Put it in the deep freeze.

A deep freeze, my shrink explains to me.

She says I’ve been putting it in the deep freeze, like all good PTSDers do.

But it’s time to un-do. Our goal: EMDR, once it thaws a little more.

I enjoy this analogy, this deep freeze. I’ve Saran wrapped the tasty trauma to save for later: I put it in the deep freeze. Count on Saran™ for freshness that’s easy. Whatever it takes to appease me, to relieve me. Deep freeze: a condition of being held in temporary suspension or inactivity. Like a refrigerator, hard ice, a storage space to keep things for a long period of time. Store it in the back of the deep freeze and forget about it. It will keep there, hidden away, buried with ease. It will keep in the deep freeze. It will keep. If and when you take it out and let it thaw, like really thaw, be cautious and make certain it’s safe ‘cause when you take it out of the deep freeze it’s as good as fresh like oozing like no time has passed at all. Like you just stored it yesterday.

I enjoy this analogy. But letting it thaw makes me angry no matter how tasty the freeze promises it will be.

Anger can be healthy, says my psych.

Yeah well FUCK HIM, I reply.

Ten years go by.

Ten years go by.

Couldn’t even try to say hi. Keep it in the freeze.

I’m traumatized too goddammit, does he think he’s the only one?

Ten years go by and I’m finally done.

I can’t keep it in the deep freeze anymore, as good as fresh blood dripping knees to floor, fresh like thrift store fine china crashing against the back door.

He’s not the only one.

Dear god let me be done.

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Type 1 Diabetes and perfectly safe animals

She wakes up regularly, in the middle of the night. I know this not because I too awaken alongside the hall light or the slight sounds of her midnight scuffle. I remain steadfast in sleep, tangled in my sheets with cold sweats and stressful Ambien-induced dreams. I dream that I am chasing my animals amidst the dangerous streets of my subconscious and no one can save their souls from the swerving vehicles but me.

Little do I realize that my animals are perfectly safe, and awake at 2am wandering to the refrigerator with my sister. She wakes up regularly, in the middle of the night, and I know this from daybreak’s evidence: as I put the teakettle on the front burner and turn on the gas to boil water for the French pressed coffee, I see a clear glass cup that was not there just the night before when I finished loading the dishwasher. It has a crusted ring of dried orange juice glued to the bottom. Then I notice the empty fruit snacks wrapper crumbled on the counter, and when I grab the half and half from the fridge I count one less Reese’s peanut butter cup.

It’s (Not) Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

So this morning I woke up to drive my partner to work at The University of Arizona.  On the way home driving southbound on Euclid from 6th Street, 92.9 The Mountain graciously played Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” which ironically isn’t so ironic.  I blasted it nonetheless and sang along thinking the lyrics should actually be something like:

It’s like raaaaaiiiiiinnnn on your wedding day … Isn’t that just shiiiitttyyy…

Cuz that’s all it is, it’s perhaps a shitty coincidence if you don’t want it to rain on your wedding day, or if you have ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife–as The Oatmeal so fabulously delineates for us in The Three Most Common Uses of Irony.

I’m not even gonna look up proper definitions of irony, except for what The Oatmeal says.  To me, this is irony: when the “outcome” of a given situation or event–a happening–is perhaps paradoxical, wherein the outcome becomes antithetical to the intention or plan behind said event.

The Oatmeal breaks this down as a “reversal”: “Situational irony is when something happens and a reversal of expectations occurs.”  This “reversal” of expectations, however, is conceptual–and that’s important.  It’s the conceptual reversal, a collision of opposing ideas coming together to actually make the substance and/or meaning of a happening.

It is simply a coincidence when it rains on your wedding day.

Image

the night before

The lovers walk hand in hand, across the slippery and saucy super-sized saucer: her plate, they skate along like grace at a pace in sync with the swirl and twirl of fork fingers, of spaghetti noodles. Silverware and Bolognese combine, intertwine, to pluck her palette with pleasure. She eats, mmm, mmm, one romantic grandstand after another to a salacious ovation applauding on the tip of her tongue. In the back of her throat. On the roof of her mouth. Titillating her taste buds only for such a moment to be remembered with torment, with painful self-humiliation.

That fucking diet, again. I don’t know, maybe this is the second or third “official” time. She made an appointment with a weight loss counselor. She has her own chart, with waist measurements, ass measurements, and her recorded BMI. She can just hear it now: come on back, it’s time to weigh in! as her smiling Jenny Craig comrade waives her down the lone hallway towards the scale. Are your pockets empty? No, but my stomach is. The fork moves slower, and misses spaghetti noodles in its droopy scoop. She pushes some chunks of sauce atop the entanglement and dives—fork first—into the bite, scratching against the plate like motherfucking nails on a chalkboard. She drops the fork and the handle clangs against the plate and she gasps with her hands held in the air begging for amnesty. Oh dear Cheesecake Factory, thou shalt grant me amnesty with the power of thy mercy. Save me from my impending doom, from the fascist calorie-counting regime that awaits my starvation. I hate myself more and more each day, each weigh-in, each ounce closer to a size six.

