Watching crime shows on TV, I look at the dead bodies and can still see the life strumming out of them. Enshrined as they are in red red blood and dirt and spring’s soggy brown leaves.
I guess this is a relief. I guess this is what makes watching all this crap bearable, fun even. Look at the movie magic, their chests slo-mo-ed down, frozen in time. Breath digitally unmade. I try to catch a mistake, a hitch here or there, but I can’t, they’re good. Still, god, look how alive she is, eyes still and wide, look how still alive. She’ll get up from the muck and wash it off in her trailer and sail to her hotel in a beige leather car that smells like mint gum.
I watch the crime show on TV in the hospital lobby. It’s the day before surgery and I sign the form that gives my mom permission to choose for me if I never wake up.
I think about this when, later, I take my afternoon walk and see one of my neighbor’s chickens in her backyard slumped hard into the dirt. Like Hades is pulling her down. Like I’ll blink and she’ll sink. She’s lying so hard on that ground and that’s how I know she is dead. Really dead. Real dead.
I walk to the cemetery because I’m a salt-in-the-wound kind of gal. I’m a press-down-on-the-bruise sort. They are going to open me up crosswise tomorrow. They are going to lift a tumor bigger than a softball from my ovary. The bodies on the crime show are too alive. The chicken, a death I didn’t count on. Show me the long and reliably dead.
There’s a grave I like, so I always try to swing by. It’s a guy who died in the 1800s, his name is Joseph. I touch the apex of his stone monument and read his epitaph.
“I am not afraid to die.”
I ask Joseph if I am what he is and he doesn’t say a thing.
The scans say “Complicated by internal echoes”. I already know I am this: complicated, echoing. I lie in bed with my fingers jammed in my ears and I can hear the echoing inside me. I think of Bosch’s visions of hell, of the ergot in his system, the rotted wheat, the smell like PBR on a basement floor. Eyes closed, hearing the roar of me, I think of all the visions inside of us, all the things a person can generate from within. I open the secret thought again. My body made this tumor. I made this dangerous anomaly. I think I might have made it on purpose. I think maybe I asked for this interruption.
After the surgery, in a hazy pink hospital room, my doctor checks up on me and shows me a photograph of myself on the operating table. Shrouded. My cerements the blue drop cloth, medical mundane. The doctor spans the length of the tumor with her hand, outstretched. Fleshy and smooth, it looks like the heart of a beast much bigger than me.
I look back at the television.
On TV the detective unzips the body bag. The detective pulls the drawer out in the morgue and they pull back the curtain and the “body” lies sharp up on her bones, frosted blue and alive. They have to pan away so we can’t see the blood beat in her throat.
They send me home to my parent’s house to recover. My soon-to-be ex-boyfriend doesn’t answer the phone and sends me a letter. He says, “I found it funny that for someone as uninterested as you are with having a kid of your own, you somehow managed to grow a tumor the size of a baby’s head in your ovary.” He says, “what a devilish coincidence.”
I read this lying on the couch, with staples in my stomach, a preciously faded Little Mermaid washcloth tucked into the band of my sweatpants in case I leak. I am twenty-five, I say to no one. My mom brings me mac n cheese I’ll throw up later. The doctor, so excited, she said she saved my womb, wrapped the ovary around itself like a gift and gave it back. I want to tell her how little I am ready to think about thinking about this.
On TV the cops break into the shed and a woman holds her own bloodstains up for the detective to see.
Hydrocodone evenings. I change the channel.
On TV it’s another Stephen King, “My brother was eaten by wolves on the Connecticut turnpike” (1408). I put this on my list of epitaphs. Eaten by wolves. I think of the doctor’s hands, of waking up alone, the feeling like burnt yellow, spikenard at my feet.
On TV it’s 1942 and Russian scientists pump blood through severed dogs’ heads to reanimate them. Someone I loved showed me this video once, in bed, laptop hot on our shared bare stomachs. Bifurcated sweetness. Eyelids twitch, noses strain to sniff. Facsimiles of Alive.
My first outing post-surgery we drive past the hospital. I think, I was open there. This, my own sealed cavern, was open to the air. I have had hands in my guts. This town has seen my insides.
That night I stand in front of my mirror naked. My torso still swollen and painful with the gas they used to inflate it. A grim long smile on my abdomen.
I tape my phone to the ceiling fan. I press record, lie down in my best strangled position and hold my breath.
Inside I am still echoing.
When I watch the video back I am a little bit Mary Shelley’s monster. I slow it down, can’t even see my chest tick. And yet.
Like the TV bodies, I am strumming. Bright. Luminous with still rushing blood.
Joseph, I am not what you are.