In a brilliant bouquet of images, Katherine Page interprets the experience of feeling separate from one’s own body after sexual trauma. Page beautifully reimagines what constitutes one’s physical being and one’s sense of self. Amongst the shifting ways one sees one’s own body in tandem with one’s life experience, Page offers clarity, healing, and a found togetherness with one’s own body as well as with loved ones and partners.
Lost and Found
by Katherine Page
My body moved away from me when I was 18. Or perhaps, I moved away from it. Or maybe we both simultaneously divided, bolted in opposite directions like synchronous swimmers drowning, tumbling through murky water with a waning awareness of which direction to find the sky. A rape will do this to a person. I spent hours looking in the mirror and running my hands gently over a face I did not recognize. Whose freckles were these? Whose irises? Whose bones? I felt new skin in the shower that could not be my own.
Do you know what it’s like to lose your body?
It’s like trying to fall asleep when you know all the doors of your house are propped wide open, screens slamming, banging locks missing latches in the windy night. It’s waking in a hotel room, gasping in the darkness, the moments of disorientation before remembering. It’s slowly forgetting the before, like grains of sand sifting out of a clenched fist, a book blistered and bumpy from rain, the pages so delicate as you try to separate them and put them out to dry. It’s someone inside of you when you don’t want them to be. It’s blood on a sheet and a white ceiling with a corner cobweb and a long crack of paint and a silent plane ride and nowhere to run.
For a decade I thought: if I shrink my exterior, some original part of me might poke through and herniate my old house into being. If I cut this shell I’m in, red will drip out in pearl sized globes, and my body will snap back into me. But the most I felt was a novacained pressure, a ghost on a mattress, footprints in snow. I felt a phantom pain from my body’s absence. I knew it was out there, moving around, maybe searching for me too. On late night train rides back from the city, as the car clacked and emptied with each stop north, I would stare at passing reflections and wonder where it was, this body of mine. Sometimes I almost caught it; in a belly laugh with friends, a floating on sunshine water, on bruise colored mornings when my dog’s steady snores would warm the sheets around me, or the movement of my life to the mountains, driving across the winter plains and seeing red-tailed hawks in flight.
This year in early September, I went to the outdoor wedding party of a friend I’ve met since moving to this new place. It was held at a yurt, about half a mile up a dirt road at Tennessee Pass, fifteen minutes outside of town. I invited the woman I love, and together we danced with red wine warming our veins. I could feel the earth beneath me, its rotation, my own cellular electricity. My body felt close to me now. It was hiding in the high boughs of the pine trees, a shadow shyly lurking just beyond the noise.
When the wedding was over, on our stumbling walk back to the car, we held hands, this magnificent woman and I. We bobbed apart and back together again like thin stones in the wash at the water’s edge. I worried we might fall, but we didn’t. Our headlamps illuminated the few feet in front of us, a small, shining pocket in the dark and quiet forest. Cold mountain nights seem to brighten the stars, so for just a moment, we turned off our headlamps and looked up. The atoms of my insides expanded into constellations. Her hand was still in mine. I heard a rustling in the woods and I knew my body was getting closer. My heart became an aspen leaf, a sailboat, a pinprick of light in the Milky Way. I clicked my lamp back on and turned it toward the trees. Are you there? I thought, even though I knew the answer.
My love turned her lamp on as well and smiled at me, pulling my face closer to hers. She looked into my eyes and it was just us, our safety in the darkness, a smile, a brilliance, and I started to remember. And my fists filled up with grains of sand for me to build bricks and walls and castles, and a flicker filled my bones, and suddenly like a river, and after forever like a canyon, with a luminous surprise and a deepest sort of knowing, my body popped back into me. And together we continued our walk down the rocky path.
Katherine Page is a teacher living in Leadville, Colorado.