So Happens to Be Made, So Happens to Be Offered

While Travis and his family and friends enjoy homemade lasagna, I nuke Jenny Craig lasagna in the rehab center’s kitchen and eat it out if its little black plastic microwaveable tray.  Finally visitors leave and Trav and I meander off to his rehab room.  Like a dorm room, kind of.  His roommate, just on the other side of the curtain, is Curtis.  Curtis broke his neck in a car accident.  Wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.  Rumor has it the seatbelt would have “saved” him.  Who knows for sure.  The seatbelt, the wallet, the seatbelt, the wallet.  Could be anytime, anywhere.

Curtis has a poster taped to the ceiling right above his bed.  It’s a blond bikini-wearing babe licking a lollipop.  Curtis had a halo strapped to his body and screwed into his skull for months.  It’s off, and he’s now in the fashionable neck brace like Trav.

Trav has a roommate named Curtis and they’re both quads in rehab together.  When Trav and I mosey into their room, Curtis is gone.  Probably off cracking the code to the nurses break room, or hijacking the hospital intercom system to report some sarcastic, nonsensical need for the whole unit to hear.

I’m starving because the non-homemade lasagna was maybe actually two bites of lasagna.  Portion control?  More like socially acceptable anorexia.  I’m starving and my stomach’s growling even though I just ate “dinner,” and I try to ignore it but by trying to ignore it I actually obsess over it as I set up the DVD for movie night.  I try to make our movie date special by popping popcorn for Trav.  I can’t eat any of it because my “diet” (read: socially acceptable self-starvation).  And I even made the butter lovers kind because it’s not for me, right?

I turn down the lights and snuggle next to Travis as we look up at the TV glowing above his bed.  I scoop my hand into the popcorn bag and flex my fingers like a claw crane prize grabber clutching all the wondrous colorful stuffed animal toys.  I pull my arm out slowly so I don’t drop my prize: a handful of butter lovers’ popcorn.  I hold my hand out to Travis’ mouth and he licks up the salty, tasty morsels with his lips and tongue.

You see the thing is, is that I don’t really care for popcorn.  I like the crunchiness, sure, and I do find pleasure in the greasy buttery goodness.  However, I really hate it when popcorn kernel pieces get stuck in my teeth, especially my back molars.  So I typically never eat popcorn by choice.  Only if it so happens to be made, and if it so happens to be offered to me.  And if it’s not non-buttered non-salted dry cardboard tasting popcorn.

In-between prize-winning scoops of popcorn, I feel my tummy aching.  I poke at my toned yet not-toned-enough abdomen, and squeeze my toned yet too voluptuous thighs.  I think about Jenny Craig (the corporation, not the person), and I think about my disciplining mom.

I reach deep into the microwaveable popcorn bag with my claw of glory to scoop up the biggest-ever popcorn prize to claim the high-winning score.  In the darkness amidst the flashes from the TV I shovel the hand full of golden glistening nibbles into my gaping mouth, pushing my flat palm against the popcorn and into my cheeks.  I chew and chew and chew and the crane reaches back in and the claw pushes into my mouth and against my cheeks and I chew and chew and chew.  I feel enormous guilt as I grumble and gulp yet I can’t stop shoveling one handful after the other into my mouth in the darkness with flashes of TV light in Trav’s hospital dorm room during our movie time.  The ambivalence is wrenching as my stomach twists in utter guilt and utter pleasure from my uncontrollable gorge.

Having some popcorn? Travis teases, well-aware of my suffocating calorie-counting fascist regime.  His rhetorical question breaks my zone.

I wipe my oily fingers on my voluptuous pant thighs and laugh through my mastication.  I respond, Fuck it!  And together we enjoy the butter lovers’ popcorn that so happens to be made by me, that I so happen to offer to myself.

my very own new media artwork

Ode to Professor Geary and Feminist Theory

“I came to theory because I was hurting—the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living.  I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend—to grasp what was happening around and within me.  Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away.  I saw in theory then a location for healing.” –bell hooks

I hear all the time

about this so-called divide

that we find

between theory and “real life.”

But some of us need theory to live.

There is no divide.

