Trae sang Frank Sinatra to my left as the doctor removed a drain from my right. I wasn’t ready to look down yet. Later, I apologized for the blood I leaked onto the paper, covering my doctor’s white leather chair. I’m sorry for my mess, I said, an apology with a footnote, of which the dissertation is still being written. With compression off for the first time in eight days, I assemble as much oxygen as I can. I inhale the width of North America and exhale four decades in this body. My eyes unclench; they are not fists. The doctor praises my body, her work. You are an artist, Trae says to her. Slowly, I drop my head. My chest is my favorite book pulled open to the best part. It is flat, bruised. Nipples like squashed berries on the sidewalk, sort of charred and uncertain. I have survived this pain. And my new chest is beginning
a narrative therapy exhibition
part one. Debra, my therapist, writes me a letter to prove medical necessity for bilateral mastectomy. I become a card catalogue of mental distress, two disorders and a dysphoria. The letter calls me consistently depressive; suddenly, I feel so seen. Why must we demonstrate our unwellness for health insurance assistance when no man has to take a photograph of his flaccid penis in order to qualify for erection renewal. part two. Strobe light images of sensations and feelings. My feminist hides, squinting every letter into a scared pill bug. My body is a neighbor I wave hello to, with preference to keep our conversations no longer than a nod. We pretend we are strangers; it is better this way. There was a time before I flinched. Before I looked at men and thought about their penises as bullet holes left in women’s bodies. Before what I wore became a billboard for who I was, how I identified, rather than just cotton and comfort. Before my dentist declared all the reasons my teeth were complicated derelicts: drugs, lack of flossing, all those panic attacks and New Jersey water. Before my body had scars named after the men, named after the meds, named after me. Before that HPV diagnosis. Before that colposcopy where my girlfriend and I watched my cervix projected on a screen as though it were the star of a new sitcom about genital warts and bad decisions. Before my body became a crime scene or the DSM-5 or a chalk outline of a former life or a tear-soaked handkerchief or a protest poem or a ghost or a misunderstanding
or a question mark.
It comes back. It threads itself into the thin skin of my eyelids, jackhammers itself against my chest, creeps into the wax in my ears. It has been cut out, but it comes back. It has been drowned out with liquor and hops, but it swims to shore. It has been numbed with powders, chemicals, pickpocketed medicine cabinets; it keeps waking back up. It. It is genetic. It is unruly, unpredictable. It does not care you do yoga now or pretend to meditate. It has no interest in what you call yourself now, how you (try to) see yourself now. It is not going away. It. It stops you from getting jobs, from believing in yourself, from maintaining friendships, from committing to most things. It starts fights. It. It carries a switchblade. It. It cannot be quieted by pharmaceuticals; in fact, it dares you to try that again. It does not cower under doctor’s orders. It hates the term self-care. It is the most persistent part of you. It is the one element of you that has not given up. It. It. It has locked your doors and windows, so forget trying to walk out. It reminds you (in case you have forgotten) how worthless you are. It. It expects nothing of you. It. It. It. It is immune to surgery and sermons. It may will never go away. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It. It.
Aimee Herman is a queer, nonbinary educator and writer. They are the author of two books of poetry and the novel “Everything Grows”. In addition, their work can be found in journals and anthologies such as BOMB, cream city review, and “Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics“. They currently host a monthly open mic in Boulder called Queer Art Organics. Aimee is extremely enamored with libraries, ukuleles, and the moon.