I was in a studio apartment in Prague teaching in a summer abroad program when I woke up to an unpleasant surprise. My period, which is erratic and difficult to predict, arrived overnight and the white cotton sheets I was sleeping on and the white cotton feather bed cover underneath it were blotched with a saucer-sized crimson stain. If I was at home this would be less stressful: I’d simply change the sheets and toss the soiled ones in the wash. However, the linens in this apartment had just been changed by the cleaning service that came once a week. If I didn’t do something about these blood stains, I’d be stuck with them for a week.
Four years ago, I leaned over the bathtub to pick up my then one-year-old son and something in my lower back snapped. It happened so fast: one second I’m bent right- angled at the waist, arms around my wet, slippery, tank of a kid, and the next second—flat on the floor. I couldn’t move.
Even the idea of moving was an impossibility. I lay there for nearly forty-five minutes—never in my life have I been as helpless—until finally, I worked myself into an awkward push-up position and slowly, slowly, military-crawled to the phone in the next room. I remember the pain made me see white, a blizzard on the backs of my eyelids.
Over the years, I’ve told this story to chiropractors, to physical therapists, to yoga instructors. “Do you have injuries I should be aware of?” they ask, and again and again and again, I begin: “I was leaning over the bathtub to pick up my son and something in my lower back…” For every time I’ve told it, every time I’ve relived it as part of understanding my own body, there is one part I always leave out:
I dropped him.
My beautiful, perfect, tank of a little boy.
I dropped him.
The crescent beside my eye (running in the living room, six years-old), the pale, asymmetrical patch above my lip (Chicken pox at eight), the toothy line across my right knee (couch jumping at twelve), the long, deep crevice on my left thigh (botched surgery at fifteen)—I’ve always liked my scars, those stories on skin.
And yet, there are two I’ve failed to disclose: the puffy red line just beneath my clavicle where a port was installed to deliver chemotherapy, and the jagged dent across my left breast where my nipple used to be—cancer at thirty-four.