Professor Geary, there you are in feminist theories.  How awesome and lyrically convenient for me that your name rhymes with theory.  (Oh Dr. Geary, neoliberal capitalist theory is so dreary it makes me weary and a little teary!)  One day you said to the class with such sincerity when we were all frustrated with this “concept” of “neoliberalism,” frustrated with corporatization, with the insurmountable odds stacked high against us in hundred dollar bills for cheap thrills causing dire ills—we just couldn’t grasp it, we felt trapped with no way out—all this theory bullshit, all this greed and exploitation; the class was against you ready to throw our hands up and say, Fuck you academe! Fuck you theory! you reassured us: Some people…some people need theory, to live.  And there you are: dry-erase marker in hand, the white board behind you, and all our ten sets of eyes concentrated intently on you.  Some people…some people need theory, to live.  We all breathe in heavily, chests heaving together, exhaling, some of us breaking for a cigarette.

Some people need theory to live.  To resist.  To feel, to understand, to be, to learn, to interact, to thrive, survive, to love, to listen.  Some people need theory to live.

coffee against my lips

it’s cold by now but I still drink it

and the mug tips,

a little bit

slips

out the side of my mouth as I sip,

eyes looking past the mug onto my feminist lit—

coffee tear drops drip

and stain the polemic.

How do I understand this world I live in     we are all connected now     somehow     there’s the internet     there’s airplanes     there’s tourism     there’s the t.v.     there’s movies and there’s dvds and blank cds ripping copies for free     information as a commodity     there’s Google translate     there’s Google     there’s Facebook     we are all connected now     How do I understand it all     this New World Order     where does my milk come from     where do my bananas come from     let’s all preach equality and fair trade     we got Chiquita banana all dressed in a blue oval sticker all the way from an exotic, tropical, faraway republic     How Do I Understand This World I Live In     of contradiction     some people     need   theory     to     live     we are all connected now     somehow     in this era of globalization     turn of the millennium     post-nine-eleven     connected twenty-four/seven     with our bourgeois blackberries and iPhones     feeling all alone but surrounded     how do I understand this world I live in     where can I find the words I need     help me theory     help me explain explicate iterate and reiterate contemplate commiserate     identity     performativity     materiality     this life     that I am living co-existing imagining and producing, my privilege depending on that of another human’s suffering     amidst all this stigmatization of differentiation     perpetuating extremes of love and hate and the rich and the poor and the traumatic and the joyous     help me remake meaning     help me understand this world I live in     help me theory     help me transform and be transformative, imagine an alternative     we are all connected now

Coming Out of the Closet

I’m eight years old, and Brittany is six.  Every Saturday since we can remember we spend the night over at Grandma and Poppy’s house—just down the street on Grover’s, on the west side of Tatum Boulevard.  Every Saturday we spend the night over at Grandma and Poppy’s.  There’s a spare bedroom just for us at the end of the long, narrow, dark hallway of the small, one-story house down Grover’s, on the west side of Tatum.  Our room is next to the garage door.  Across the hall from Poppy’s den.  Wonderful things happen in Poppy’s den.  He works in there for hours and hours, building model trains and cars.  He takes us to the Hobby Bench to pick out his next project with him.  He limps, a bad hip.  He talks unusually loud, his voice booming and almost startling.  Grandma back-hand slaps him on the shoulder, and screeches, Arnie, turn up your hearing aid!  Poppy’s eyes open wide and he shrugs his shoulders, implying, what can I do?  He’s mostly deaf.  Since World War Two.  World War Two—Poppy a lone veteran.  Ear drums blown out from the all-too-nearby blast of hand grenades.  Ka-plow-ee!  Off in the jungles of the Pacific.  Island hopping.  Hand grenades blasted and my poppy’s ear drums go ka-plow-ee.

He brings back a small sack of precious stones, gems, pearl-like beauties from his island hopping during World War Two.  I wonder my whole life where they are today, and how he got them.  A historical mystery of sorts.   We check out from the Hobby Bench with a new project.

Our room is down the hall, next to the garage door, across from Poppy’s den.  We have a pull-out couch for a bed.  We have a small walk-in closet full of random and incomplete toy sets, misplaced children’s books, and clashed items of clothing like an off-white and maroon ski jacket on a hanger next to a pair of bathing suit bottoms, draped over the corner of a coat hanger—tilted sideways from the imbalance.  Where’s the matching bathing suit top?  It must be somewhere in here, perhaps over near the shoebox with no lid, holding a pair of my dad’s old business loafers, wrestled in closet dust and placed rather queerly in the rectangle cardboard—one shoe lay sideways while the other shoe lay similarly pointed in the same direction yet completely upside down.  This is what I love about this small walk-in closet that is really no one’s walk-in closet in particular, just a walk-in closet that so happens to be in the spare bedroom that is kind of my sister and mine’s room that we sleep in every Saturday, across the hallway from my poppy’s den and next to the garage door.  I sit squarely on the floor in this small walk-in closet full of random and incomplete toy sets, misplaced children’s books, and clashed items of clothing—but actually I do not really sit squarely but queerly like the pair of dusty loafers in a rectangle cardboard box with no lid.  I sit queerly since my pigeon-toed legs demand I do so.  I close the closet door and sit on the floor alone tinkering through the trinkets and missing board game pieces and missing bathing suit tops.  Immersed in an absent presence, combing through what’s not there, curious and careful as I peruse and ponder.  Might I install a sense of order to these knick knacks?  I pick through one by one, flipping through an old hardback children’s book with pages torn and corners bitten off.  This is what I love about this small walk-in closet.  Full of random and incomplete toy sets, misplaced children’s books, and clashed items of clothing—these missing pieces, absent presents: refuse categorization.  Resist organization.  I’m enthralled by the unruliness and I embrace the unknown of the bathing suit top, the cropped book pages, the dusty loafers facing all directions wrong.

