When my mother tried to take me to swimming classes all I did was hold back tears and let them go under the water where it was warm and blurry. The tears burned, or maybe that was chlorine. I hated feeling the cold on my knees when I was tucked up against the wall, ready to start a backstroke.
After I swam, she washed chlorine out of my hair. The coarseness of the strands against my shoulder blades made me cry. More water, no matter what, tears were just another form of drowning. My face was soaked, and my throat was cold.
The tenseness of the stomach is the worst facet of dry bowels. You may engage in rubbing or squeezing— sometimes I have in engaged both at the same time. The key is use different parts of the hands. The more you think about the hand, the more you realize how versatile it is. It can act as three people at once, six if you use both. Thumbs, wrists, and other fingers. With hands on my stomach I can sit at my desk and try to exercise out the pain. I’ve seen people do this in slight, thinking they are so discrete nobody notices. On the subway, when someone’s hand lies on their stomach, I wonder, are you just like me?
My nails have made crescent moons in the palm of my heads.
My head has left this earth and found another, calmer, but fierier one.
In fact, she is engulfed in blue flames, that earth.
So blue in fact, that nobody sees how she weeps.
When I’m skating, I stay close to the edges even if there’s no enclosure. My teeth are clenched, and my shoulders are tight. Sometimes if it’s cold I have to wear a hat, so sometimes the hat threatens to fall down over my eyes. That’s the most frightening, because then I have to raise a hand to put it back into place. The ice is always too bright, especially when it’s overcast and the sun makes the sky look stark headache-white. Sometimes I imagine I am part of a sitcom, like when the character goes to skating a rink and a crowd skates around them in the opposite direction. A moment of vertigo in which you might fall, you might. Little girls remember this feeling for life.
The hardness of the stomach begs the wearing of sweatpants instead of mom-jeans. But what if I needed to look put together? I would suck in my stomach, would withhold the pain from the hem of my pants just so I could make a good impression. Zipping my pants up over the lump in my stomach makes me laugh, then makes me want to strip and go back to bed. I don’t though, I still go.
Where is the space that space that was my heart? I’m nothing but a beating chest.
I comb through my unwashed hair with my fingers and disgust myself with its oiliness. Maybe it’s been three or four weeks now; I haven’t brought myself to stand under the shower head and give myself up to a gentle drown. A flash of pain to the chest does nothing to encourage me. When I run my crescent moons under a cold tap, it stings, which is a good enough distraction.
I try to drink it down so it dilutes into me, and sometimes the pain leaves me. Sometimes only the tension remains as a shadow of my non-compliant system. When it does soften and wash out of me, I hesitantly thank the water for giving me the chance to feel relief.
In the streetcar my jeans press even deeper into that crevice. When I arrive, my friend looks at me and I lay my hands over my stomach and endure the pregnant pause. Maybe I do not even look swollen, but I feel parts of my body growing larger as they are gazed at. I smile the best my red cheeks will allow.
It strikes me in the gut when I realize that water constantly permeates my body. Even when I sleep. When I leave my friend an hour earlier than I said I would—as karma, the streetcar home is delayed. Even when I wake up and wash my face. When my body recoils at the accidental taste of tap water from the bathroom sink, the same ions are inside of me, welcoming their familiar molecules into their host. Down deep into the crevices of my organs and my veins they are shaming me for my lack of acceptance. “What’s this?” they ask, “you think you are so opaque that you are not a human?”
Even when I feel dry, so dry that I begin to crack and my stomach begins to solidify the warm waste inside of me, I am full of water.
And each person— didn’t I always say I loved humans and their solidity— the people I loved the most are beings of water.
When I’m bruised and ice myself— water.
When I’m thirsty and I drink. Or hen the final episode of American Idol airs and I cry because I grew up with Ryan Seacrest, or maybe it is PMS.
When I’m down at Lake Ontario, wondering what will become of this city and this weeping earth and this country and all its people and I wondering what is mine— is the water mine?— as I wonder why the suns seems to get dimmer these days, as I consider letting my toe get wet and as I pull it out dry. Water.
Pulling my hands out from under the tap, I see that the crescent moons have faded into the fleshy pink sky. I mutter an apology to my hands, and I wonder.
What does it mean that the very things that cause discomfort live entirely within the self?
Hadiyyah Kuma is from Toronto, Ontario. Her work has been or will be featured in places like the Jellyfish Review, the Hart House Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Mojave Heart. Find more of her writing here, and find her on Twitter and Instagram.