The Body Is a Wild, Wild Thing
My mother never wore a bra; instead, she regularly wore shirts that said, flat is beautiful or boobies are for babies, her little breasts hanging low, her nipples arrogant, hard, always poking through the material. It embarrassed me. When I was fifteen, I asked her as she was getting dressed, “Why, Mom, why don’t you even own a bra?” She turned to me shirtless and asked, “Do you know the reason men have nipples?” “No,” I shrugged. She said, “To remind them of what they could have been.”
“Do you want to see a match burn twice,” my father asked me one day. We were sitting on the couch. We were alone, a rare occasion. Knowing my father, I was certain it was a trap, but said “Okay” anyway. I craved the attention. He took out his matchbook, something he always had on him, sliding it from the pack of Kools. He struck a match and it sizzled into a flame. He let it burn. A match burning is a beautiful thing. Like a fist unfurling. I watched, waiting. He looked at me and then back at the burning match. I heard him inhale and blow it out. Then without hesitating he touched the ember, orange and glowing, to my forearm. “Get it,” he laughed, “It burned twice.” It’s a trick that can only work once. I often wonder how long he waited to play it on me. I marvel at his patience, his determination every time I touch the scar.
My beard makes me feel ugly and that’s why I grow it out every few months; it’s wooly, unkempt, dirty, not the sexy man-stubble of so many Hollywood stars nor lined-up and trimmed like the plethora of cute hipster Oakland boys. It’s graying and puffy in all the wrong places; I grow it out again and again discovering how my perception of my body and my beauty are not found in me, but in what others see. I grow it out to relearn my own beauty, to find my discomfort liberating, to remember the body is a wild, wild thing and will find its own form if I just trust it.
Any time I got a bloody noose as a young boy, I would let it bleed, let the blood run into my mouth, turn my teeth red, drip down my chin, savor the strange metallic taste, the oily consistency, the way it would dry on my skin. “Blood,” my father always threatened, “blood is what matters, blood is what makes you who you are.” He’d hug me deep, whisper like a warning “you are my blood,” squeezing me till I hurt, “you my blood.” In the mirror, alone I’d repeat, “my blood, my blood,” over and over until the words lost meaning.
Some people when they first hold their child, still slick and warm from the womb, count toes or stroke fingers, making sure all are there, everything is in order. I understand this, I do, but for me, holding my son for the first time, I couldn’t stop touching his ear, his little lobes, furry and warm, like something plucked, something fresh. I leaned in close and whispered my welcomes to him, quiet, delicate, I took his earlobes into my mouth, shuddered with the feeling of wanting to eat him whole, something perhaps only a parent can know.
There is a line in the movie The Neverending Story that made me a writer, showed me how language can mean so many different things at once. The Rockbiter says, ‘they look like such big strong hands,’ after letting go of his friends. Meaning looks can be deceiving. Meaning what he thought to be true was not true. Meaning he could not hold on to what he was trying to hold on to. Meaning no matter how strong you are, you are not strong enough. Meaning sadness, failure, loss. I look at my hands now, strong and capable. I remind myself to hold on but to not squeeze. I remind myself to say goodbye even while my hands still touch you.