There is a light wrap at the door and it’s my sister’s six-year-old voice asking me to come out of the closet and observe as my poppy puts the finishing touches on his latest model car.

Freaks and Weirdos: On Walking Straight, Walking ‘Normal’

“Walk straight!” my mother commands.  I’m only eight years old, trudging through the shopping mall with my six-year-old sister in tow.  I catch my breath at my mother’s disciplining, let out a soft sigh and roll my eyes.  “Brooke, did you hear me?” she complains.  I keep walking, and for a minute I straighten out my feet, spine, and shoulders into what I have been told is a proper posture, a “normal” way of walking.  Just for a minute, to appease my nagging mother.

My dad tells me a different story.  People who are pigeon-toed are fast runners, and fierce athletes.  I embrace this narrative as an eight-year-old, and take the initiative to out-run any boy at school.  Girls rule and boys drool.  Even my neon-green t-shirt says so.  I play tag-football at recess, and I relish during the elementary-school-wide Field Day.  When I run, I let my legs be as pigeon-toed as ever.  And I even earn a first-place ribbon for it in the fifty-yard dash.

Do I ever trip over my own feet?  Sometimes, yes.  But as a kid, whose dad says it’s cool to be pigeon-toed, I take pride in tripping over my own feet.  I learn to laugh at myself.  Let the self-tripping commence!  I’d rather trip over my feet with an audience than waste my concentration and discomfort on walking straight.

“Walk normal!” my mother shouts.  She switches between saying, “walk straight” and “walk normal.”  According to her and the use of their seeming interchangeability, the phrases are synonymous: walking straight means walking normal.  And walking “normal” is apparently the desirable gait.  “Brooke, I said walk normal,” she reinforces her demand.  This time we are at the grocery store, and I am feeling disobedient.  I keep moving along, pretending like I can’t hear her, and collecting coupons as we stroll down the aisles.  “Did you hear me?” she repeats.  “Come on, you walk like a slob.  Pay attention.”

My dad signs me up for soccer and softball.  I build strong quadriceps and hamstrings.  I go to a summer soccer camp the year I turn nine, and the professional trainer immediately notices the uniqueness of my stride.  I stand out in the group, literally and figuratively.  She teaches me to use my pigeon-toedness to an advantage.  I train hard for a quick, skilled touch to the ball.  I have a mean outward cut, thanks to my pigeon feet—perfect for fake-outs.  And best of all, I learn to kick the ball with the outside of my foot.  Imagine a penalty kick, in front of the goal: the keeper notices I am right-footed and expects me to sweep it across into the left corner.  But my pigeon-toed outside-of-the-foot kick curves it unsuspectingly into the opposite right corner.  Solid shot, like a line drive, slightly curved.  Goal keeper left stunned.  Ever heard of “bend it like Beckham”?  That’s me.

Third and fourth grade pass by, and I’m the class tomboy.  I only wear boy clothes, even boys shoes.  My mom thinks “it’s just a phase.”  If that’s what’ll keep her off my back, then let her think what she wants.  I run amok on the playground each day happy to be picked in the first few by my fellow male team-captains for our kickball pick-up game.  Most of the girls frolic on the swing-set, perform cartwheels through the dry, yellow Sonoran desert grass, or play jump-rope.  Cartwheels and jump-rope set me apart from the other girls—I was never very good at gymnastics or dance, my legs could never plié.  In fact, my legs are capable of quite the opposite.  The few who knew about my amazing inward-turning feet talents would run up to me on occasion, dragging their new friends along.

“Show Sarah how your feet turn in!” Jamie requests excitedly.

“Okay,” I act in accordance: and inward my legs go, my feet nearly facing backward.

“You’re a freak of nature!” Sarah exclaims.

“Yep,” I agree.  And I get back to playing kickball while they scurry off in giggles.

I am ten years old, in the fifth grade.  The drive to the orthopedic surgeon’s office in downtown Phoenix is far from the North Phoenix suburban neighborhood my mom takes pride in raising me in.  Born and raised in a working class Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, she’ll do whatever she must to provide her daughters the socioeconomic privileges of middle class status.  The drive is daunting: my neurotic mother schleps me along, as I am resistant to go.

