Susan Holcomb


Asha Dore

Your Body

Susan Holcomb

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                                       says my oldest friend when I tell her I am pregnant. She is
                                                                       keen   to   share   the   horrors   of  her   own  delivery:   the
                                                                       third-degree   tear,   the   bladder   prolapse,   the   ongoing
                                                                       unpleasant  state of  her stomach.  “No one tells  you this,”
                                                                       she  says,  “but  they  permanently  warp   your  rib   cage.”
                                                                       “They?” I ask, thinking she means the doctors. “The baby,”
                                                                       she  clarifies.  “They force  your  ribs apart  like  when  you
                                                                       butcher  a  cow.”  On the coffee  cups  between  us  are  two
                                                                       red-stamped            brontosauruses.        I       imagine      my
                                                                       soon-to-be-altered rib  cage becoming a fossil. “But having
                                                                       your baby makes it worth it, right?” I ask. My friend sneaks
                                                                       a glance at my still-flat stomach, nodding.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                                       say all  the moms  on  Instagram,  “BECAUSE  IT  CREATED
                                                                       A  MIRACLE!”  Famous  models  post  bikini  pictures   days
                                                                       after giving birth;  moms of multiples bare their  distended
                                                                       abdomens.  At  six  months  pregnant,  I  somehow  end  up
                                                                       following     dozens    of   devoutly   Christian   women   with
                                                                       between  six  and  thirteen children.  They take photos  with
                                                                       their  husbands  and all  their kids wearing  matching  footie
                                                                       pajamas. They live in bloated suburban houses or converted
                                                                       school  buses;    they  speak  sincerely of  their  “relationship
                                                                       with  God.”   Shamefully,  I  am  just  here  for  the  bodies.   I
                                                                       touch  my ever-more-rounded  belly and try to divine what it
                                                                       will  look  like  in  three months,  four months,  five.  I  scroll
                                                                       until my  feed  is  nothing but  naked  bellies,  stretch  marks
                                                                       patterned  around  the  navel  like  the  markings  on  a  sand
                                                                       dollar, ancient things etched over millennia.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                                       I   think   as  I  hold  my   six-month-old  daughter  up  to  the
                                                                       mirror.  By this stage of parenthood,  I no  longer cradle  her
                                                                       with both arms.  She’s sturdy  enough now to be  propped on
                                                                       one hip,  and even if  I did start to drop her  she would  cling
                                                                       to  me like  a koala.  I notice  my  arms  are different:  a thick
                                                                       triangle   of  muscle   has   built   up   near   the   shoulder.    I
                                                                       remember  being  so  sore the  first few  months  after  giving
                                                                       birth, carrying my eight-pound baby all around the house as
                                                                       she refused to sleep. Now she is twice the size she was
                                                                       then, but my arms are too strong to feel sore.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

says the doctor as he takes the cast  off my wrist.  I am nine
years old:  I fell off the monkey bars.  I didn’t break  my arm
but I did smash the growth plate: that chunk of tissue at the
wrist  is now  crinkled like a crushed  Coke can.  After I  fell,
my mother  thought I was faking it,  and she sent  me to bed
with a copy  of Vanity Fair  wrapped around my  arm to keep
it straight. I stayed awake all night as the pain throbbed and
subsided, subsided  and  throbbed,  until finally  we went  to
the ER in the morning.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                            says the  dentist as  he  cements  my crown  into  place.  At
                            twenty-six,   I’ve  cracked  my  second  molar:   I’ll  wear   a
                            mouth guard to sleep for the rest of my life. Stress, biology,
                            a  deficiency  in  magnesium:  no matter  the reason,  I just
                            can’t stop grinding my teeth.  The dentist says  TMJ is more
                            common among women. Grind hard enough, long enough,
                            and you can change the shape of your face.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                           says the instructor at the yoga retreat in Santa Barbara. My
                                           husband and I are here for our tenth wedding anniversary,
                                           and   every  day    we  FaceTime    with   our   eight-year-old
                                           daughter.  “With every moment of your practice,”  the yoga
                                           instructor  says,   “you’re  changing  your  flexibility,  you’re
                                           changing your circulatory health.” The instructor tells us to
                                           imagine our  bodies filling  with  yellow  light.  I inhale  and
                                           my breath expands in my forever-altered rib cage.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                        says my husband  as we ride  our bikes  up a hill.  We are in
                                                        our  sixties and I  am out of  breath,  rebuilding my stamina
                                                        after my knee replacement last summer. The scar at the top
                                                        of    my   knee  prickles;   a  strange   sensation   of    warmth
                                                        emanates.  “It’s important  to stay active,”  my husband says,
                                                        “because,  you know,  someday soon…” I nod.  Our daughter
                                                        is      newly     married:      we’re     hoping,    this     year,     for

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                                       say the dead bodies in the crypt on the day I arrive.

                                                        I have died after a long illness: my body is emaciated, old and

                  (“Your body will never be what it used to be,”
                  said the doctor when he handed down the fatal diagnosis.)

                                                                       The long-dead’s sense of superiority is the most annoying
                                                                       thing about them: of course I know my body won’t be what
                                                                       it used to be; already so much has changed!

                                                                                      I’ve felt my lips turn cold, the rigor mortis spread
                                                                                      down my limbs, the tickling sensation of my soul
                                                                                      curling up and out through my rib cage.

                  “But you have no idea,” the long-dead insist, “what it will actually feel like
                  as your flesh gets eaten up by maggots, as your skeleton decays.”

                            Merge me with the earth!
                                                        Merge me with the earth!

                            I think irritably, and hope the maggots will make for better company.

“Your body will never be what it used to be,”

                                                                       say the other babies in the NICU to my day-old

                                                                       These babies have been here many weeks, hooked up
                                                                       to feeding tubes and pulse oximeters—

my daughter is just here for an overnight
assessment of her lungs. But the other
babies feel compelled to initiate even the
NICU day-trippers into all they know.
                                                                                                     “We are still young enough to remember,”
                                                                                                    they whisper through their ragged breathing,

                                                                       “when we were encased in our mothers’
                                                                       wombs, when we didn’t have skeletons,
                                                                       when our eyes couldn’t see.

“We remember when we were zygotes,
individual cells, atoms waiting to assemble.

                  “Back then we could go anywhere, through
                  fallopian tubes or down the toilet;

                            “we could choose whether to be or not to be.”

                                                                                                     In my daughter’s direction, they whisper:

“Your body will never be what it used to be:

                                                        intergalactic, all-encompassing, nothing and everything.”

                                                        My daughter takes their words in
                                                        sleeping, half-smiling in the way that
                                                        newborns do, until finally she opens
                                                        her eyes to the bright light overhead.

Susan Holcomb holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and studied for a PhD in physics at Cornell. Her writing has been published in the Southern Indiana Review, Epiphany, The Boston Globe, Crab Creek Review, Ghost Parachute, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.