רְאֵה אֶת מַעֲשֵׂה הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי מִי יוּכַל לְתַקֵּן אֵת אֲשֶׁר עִוְּתוֹ
Awareness knocks my mind blank. I drop into the moment, single and crystalline. It really is right now. It’s summertime. I am a barefoot child, long, messy hair falling across my face. I am running down a hallway, my little brother just in front of me. I am holding a baby hedgehog with both hands. I feel the soft fur of its belly, the whirring of its heart. I see the honey-brown curls that crown my brother’s head. I see my knees, skinned and dirty. I see my dirty fingernails, the shiny black eyes and wiggling nose of the hedgehog, its tiny quills, hundreds of them, sharp and perfectly formed.
This moment stands out in my memory, a few seconds of total lucidity. An open-eyed glimpse of life in all its absurdity, endlessly given, invaluable.
The other night, standing in my kitchen, talking to my friends, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the truth that they are real. Really real, with whole internal worlds just like mine. Of course I always knew that, but I haven’t always felt it. We are more like adjacent branches than self-contained individuals, the same life-force animating us all.
When I was a kid I used to think that other people were robots. Literal robots. Or maybe phantoms. I was convinced that at any moment, someone was going to show up and tell me it was all one big, horrible joke. Or maybe they’d tell me I was in hell.
In the summertime, mirage pools formed on the hot asphalt, glimmering mirrors that disappear as you approach them. I wanted to fall into one, to jump through it into the sky of some world on the other side.
I was nine years old when I began really losing touch with my body. I remember looking from my arms to my thighs, arms to thighs, trying to solve the riddle. Something was very wrong. My legs were the wrong shape. There was an constant crookedness to the world in those days, like wearing someone else’s glasses.
There are almost no pictures of me smiling between the ages of 10 and 20. I used to cringe at the pictures; now I chuckle. As weird as it is to see myself dressed as a girl, I am not erased in these images. My discomfort could not be more clear.
These days I am learning to fully inhabit my body. Sometimes I sit naked and very still, just breathing, trying to experience my own form. I could never have done this years ago–too painful. Now all that remains of that heartache are a few scars on my arms and an echo of unbelief, uneasiness. I still feel a disconnect–a parallax. I squint, trying to see myself as I am. I look at my belly, my legs, my arms. Olive skin, fish-belly white on the parts of my body that don’t see much sun. Brown hair growing everywhere like desert grass. My penis looks like a little animal that might live on a coral reef. This is a thoroughly personal accounting of my physical self, divorced from all attempts to present my body for another’s gaze. No comparison to any drawing in a textbook. No measuring tape. No tyranny of memory. I think of people with phantom limb syndrome, whose pain is eased by mirrors that allow them to, say, see an image of their right hand where the left should be. I don’t need any mirrors–I just have to believe what I see.
See the work of God: Who can straighten what He has made crooked?