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creative nonfiction

WE SCAR, WE HEAL, WE RISE
by
Erin Wood

I imagine I am standing on the Moon and there is the Grand Canyon below me. Someone has cleaved the Earth with a Bowie knife and spread it wide to see what is inside.

When they cut my thigh open to remove the infection, the doctor told me it would leave no scar, but eight weeks later it was clear that he was wrong. The day after the operation, the nurse stood at the edge of my hospital bed with her lips pinched together like a clamís shell. The morphine couldnít touch the feeling that my muscles were being pulled out, along with the snake of gauze that she drew from the selvage of my skin and into her hands. After the first wretched session died down, I heard that my muscles were going to leave with the snake twice a day, every day, until my nerves sealed off and the glowing watermelon flesh locked back, and there was nothing left but milky skin. When I had to change my own dressing, I learned that I have an impulse not to inflict pain on myself. This instinct is nearly impossible to overcome. After I fainted and came back in the shower, I looked into my leg like it was an oracle, but it told me nothing. Touching the guts of my thigh made me feel wicked, like yanking a turtle out of its shell and leaving it to rot.

In a photograph, my grandfather holds me tenderly with his pliant surgeonís fingers. I was a tiny, sick baby in a pink gingham dress with a bow Scotch-taped to my head. He was a man who had cut soldiersí arms and legs from their bodies with a saw three days after D-day. A soldierís flesh was an envelope sealed up to keep the rest of him inside. The amputation saw my grandfather brought back from Omaha Beach was a token from the world that died behind him.

I have never not thought of my body in quarters. Across my belly, a barbed-wire path runs away from my center in four directions. It is a compass pointing toward other people. It is a legend that shows them where I have been. Nine times, doctors have opened me from the center to try to make me better, and in some ways I am. Until just before the last surgery, I only thought of what I could see on the outside, which was less than one side of the story. My topography can be flipped inside out to reveal reticulated growth that spreads slow and steady like a cantaloupe vine, commandeering other organs, holding them hostage, choking them off.

I have heard plenty about ghost limbs, and I know that sensations can still act on the brain even when the eyes tell the brain that nothing is now where something used to be. It is too hard to believe an organ that has been around for thirty-three years would suddenly not be there anymore. But maybe when the ghost waits under skin and lymph and corpuscles, the eyes canít toy with the whole thing. We are always not used to our insides. When they are closed inside us, our organs are reluctant phantasms; they have to be conjured up.

Whenever I have taken time to recuperate, I have noticed things Iíve never seen before. The last time I was ill, I saw a robin perched on my fence, panting in the heat. Now that I feel better, I let her open her beak inside me. Her breathing makes me feel alive.

I read there is a museum in California full of medical curiosities. If you visited it, you would learn it was once thought that children could be cured of disorders of the mouth and throat by wrapping their lips around a duckís beak and drawing in its breath. You would learn that medievalists believed eating ant eggs could cure the lovesick. You would be reminded that we need antidotes, and so we search.

I walked past a shady yard with trees so tall they hinted that I was nothing. The ground below them was a closely clipped carpet of green, some moss, some grass. Despite the mowers and the shadow of the canopy, an oak seedling found a place to grow inside a broken up drain pipe. Living things have a will to perpetuate.

Though it seems dangerous, to get hydrangeas to put on blooms you must prune them. Cut them where they v-off and they will pop off new blossoms within days. Bring the cut ones inside and, before you put them in water, burn their stems with a match. This way, they will live longer. Behind this violence lies a sort of kindness.

I told a yoga instructor that I was surprised when she called savasana the corpse pose. She looked at me as if she knew an awakening had escaped me and asked me if I feared death. Perhaps our misunderstanding is more a matter of perception. When she tells us to imagine we are melting into the earth, I picture myself hovering just above it.

Some things fly even though they donít have wings. When the larvae of the beach tiger beetle want to move on a windy day, they throttle themselves into the air to catch the breeze and become wheels clambering up dunes. With only one leap, they can move two hundred feet toward somewhere new.

When my husband was eight, he was attacked by a Chow in his friendís front yard. It ripped his face open just below his lips on the left side, and the dog kept lunging for him until it tore his arm down to the blue meat. I watch him as he strokes our hundred and thirty-eight pound Bullmastiff on the living room rug, both of them lying on their sides, staring at each other. My husband bends toward him and kisses him on his muzzle and coos in his ear until they both close their eyes.

A scan of my middle would reveal a muscle man in my pelvis: a boxer, his gloves raised over his head like a champion without arms, his fists waiting to rise up and down in victory even though there is nothing to give them movement.

I imagine I am standing at the base of the Grand Canyon and there is the Moon above me. The barbed marks of living are all around and all throughout me, opening and closing and shifting. Someone has exploded craters in the Moon. Our celestial body has sealed them off. It shines.


Erin Wood lives, writes, and edits in Little Rock, Arkansas, and often works all day in her PJs. She has recently come to the conclusion that though there seems to be no quota on bad things that can happen to a person, there may be no quota on miracles either.



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