framed and frozen in time, my mother is standing between the branches of some tree. She’s seventeen, maybe eighteen years old, her black hair tied in a half ponytail with a few strands caught in the wind. She’s wearing a cable-knit sweater; a crisp white collar sticks out. She looks caught off guard, revealing a pensive smile. Her lips are slightly parted, and her eyes are staring straight at me. I was always told I have my mother’s eyes.
In the picture, she is Gaby. She is a daughter, a sister, a friend, but not yet a mother. I wonder what she did the day it was taken. I like to imagine it was a Saturday. Her family is sitting outside sipping cold jugo de Jamaica and snacking on chicharrones. My mom holds a book in her hand. She walks with her sisters to the park a few hundred feet from her house. Her sisters walk ahead, and my mother’s brother runs up with his new camera; he yells her name, and she turns.
I like to think she was very happy that day. She looks so peaceful in the picture, so content. Her eyes are young. They stare at you, clear and round, revealing a certain naivety. I wonder if she knew then what her life would be like. I wonder what, in that moment, she would say if someone told her where her life would go. Would her eyes darken? Would she look down?
In the months before she died, my mother’s eyes changed. Her hair fell out and grew back soft tufts of white. At first, her eyes stood out like two sapphires, gleaming with hope. In the weeks before she died, my mother’s eyes began to fade. They became darker, heavier—as though the two precious blue stones were coated with dust. You could see the sadness in them, but never any weakness. Right before she took her last breath, they were the color of blue flames, the ones that make you jump back when the blaze begins to turn deadly white. They grew wide for a second, and then the flame went out. I could tell she was gone by her eyes.
If a stranger were to walk into my house, they would probably see a picture of me on the third row of my father’s shelf. It could have been taken this summer, when my hair was that length. I’m holding a book in my hand and my brother calls my name. I turn and he snaps a picture. I stare straight at him. I was always told I have my mother’s eyes.
A nutritionist came to our school one day. We sat around our usual lunch table, complaining. This is ridiculous, one of us said. Such a waste of time, sighed another. They were right; I had other things to do. I had an English paper due tomorrow. Yeah, I could really use this time to finish up some work, I said. I took a swig of my Diet Coke and placed it next to the four other ones on our table. We each had a plate in front of us. They were all the same, some salad and a few grapes. Two of us hadn’t touched our food, the others picked at theirs. We passed around my friend’s phone, helping her decide whether Valencia or Lo-Fi highlighted her cheekbones.
I walked into my session with the nutritionist. I sat in the back, where I didn’t have to pay attention. She spoke of insecurity and competition and skewed images in the media. Nothing I hadn’t heard before. I hated her voice, it was too high and nasally. She sounded like Janice from the first season of Friends. Nobody liked Janice.
I came home that day and weighed myself. Good, a pound lighter. I stared at myself in the mirror. My collarbones stood out, sharp and defined. The line in my stomach seemed to have faded. Hmm, I’ll have to work on that. I put my clothes back on and sat on my bed. I looked at my phone and saw the picture my friend had edited on Instagram. Wow, she looks good, I thought.
My hands are small, like my mother’s. I rarely paint my nails, but on special occasions, I like to paint them dark purple. She always kept a shade of it in her bathroom. My palms are smooth, the lines unwinding and uninterrupted. Slightly translucent. You can see a web of red and blue underneath my skin. I wear the ring she made in one of her Thursday jewelry classes. I found it in her desk on the day it happened. A silver band of ten small, round gems—I’ve worn it on my thumb for three years now. I used to be able to see my reflection in the different colors. Now, worn out, the gems have faded. But if you tilt your head, they still change color.
In fifth grade, hairless legs were in, so I bought Nair. I hid it underneath my desk and snuck it into the bathroom with me when I had to shower. I spread the white foam around my legs. I waited three minutes. A burning smell lingered in the air, and I looked down. There were red blotches everywhere.
– CAMILA LEGASPI
You are fourteen and your sister has decided she hates her body. You are no longer allowed into the bathroom while she strips off her clothes. Banished to the hallway, you brush your teeth and listen for the sound of the curtain being pulled, the faucet starting with a sputter. By the time you reenter, treading carefully around the heap of discarded clothes, the bathroom mirror has begun to mist; your sister is humming to herself, quietly and out of tune. Through the translucent curtain you can see the shadowy outline of her frame, the bending of her back. She has never been fat, but her body lacks the willowy grace of other girls, who have learned to survive on a diet of grapefruits and chickpeas. Lately she has taken to running in the mornings, to rising when it is still dark outside and leaving with no breakfast. All of her friends are thin and big-eyed, drifting down the hallways at school with their hipbones protruding above their low-rise jeans. Still, all you want is for her to be happy, and so you say nothing when you find her days later, throwing up her lunch in a bathroom stall.
Your body is a wonderland is what John Mayer croons as you lie clumsily with a boy in bed, but really you just feel like his body is something you shouldn’t be touching and maybe touching isn’t something humans should do at all because the act itself is less pleasant than the imagining of it and the fact that his feet smell is profoundly distressing in a way you cannot explain even to yourself. His body is inoffensive, but you hate it still. When he leaves, you don’t know whether to cry or laugh, so instead you go to sleep.
You are dreaming and in the dream you are running from a man who is trying to drown you for reasons that are at present unclear, but, you feel certain, perfectly legitimate. Suddenly, the man stops. He walks away. You look down and realize you have turned into a lobster.
You have decided to renounce social norms and join a nudist colony. You rejoice. You lie naked in the street, all luminous in the moonlight.
– HANNAH HIRSH