“Maybe the doctor can fix your feet,” she says from behind the wheel.

I shrug my shoulders, say nothing, and continue staring out the front passenger window of the SUV.  I am truly at a loss for words.  The ambivalence is too stark—one thought process feels a sense of relief at the notion of being “fixed.”  The other thought process, the feeling in my gut, wrenches at the idea.  My mom keeps talking.

“You know, your sister was born pigeon-toed, too.  By then the doctors had come up with corrective baby feet braces.  She wore them the first two years of her life.  They didn’t have anything like that for you, though,” she explains.  I already knew the story; she’s recited it to me countless times.  I even know where she keeps the baby-feet-brace mementos: in the special storage box high in the downstairs closet.  I often sneak down there, climb up into the box, and look at the little braces.  I hold them in the palms of my hands and wonder why science had failed me at birth.

“I know,” I respond to her recitation.  My words to my mother are often short and abrupt.  We pull into the parking lot; the office building is stacked with dark red bricks and has a fountain flowing in the entrance.  No matter the desert drought we’re experiencing.  I pass through the automatic doors, and a whoosh of icy air conditioning slides across my neck.

X-rays—we need x-rays!  The official science technology will authorize the pathologization of my pigeon-toedness.  Was there Latin terminology to name my pending diagnosis?  Certainly there is!  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (very authoritative and all-knowing, omniscient institutions of knowledge production), Metatarsus adductus (MTA) is a foot deformity: the bones in the front half of the foot bend or turn in toward the body.  Deformity? According to my dear friend Merriam-Webster, deformity means: imperfection, blemish: as A) a physical blemish or distortion: disfigurement, and/or B) a moral or aesthetic flaw or defect.  The language at hand reflects how the medical model negatively classifies nonnormative bodies as unfit, defective, or abnormal.  Bodily variations that do not meet standard ableist criteria are viewed as having something intrinsically wrong them that need to be cured.  And yet, the transparent knowledge of x-rays will report my MTA to be more “severe” than this standardized definition suggests.

The nurse practitioner leads me through the maze of hallways to what appears like a series of dressing rooms in a department store.  She slides a curtain open and invites me to step inside.  Her instructions: strip naked, put your clothes in the cubby, and wrap the gown around your body.  Am I complicit in the medicalization of my beloved pigeon-toed legs?  At age ten, I’m only doing what my mother says is best, and what the nurses officially know how to do.  Besides, seeing my own bones against the bright x-ray screen is fascinating and surreal.

Diagnosis: pigeon-toed from the hip down.  Whereas MTA is commonly in the feet and ankles, my legs are entirely turned inward from top to bottom.  First opinion: corrective surgery at the ankles.  This should fix the appearance of walking “normal.”

“So my legs would be turned inward but my feet would be turned outward?” I ask, slightly panicked.

“Yes,” the surgeon replies in his German accent.  “It would be far easier, quicker, and less painful of a procedure.”  Or, you mean, more economically profitable within your capitalist cost-benefit analysis?  Less risky under the choke-hold of private insurance companies?

“But what about sports?  Would this change how fast I run?”

“It’s hard to say,” he says coldly.  “I’ll let you two think about this for a moment while I step out of the room.”

I feel like ducking for cover.  How can I get out of this?  “I don’t want to do this,” I blurt out as my mom reads some pamphlets.  She is startled by my claim.

“Brooke,” she says sternly.  “What about when you’re walking down the aisle?  You don’t want to look like a slob at your wedding, do you?”

My mom excuses me today from my fifth grade summer school program.  She herself has even taken off work.  Second opinion: another orthopedic surgeon’s office somewhere in the sweltering mirage-inducing black asphalt of downtown Phoenix.  X-rays and proper documents are in my mother’s possession.  Our seemingly smooth access to specialized opinions and medicine exemplifies our white socioeconomic privilege, healthcare coverage since birth—my dad a hardworking business man with salary and benefits.  He’d rather be a radio sports broadcaster, he tells me later in my life, it’s his dream job—and believe me, he’d be great.  But sacrifices must be made to sustain the nuclear heteronormative family.  My mother, too, gave up the life of art and design for full-time hourly wage in order to raise her two daughters.  She and I stroll up to the building, and I squint at the brightness of the white walls, inside and out.  Sterile; and the high-ceiling lobby with granite tile echoes our every shuffling sound.  Fake plants hover in the corners.  Wait a second, I recognize this building.  It’s where I go to be tested for my scoliosis.

