My Own Body

Matthew Hutson

After reading Shelley Jackson's hypertextual fiction/autobiography, The Body, along with most of my classmates' commentary, I have decided that I shouldn't try to force my thoughts into "critical theory" in traditional academic format. That's not where my feelings live. The fact that this story is hypertextual (nonlinear) needs no elaboration; hypertext has become second nature to me, so hypertextual format of "The Body" incites no original commentary, and "The Body" fits so invisibly into this format, that I have no commentary on this interaction of form and content. My concerns while exploring her web focused on shame and exposition; Shelley Jackson's willingness to reveal private details about her relationship with her body made me feel uncomfortable in several places, and I reflected on my own sometimes uncomfortable relationship with my body. Thus her story has reflected the inquisition back upon me, and it seems the only real path to take from this point is to follow her lead and dive in, head first.

When I was young, private parts were a big thing. Well, I guess they still are today, but in a different way. Years ago there was only curiosity, with a touch of humor. At six or so, my friends and would occasionally play "show and tell." We would go into the bathroom and trade glimpses. (Never more than two people would be involved, and usually we were both boys.) "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." I'm not sure why, but back then our first reaction to private parts was to laugh. It was funny to see someone's penis. Anyway, my friend would usually choose to see my penis and I would usually choose to see my friend's "bottom." I just thought that was a more interesting thing to look at with its smooth, round curves and soft flesh. That preference still lives with me, as I have little interest in looking at other people's penises, but I find the graceful rear one of the most beautiful and seductive regions on a woman's body. For some reason this doesn't apply to guy's butts. And for some reason our laughter at private parts has evolved into seduction or repulsion by private parts.

There was a brief time when everyone my age was curious about what pee and poop tasted like. Don't ask me why. I don't know of anyone who had the nerve to taste shit, but a rare few of us tasted our piss. I remember taking one small sip from a plastic cup and spitting it back out, then trying to describe the taste to friends. I couldn't really do it justice, but I didn't recommend that my friends try it.

Later in life I had the nerve to taste it again. I had read somewhere that after one eats MDMA, most of it comes out six hours later in the urine. The same goes for similar chemicals, and that's why in some cultures people drink the urine of a shaman during or after religious rituals. So anyway, I had to try it. Sometime between 6 and 12 hours after dosing, I had to pee. Surprisingly, I didn't have to pee before this, probably because MDMA dehydrates the body. I filled a jar with the warm, richly yellow fluid. There was a lot. I began to shiver. Hoping to reduce the pain, I dumped a shitload of Tang into the solution, along with a fair amount of vodka. Raising the jar to my mouth, I held my breath and pinched my nose. I knew that once I started, I couldn't stop, and then I began.

Going as quickly as possible, I made it halfway down before I had to catch my breath, and that's where I stopped. Going further was not an option; this was it. And it was enough to be proud of. A short while later, I started feeling funny, but the sensations washed over me vaguely and warmly. I felt like this for a couple hours and then felt normal. My experiment had been poorly conceived, I reflected, as the buzz could have come from psychosomatic psychology. The fair amount of vodka in the mixture had to have played a role too.

My spine is twisted. My doctor realized when I was in seventh or eighth grade that I have scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine into an elongated S-shape. Though the X-rays present a worrisome picture, casual external inspection shows little. Standing up, one shoulder droops a little below the level of the other, and when I bend forward, one half of my lower back is raised. The curvature is relatively severe by medical standards (though not so bad as to suggest operation), but I notice nothing without examination.

The spine is an important part of one's body. Duh. But this carries over into metaphor: you're spineless, or he's twisted, or she stands tall on that issue. The more my parents and doctors talked about my spine, the more crippled I felt, and the more sensitive I became to such attention. In ninth grade they talked me into using a back brace, because I was still growing and I could prevent further curvature. I refused to wear a brace 24-7, but I was willing to wear one at home at night.

This was a horrible experience. The brace was a custom molded hard plastic apparatus that wrapped around my torso from my chest down over my hips. There were three large velcro straps on the back pulling together a split in the brace. Wearing the thing was almost invisible under clothes but became very uncomfortable very quickly. I had to build up to wearing it for a few hours straight, and I frequently woke up during the night in incredible pain. My brace required frequent visits to the Children's Hospital in Boston for readjustments, measurements, and X-rays, and the fit remained quite painful for the two years that I wore it.

The brace hit me at a bad time in my life. Tired of fringe social life and what I considered a lack of success in most areas, I became harder and harder on myself in effort to effect change. This self-punishment led to a repression of my impulses and a worse repression of emotional expression. The brace symbolized and catalyzed this repression, this binding of self to forcefully counteract inherent deformities. I confined myself to a social and physical mold that constrained freedom and reinforced my self-image as a fundamentally flawed individual. I spent years escaping this cage, and I'm still not sure whether the experience bred atrophy or strength.

I feel uncomfortable taking my shirt off in public. I have had this reservation for perhaps a decade now. When I was born I had a few small moles on my body, nothing out of the ordinary, but when I got older they grew and I found more. I had a large mole on my back, about the size of a dime, and several about the size of pencil erasers. Being a perfectionist, I found these quite unpleasing aesthetically and became shameful of them. My doctor feared that a couple could develop into skin cancer, so he sent me to a dermatologist, whom I visit every six months for a check-up. The dermatologist also found concern, and has removed four so far for biopsy (though none in the last five years). I have been luck to avoid malignant tumors, and to have several spots removed at the expense of insurance, but these operations have left scars. So now I have three quite noticeable scars on my back, and I can't decide whether to cherish them as battle wounds or estrange them as defects. Bart Simpson once exclaimed that "chicks dig scars," and I pride all of my scars that have happened for other reasons (in the heat of passion while not under novicaine), but do scars from surgery count?

Discussion of Patchwork Girl Patchwork Girl Overview Screen for
Website Body and Self