My Other Plans

What I’d really rather be doing today is spending it on the couch under an afghan half-napping and half-watching HGTV, or maybe a scary movie. I kind of feel like the freak-out about yesterday’s news is stuck in my chest like a defective burp and I’d like to just lie still and let it work its way out.

I don’t know how to explain how I feel. Intellectually, I feel fine. I am as sure as sure can be that it’s just scar tissue or–a little more disturbing–this gunk that seems to be pretty common in the lungs of people who live near the Mississippi and Ohio.

I need to remember to ask Rachel if she’s ever stumbled across such a thing, but my folks were telling me that my mom’s doctors finally decided that’s what’s in her lung and my dad has a parishoner in the hospital now who also seems to have it, whatever it is, something to do with the rivers.

I really hope that’s not the case–that the rivers I love make people sick.

It’s weird, you know, to think of my European ancestors dumping their waste in the streets and you think, damn, how could they have not known that was making them sick? Towns full of refuse and the rats that came to eat on it.

But look at us. Here we sit with some of the highest cancer rates in the world, with doctors telling patients, “Yeah, we see this a lot in people who live near the river.” How near? My dad says they told him a corridor of about 200 miles, a little over an hour’s drive on each side of the rivers. Near, I guess, being a relative term.

I imagine our descendants will look back at us and say, “My god, they didn’t think there was something really fucked up about how many people’s bodies just started growing weird things? How could they not connect the dots and see…” whatever it is that isn’t yet clear to us but will be so damn obvious to them.

Anyway, these are the things my brain thinks about, flipping back and forth between outrage and normal life. But the body knowledge that something is wrong is still unseen, like a deep bruise that has to work its way to the top.

And that you just have to wait for, for your body to finally bring it forth and know it and grieve it and let you move forward. There is no comforting the body, really, not that I’ve found, anyway. Your body is your most ancient possession, a gift knit together by untold generations before you. These same basic fingers painted stick figures on the walls of caves. These same basic legs walked out of Africa and spread across the globe. This basic mouth can eat bugs or bratwurst, depending. It’s so old it barely recognizes words. It responds to touch and pain and affection and fear, those basic things.

Unless you practice a religion in which the gods take over your body, it’s not something you often have to acknowledge–the split between your big human brain and the animal that carries it around like some hard-won treasure it doesn’t quite understand.

As I get older, though, it gets harder for me to understand my experience of the world in any different way.

And I guess that’s the thing that makes me sad about this whole thing.  I think I’ll be fine.  But a day will come when I won’t be, hopefully a day long off, but a day out there and on its way.  And it’s easy enough for me to believe that this part of me, this internal voice with her wishes and dreams, will go on in some way I can’t quite conceive of.

But I know that my body won’t.  She will end up eventually crumbling to dust, indistinguishable from the dirt.  And that makes me so sad, because I really love this body.  I hate to think I’ll be separated from it.