by julian k. jarboe
The first nice thing I ever did to my body was tear it open.
Before then, my standard cruelty to myself was taking things in that hurt and holding them there. I said yes when I meant no: at work, at dinner, in parked cars. I tried to annihilate myself through abundance, absorbing and sloshing and wallowing along. I wanted to be swollen with misery.
When I couldn’t make enough of my own troubles I took on other people’s. I swallowed or inserted or injected some friend’s wretched situation and the accessories of their wretchedness, and in there they stayed, building up in the junkyard of abuse under my smooth young skin. God, I had great skin.
It got to be that one day I was tired. I could not tell want from habit. There weren’t friends left to take on troubles from, and the work was done, the plate empty, the cars driven home and tucked away in roomy garages beneath sleeping families.
Well, I’m practical when I’m nothing else. I got out my box cutter and I started making ways out. I sliced along the planes of my skin and squeezed until everything on the inside that ought not to have been there was on the outside again. I expected to recognize each individual trouble, but everything had melded together into a civilization of its own.
I cleaned it up with my best detergents, slowly and methodically. A whole city emerged. All the people I had used had formed alliances with one another, built striking homes from the rough materials I’d left them with. Their culture may have started in filth but it had changed and grown. Their buildings floated and spun in slow orbit of one another. Every wall was a doorway and every stair a hall and every window a skylight or escape hatch depending on the rotation of the structure at given moment.
I called it Aegis and admired it, and thought about maybe putting it back inside me to keep forever. It was a really beautiful place with so many inhabitants who deserved that beauty. I thought I deserved a little beauty, too. But when it started to float higher and away I saw that it didn’t need me anymore, and I decided to end our association on more gentle terms that it had begun. I opened the window and sent it on its away, crying as it swept into the breeze. Aegis is still out there, thriving I think.
Then it was done, so I closed myself back up. When I ran through the first aid kit I used the sewing kit and when I ran through that I used the soldering iron. Then I took a very long, very hot shower.
Some people see my stitched and bandaged gashes and my cauterized holes and say, there goes a bitch who has really fucked herself up for good. There goes a real mess. They think they’ve seen a tragedy. But these people don’t know the first thing about scars. They’ll never understand how I could be so proud.
Julian K. Jarboe is a writer and sound designer living in Salem, Massachusetts. Their work can be found at their website, toomanyfeelings.com.
Art by art editor Michelle Johnsen
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.