No more x-rays needed, instead I proceed through a regime of diagnostic assessment.  This doctor is much nicer and I think he remembers me.  Tests, tricks, games: without trying to correct your stride, walk down this long hallway in a straight line.  Okay, now take off your shoes and socks and walk down the hallway again.  Walk backwards.  Side to side.  Jump.  Skip down the hallway.  Jog, sprint, run down the hallway.  Walk back slowly.  Sit up on this table, and let your feet dangle over the side.  Do they normally turn inward like that?  How does it feel when I turn them out like this?  It’s painful?  Uncomfortable?  Okay.

The proposal for cure: corrective surgery, from the hip down.  Either break both legs at once, re-set them, and be in a wheelchair for six months, or break one leg at a time and be on crutches for a year.  After they heal, physical therapy for one year minimum.  “Oh, the last surgeon said he’d go at you in the ankles?  Bad idea.  It’s the entire leg that’s turned inward, not just at the ankle.  I wouldn’t be comfortable with that,” the doctor muses.

And I think about being in a wheelchair for half a year.  I think about bending it like Beckham, the fifty-yard dash, and my impromptu freak-show performances at recess.  I do not, I do not, think about timelessly gliding down the wedding aisle.

I look up and see my mom picking out a date on the calendar with the surgeon, five weeks from now—making sure I’d have enough time to recuperate before my sixth grade year begins.  The doctor pulls out more paperwork and my mom scribbles in the necessary information to secure my upcoming surgery date.  Both legs at once.

It’s family movie-night: dad, mom, me and Britt peruse the “New Releases” wall around the inside perimeter of Blockbuster from A-Z.  Little signs hang in-between every other section in royal blue and mustard yellow, rhyming “Be Kind, Rewind.”  My hand traces across the VHS case for Now and Then, and I admire to myself Christina Ricci’s classic tomboy character.  My eyes fixate on her casual stature, jeans and t-shirt style, hands in her pockets.  I love her face.  And she even gets to kiss Devon Sawa.  I blush as I recall the scene in my mind.  I could never watch this movie with my parents!  Moving along to the next couple letters in the alphabet with Brittany trailing close behind me, we land on the movie Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Toons squad, and cheer in unison at our selection.  Mom gives in; dad willfully supports our decision and secretly buys us a Kit Kat at the check-out counter away from my mom’s obsessive calorie-counting scrutiny.

Sneaking Britt and I our favorite candy is always an under-cover operation for my dad.  My mom doesn’t stop at the legs: she disciplines her daughters’ bodies from head to toe, and my body in particular.  I’m very protective of my sister, so if and when my mom torments her, I fight back with twice the fire.  At ten years old, I’m restricted to fat-free milk (more like milky water), and low-fat, low-sodium wheat thins (adult food already?).  Everything she gets grocery shopping is some combination of low-fat, non-fat, fat free, sugar free, low sodium, low calorie.  My teeth are another project for my mom.  I’ve already had braces across the top row of teeth (when I was 8 years old)—I’ve had retainers, expanders (to crank my molars into place since apparently they were out of place), and a headgear.  A headgear is that contraption in cartoons the super nerdy kids wear and get beat-up for it at recess.  Thankfully the orthodontist spared me from being socially ostracized and prescribed me to lock it in my jaw and around my head immediately when I got home from school until I woke up the next morning.  That lasted about six months, to fix my “cross-bite.”  It’s no wonder my parents won’t be able to afford to pay for my college tuition.  Looking socially acceptable costs a fortune.

Yet my mother’s obsession with the ideal body is not so simple.  On top of achieving the impossible beauty ideal that western society tells us to achieve, there’s other factors that complicate the story.  Not to down-play the power of discourse, certainly the media floods our psyches with misogynistic portrayals of women that affect how we see and treat ourselves.  Popular media is rampant with images that train our minds to be and think a certain way—attempting to attain certain beauty characteristics such as thinness, hair styled, make up, clothes, and more.  This is ableism.  To idealize a particular body and to comply with subsequent disciplining regimes of self-care is what makes able-bodiedness compulsory: the ideal body seemingly within reach yet perpetually out of sight.  In this sense, my mom is in a weight-loss battle with life.  She was, what she calls, obese in high school.  I’ve known this about my mother since I can remember, as she used her own life story for leverage when threatening us before the long, glorious aisle of cascading chips and cookies on our trips to the grocery store.  She will tell me in my teen years that her obesity, in her eyes, meant no high school proms and no dating.  In college, she confesses to me when I’m older, she went on a crackers and diet soda diet (also known as anorexia).

