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Creative Nonfiction


Look Well Soon

Lauryn Batista

The doctors say that my body does not work anymore. If you glance my way, you can see that it moves for me. It speaks for me. It perceives and it thinks and it wishes and it wants, but my body is broken and my neurons fall short and my teeth can’t get the words out right. The human body, in all its fragile power, can only garner so much sympathy. I was seventeen when I first stopped wondering if anyone would ever fall in love with me because I had already called dibs. When people told me I should dress for the love that I wanted, not the love I already had, I looked in the mirror and saw less of a person and more of an arts and crafts project. When I finished high school, I said I didn’t want to be the founder of a family or a sidekick to a spouse and they said, “you can’t, it’s biology.” There is something not clicking in your brain. One day, you will meet the right person. You are a frail thing who has not yet been in love or seen the beautiful way it transforms you. You can be healed. You can be taught. You will learn to see the world in terms of pretty. When I was eighteen, I started waking up in hospital beds. I had wanted a Get Well Soon card, though it didn’t look like there was anything wrong with me, and people find that funny. I lack common sense and grace and beauty, so instead I am funny. When that’s the case, you don’t bring tragedy to the table, you bring card tricks and disappearing acts. So the day my body stopped working, I disappeared once again with the practiced timing that comes from a career in comedy and locked myself in a bathroom. There is no room for comedians on a bathroom floor, so I bled good humor in limericks to myself as I drifted off, slowly, arms wrapped around the base of the toilet in a ridiculous embrace as I heard people talking on the other side of the wall. I could hear them laughing. What is wrong with me? I thought, What is wrong? I bounced between meaningless tests, charts, and doctors, all telling me different diagnoses of my pain and shipping me towards sedatives and surgeries. I forced myself to vomit because surely if pills aren't working it was something wrong inside of me, a self-inflicted tracheotomy from shouting my opinions too loud in people’s faces. I woke up from a surgery screaming under the pressure of a globe, Atlas with arms forced up in the air to keep the world from fragmenting in my hands. My abdomen felt stiff and sticky, like the underbelly of a crushed beetle, and when I gained the courage to look at myself, I was cut open in ways a body shouldn’t be. So this time, I wrapped my arms around my wounds and rocked myself to sleep as the healing the procedure had promised never came. Are these images ugly to you? Does the sight or smell of blood and vomit make you faint? No wonder our repulsion at the sight of organs—we must despise the things that make us hurt. When in the tenth grade we visited a cadaver lab, I had a fondness towards the things that kept us alive. While my classmates retched and laughed off to the side, I stared in awe at a human lung, placed gently in my open hand, the air rich with life and death and formaldehyde. The beginning of my disrespectful attitude towards beauty. My descent to a world where there’s beauty in beating. So I hope my ugliness doesn’t offend you. I hope this story doesn’t make you think of all the horrible things a body can be. “Ever think of getting your eyebrows done?” There is an irony to the suggestion that the thing you need is less hair when the last thing you’ve rid your body of was an organ. “You know, body hair is a huge turn off for guys.” I said sorry, the surgeon must have forgotten to remove it. “Baggy clothes don’t do anything for your figure.” Anything tighter than this hurts. Wasn’t I so funny, letting it get away from me, as if it was a notion of civilization and they were gently urging me to wake up from my medically-administered barbarism. Wasn’t it funny, the way I didn’t care how they did. If I’m pretty enough, or if I’m happy enough, if I’m sexy enough, if I smile enough, if I’m feminine enough, if I’m friendly enough, if I’m alive enough. But never if I’m healing enough. Wake up, they’re saying, wake up. They call it the Halo Effect. It states that beautiful people are perceived to be healthier and happier, the reason I was commanded to look better rather than to feel better. Finally, when the illness had sucked away the fat and life from my body like whirling vultures from a corpse, leaving tighter edges and that attractive, malnourished frame, someone called me beautiful. The way my eyes had sunken, you’d expect them to say I’d look nice with funeral flowers woven in my hair. And when the tests were done and the doctors said I seemed young and healthy, suddenly I had the only second opinion that mattered—I decided I’d up my own dosage in an attempt to, at long last, cure everything. The doctor told my family to lock up anything dangerous we had around after I was sent home: guns or blades or whatever else. My sister, once being told her body wasn’t good enough, took those same blades to her skin, but I doubt she was attempting any form of plastic surgery. We wielded weapons of the noblest cause: that of making ourselves appear wanted. It is no mistake that passion and love are represented by the same color as blood. You know, ugly has a color too. I’ve seen it up close. It’s the color of grout between bathroom tiles when your face has been forced against it. It’s the color behind your eyelids as you wake up from a drug-induced sleep. The color of teeth gnashing in the dark. The color of rancor and purging and grime. And despite what the stories say, when people tell you to stand up and dust yourself off and smile so you’ll look well again, you don’t see red. You see bile. You see rot. I wish people knew that these hands aren’t forged from stained glass. That these bruises were not painted by an angel’s palette. I wish they could see that we were sun-cracked pottery made by frantic hands, digging up clay from riverbeds. I wish people would finally see that beautiful doesn’t suit us, that lovely doesn’t deserve us, because we tear and scar and heal over too much to stay perfect forever. I wish you would realize that it isn’t until part of us becomes ugly that our body, at last, tries to teach itself to heal. I wish, I wish, I wish you would allow us to hurt, even when it shows in our eyes and faces and the reflective surfaces made by human hands. And we will still be here, chanting our endless refrains of Please be gentle with my body. It’s the closest thing I have to a miracle. Our bodies shouldn’t be the only thing you hope will Get Well Soon. When it doesn’t work and my neurons fall short and my teeth can’t get the words out right, stop turning your eyes down to pray. Start looking. Because in its moments of unbeauty, my body, in its damage, will be ugly to you. But I can guarantee my pain is uglier. And the way you feel about my body shouldn’t have to justify its pain.
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