Muscle Memory

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I am six years old, in blue underwear, running through the sprinklers at my grandma’s house. My sister is crying because the water is frigid and the weather outside is not quite warm enough for her standards. My brother and I frolic across a huge stretch of grass, unsure if the game is to avoid the spray of water or chase it. I am fast, and strong and free and most of all, I feel an undeniable sense of oneness with my unblemished, chubby body.

What if we carried memories in different parts of our body? What if our toes remembered the sand from the beach we visited as a toddler, or our shoulders remembered the hands of a lover? Hair may be cut and skin cells may die and be shed, but perhaps it’s about location--our body’s relationship with past environments and people. Although the twinge is felt by my brain, the scar on my left elbow seems to carry a story within the very fibers of its dark tissue. The flat spot on the back of my head carries with it, the memory of impact. Touching these landmines triggers a tiny explosion of emotion and nostalgia. I am taken back in time to a point where I still have all my baby teeth, and acne scarring is a term I can’t even begin to comprehend.

I am receiving a flu shot from my mom in the comfort of her bedroom. My mind goes black as I fall and hit my head on the floor. Suddenly I am waiting at the bus stop at school. It is the end of the day and I’m ready to go home. My friend Cynthia and I discuss our math homework. Our conversation is interrupted by my mother. She kneels over me as I regain consciousness. I thought I was at school, worrying about Calculus. The indention on my once round head tells another story. My mind apparently went on a journey without inviting my body.

My scalp remembers the sharp pain of my mother pulling my hair into thick, tight braids. “Don’t worry, they’ll loosen throughout the day,” she says. She lightly smacks my forehead, “Hold still! It’ll be your fault if they’re crooked!” When the holidays come around, my sister and I negotiate who will get their hair done first. I decide to take the plunge. The heat of the curling iron twirls too closely to my skin causing me to flinch and burn myself anyway. My mother’s small hands can achieve quite a vice grip.

My time as a varsity tennis player in high school granted me dark skin, thick quads, and sore joints. I am tall and clumsy and slow. I'm getting mad at my legs for not moving fast enough to return a drop-shot. Every time I lose a point, I smack my legs with my racket and question why I even bother to play this stupid game. Every time I serve the ball, my long, thick braid gets caught in my armpit. I cut it off at the end of the season.

I’m 17 and I'm getting drunk with my tennis coaches. I have never had a drink before but doing so with older guys makes me feel mature and rebellious. The stuff tastes awful but I sip it down, because from what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to make you feel good. I can tell it’s kicking in when I go to grab my jacket and fall on my butt instead. This loss of control is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It is relieving and warm and it makes me laugh. By the end of the night I am throwing up in the bathroom. I cannot stop shivering and worrying about my approaching curfew. My coach holds back my long brown hair and tells me everything is going to be alright. I wish they were my mother’s hands instead.

I’m 19 and I’m throwing up in a McDonald’s bathroom but this time no one is holding my hair and I am not drunk. I wiggle my fingers along the back of my throat until burgers and fries and drinks come pouring out of my mouth. It’s a lot like tickling your nose until you sneeze. You do something voluntary until your body has an involuntary reaction. Eating begins to lose its luster, but the empty hollow feeling gets better and better each time. It’s not very nice to play games with your body like this, but I do it because it makes me feel like the number 0 . . . only less round. I enjoy the feeling of expulsion and the sense of control.The prepubescent body is just a bonus. A nosy little girl peeks her head under the stall to see what all the noise is. She asks me why I'm throwing up. I tell her I'm sick.

I’m 21 and I am sitting on the wet grass. There are cops and an ambulance nearby. My car is steaming and rain is falling, making it look as though my car were crying. They ask me if I’ve had anything to drink, and it is then, that I remember who I am and what I’ve just done. I remember buying a bottle of rum and walking around downtown by myself. I remember blurred faces asking if I was alright and then, a deflated airbag in my lap.
The memories of drunken nights throughout the past years come flooding back as I am being eased into the ambulance. I remember striving to numb my body, drown out the memories in every bump and crevice of my soft body. I remember falling. A lot. Discovering new bruises after every night of intoxicated adventures. I can remember my frail body unable to find a comfortable position to sleep in. I remember filling my stomach with booze instead of food. I remember taking autonomy for granted; yearning to lose control of my mind and limbs. I remember the moment I started to forget. I remember my mother’s hands.