After losing a drastic amount of weight, she joined the frightening world of Greek Life, where she met my father.  I would argue that my mother has chronic anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder to this day—not to psychopathologize, but I am trying to make a point.  It’s no wonder, her first daughter and oldest child now embarking on the second decade of her fruitful life, that my very presence in the household would be such an inner psychological and embodied struggle for her.  On top of it all, her side of the family (all them Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent) has carried many struggles with obesity, to the point where a handful of cousins and aunts have had their stomachs stapled or undergone gastric bypass surgery.  The legacy of anti-Semitism also embeds itself within our bodies, written on our flesh, passed on from one generation to the next.  Assimilate or die.  Looking “normal,” to my mother, also means decreasing the chances of positioning my body as a target for assault, for violence.  In addition to the painful processes of female subjectification through the discourse of the ideal feminine body, this family genealogy and larger historical context seems to feed and justify my own mother’s chronic self-starvation and traumatic stress, and further justifies projecting her insecurities and psychiatric illnesses onto me through things like abusive corrective surgeries, invasive dental work, and tasteless low-fat wheat thins with a glass of milk water.  At ten years old, I’m hiding a box of double-stuffed Oreos under my bed.  My heart pounds as I eat them furiously alone in my room, listening intently for the sound of footsteps stomping up the stairs.

On the drive home from Blockbuster I consider the implications of my impending surgery.  Will I ever be the same again?  What will Brittany, my kid-sister, think?  What about when you’re walking down the aisle?  Walk straight, walk normal.  Concentrate on walking straight.  Practice.  You look like a slob.  There, that’s better.  Is that so hard to do?  What about your wedding when you’re wearing high heels?  Concentrate.

We pull into the driveway, and the garage door closes behind us.  I can hear Barclay, our family-dog (a brown and white Shih-Tzu), whimpering and scratching the walls in excitement in the laundry room upon our arrival.  I squeeze through after my mother to make sure he does not escape into the dusty, hot, two-car garage stacked with bicycles, storage shelves, and bins full of sports equipment.

“I’ll make the popcorn!” my mother announces.  This gesture excites no one but her, and maybe the dog, because, my dad, Britt and I are butter-lovers, and my mom, well, I’m sure you can guess the way she preps her popcorn: plain.  Plain: no salt, no buttah, nada.  Um, what’s the point?  I might as well snack on leftover cardboard boxes.

The movie begins and we dim the lights around the couches.  Brittany and I move down onto the carpeted floor to sit closer.  Michael Jordan gets sucked, literally, into Looney Toon land and the silly basketball adventures begin.

“Brooke!” my mom shouts in a whisper.  “Don’t sit like that.”

I’m feeling defensive after my inner dialogue on the car ride home.  “Leave me alone!” I spit bitterly back at her, over my shoulder.

Don’t sit like that,” she snarls.  I watch Michael Jordon’s distinct pigeon-toed stride across the court as he approaches Bugs Bunny.  “Sit cross-legged.”

“I can’t!” I shout.  “It doesn’t feel good.  This way is more comfortable.”

“Wendi, leave her alone,” my dad murmurs.

“David!” she exclaims in disbelief, slapping her knee for effect.  “The way she’s sitting just makes it worse.”

“She’s fine,” he says.  “MJ didn’t turn out so bad.”  And he leans over to tickle my mom in the rib.  She tries her hardest not to laugh, not to smile, not to change her ways.

My mom is frantic, getting cold feet, having second guesses, wondering if she should have me go through with the surgery.  She barges into my bedroom, and I’m sitting at my desk reading Nancy Drew.  Scrounging through the disarray of the clearance section, I found a Nancy Drew six-pack of the first six volumes at the bookstore that my dad takes me to, and the books they’re all in shiny hardback bind.  I love the smooth hard cover and the pointy edges protecting the crisp pages inside.  Like fresh dollar bills, the texture almost the same.  I love the sound the crisp, fresh, one-dollar-bill pages make whenever I turn one over.  The beautiful sound of paper felt through my fingertips.

“Brooke,” she says to me, her urgent tone pleads that I place the bookmark in and set the enthralling mystery aside.  “Do you want to have the surgery?” she asks me, for the first time.  For the first time.  She finally asks.  Maybe she wants sympathy, I think she wants this because I can hear it in her voice, that rare tone my mother gives when she’s asking for sympathy, almost asking for forgiveness but not quite articulating that she’s sorry.  No she never says she’s sorry.  I can’t give her sympathy, even though a small part of me wishes that all of me could, and instead I give her anger.  How could she now, just now, finally ask me?  After all this?  She expects to put the burden on me, now?

The skin on my arms it prickles and the hairs they stand up in solidarity, ready to protect me.  Tiny little hairs, fierce, erect, ready to fight, my teeth, they clench and grind and I want to answer her question but I am so shocked and angry that I find myself in silence, I release the strain of molar against molar and find my mouth open, my jaw ajar.

“Do you want to have the surgery?” she asks again, as though maybe I didn’t hear her the first time.

Do I want to have the surgery? Do I want to have the surgery!  I want to shout it, I want to scream it.  To me it’s a crude rhetorical question, an insult, a spat in the goddamn face.  But I can’t even say a word.

Third opinion: doctor’s office not quite an office, but more like a den, a study den, with a lower ceiling and rustic wooden furniture.  A dark, burgundy wood that invites me to sit and ponder thoughts, deep thoughts, surrounded by lots of books in a dark burgundy wooden bookshelf full of lots of crisp, beautiful-sounding pages.  The doctor—an older white man with white hair and a white facial beard with eyewear like my poppy, the kind with large lenses and thin bronzed wire frames—asks me to sit up on the patient’s table.  He squints at the x-rays illuminated behind my head.  He squints at them for a brief second, glances at my chart, then looks over at me.  My mother, she stands next to the patient’s table, waiting anxiously for any word that might drop out of the doctor’s mouth.  I know she needs the reassurance, I know she needs a doctor to tell her that I don’t need surgery.  I couldn’t bring myself to say no to her.  Maybe he will, I know she’s hoping he will.

“So tell me why you’re here,” the doctor says, to me.  To me!

“Um, I’m pigeon-toed,” I answer.

He looks squarely at me and pauses, then remarks, “I see,” with a certain curiosity, like we’re in a Nancy Drew mystery—detectives putting the clues together one by one.

“And is there something wrong with your pigeon-feet?”

I shrug my shoulders.  “I can run fast at school!” I proclaim, my eyes open-wide from the thrill of speaking my pigeon-toed pride aloud.  “And I’m good at soccer.”

“Mhm,” he recites like a line from Sherlock Holmes.  “Do you ever trip over your feet?”

“Well, yeah, sometimes I guess.  But not very often at all.”

“Do kids make fun of you at school?”

I never really thought about it like that before.  “I don’t think so.”  The doctor, talking to me, asking me questions, is a different experience for me than with the other orthopedic surgeons.  The other doctors, they so readily diagnosed me, so readily assessed and prescribed corrective surgery.  All it took was one visit per doctor—and they’re ready to cut.  To turn me into a cyborg—I’m both disturbed and fascinated by the thought, not quite sure what it all really means.  Both surgeries, either at the ankles or the hips, would require hardware screwed into my bones.  Would I beep through security at the airport?  Would I have scars in my hips, in my ankles, forever marking the authoritative hand of medicine on my flesh?  Where is the line drawn between corrective surgery for ‘pathological deviance,’ and plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes?  Where would my corrective surgery fall between such distinctions?  Did I really have something wrong with me that anesthesia, sharp blades, bolts and screws, lots of blood, lots of stitches, lots of scars, and lots of post-op pain could “fix”?

First opinion.  Second opinion.  Now third opinion.  My mom, she hardly speaks this go around.  The doctor hardly asks her a thing.  This changes my experience with and approach to medicine and doctors entirely.  This doctor wants to know how I experience my body.  He does not want to know what others’ perceptions are of me, per se, like that of my own worried mother, but rather, how I experience others’ perceptions.  For instance, do kids at school make fun of me?  It depends.  In some ways yes, in some ways no, but kids are mean to each other regardless since we’re engrained from such an early age that there are indeed freaks and weirdos: like nerds, like booger-eating slimy outsiders, like chubby dweebs, like Jews, like the one Black kid in the whole fifth grade, like brown-skinned non-native English speakers, like the masturbating child, like the kid who is left-handed, like the kid with a lazy eye, with a speech impediment, with a stutter, with a runny nose, with too much spit, with a big nose, with big ears, with dyslexia, with duck feet, or, with pigeon-feet.  All us freaks and weirdos: being stared at, regulated, disciplined, feared, loathed, despised, pushed into isolation—all for being who we are perceived to be, not for being who we say we are.  So here I am, saying who I am, and I demand that you listen, listen hard, and rip out those presuppositions, discard your fear, and re-perceive the idea of me and my freakery and all those other weird kids who sit or stand beside me, next to me, and with my pigeon-feet.

“Okay,” he ponders as he reads over my chart a second time.  “Does being pigeon-toed hurt?  As in, physically, does it give you any physical pain?”

I think for a moment.  “Only when I’m sitting criss-cross-Apple-sauce on the floor,” I respond.  “It’s the way it turns my legs, it makes them sore.”

And then, the question is asked.  He asks, “do you want to have surgery?”  His question provokes much deliberation in my head, the context so different from when my mom asked, and I deliberate as I attempt to speak it out loud, as my mother chimes in, as the doctor listens hard, as I try to figure out how to say what I want to say, as I realize that the doctor has not suggested once that my legs need to be fixed, and this realization gives me the confidence to say, No.  No I do not want the surgery.

The doctor listens and responds to my spoken thoughts, “Alright then.  I do not recommend any surgery.  You are fine just the way you are.”

Left - kid sis; right - pigeon-feet.