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Talking to an Octopus
I never felt invincible. I knew life was too unpredictable to think otherwise. Even in my youth, I could only see my body as a magnet for disaster, particularly when gravity was concerned. At three years of age, I jumped into the deep end of a pool by accident. Instead of floating, I sank. Fortunately, another body noticed me and pulled me up from the water. At the age of four, I lost my footing in a shower and split the top of my head open. A man in a Delaware clinic had to stich the skin back up. Two years later, I ran across a quilt spread out on a hardwood floor and fell. When I got up, I had cut the other end of my head. It is amazing how much blood the chin holds. By the time I needed to take my first Holy Communion, my body intruded again and spiritual concerns had to compromise with it. A few weeks prior I had broken my arm playing kickball.
Along with many other nicks, sprains, scrapes, and cuts, these countless ills might have pushed me to seek something within myself which was invincible, or at least was whole and could not be broken. I remember sitting on the bed in the guestroom and staring at the mirror across from me. I might have been in the room for punishment, or I might have been bored. My childhood was filled with boredom. The mirror was a large, antique monstrosity, like a rhinoceros made of wood and glass. Looking at my brown eyes, I reflected on my reflection and thought about what I was looking at. At that moment, I had a “meta” experience. I was feeling beyond my senses, observing myself not in my body but somehow apart from it, like a puppeteer under the skin and bone. The one pulling the strings was the real me. Everything else was just an appearance given to fluctuation, chaos, and decay.
Before I could become completely lost in the soul, puberty pulled me back into the body. I had to acknowledge its presence because so much was changing inside and outside of me. The constant assemblage of organs and sinew I had grown accustomed to was gone. Without my consent, the body went ahead and turned me into an adult. My voice grew deeper, hair started sprouting in new places, and I added a few inches to my height. Certain involuntary petrifications and emissions also took place and were noted. Of all these developments, Hair was the most striking. Where there was once smooth skin, now there were dark curls and stubble. If it was on my face, it had to be cut. While I was used to haircuts, these only took place on a seasonal basis. Shaving required constant vigilance and took place in increasing intervals, moving from a bi-weekly, to a weekly, and finally daily ritual.
Puberty also me made realize that other people were looking at me. Before, there was no reason to care what others thought about my body. I could easily hide my short frame and I was an ordinary looking youth. With straight brown hair and brown eyes, I was far from adorable or notable. My brother was the one who attracted attention from birth since he had red hair. Once hair started growing on my face and arms, I attracted the notice he once did. I was an early bloomer as well, hulking around the playground in fifth grade with a five o'clock shadow clinging to my mug. In addition to the hair to worry about, there was the realization that I smelled. I always had, but it was not until puberty with its hormones and a desire to please the opposite sex that I started to grow conscious of having the aura of a scent, pleasant or not, around me.
After the early ravages of adolescence died down and I stopped growing, I returned once more to ethereal concerns. The issue of consciousness continued to perplex me and I began to think about the soul. However, this time I decided that there was more than just a soul. There was a mind as well. So inside a person there were three elements: mind, body, and soul. Mind was for thinking, soul was for feeling, and body was for sensing. Neither was better or more "real" and they all needed one another. I thought of them like a trinity, part of the same individual, but functioning as different ways to experience the world. Each one had its own form of immortality as well. Bodies returned to the soil and were recycled into nutrients. The ideas in the mind could influence society. And the soul? It went through reincarnation. Even though I was terrible at geometry in high school, Plato’s arguments convinced me every person had a soul which had lived numerous past lives.
In college, this all came apart thanks to plans my body made without me. The classes I took also helped. After listening to my philosophy professors, I realized there were too many problems with my system, namely how these material and non-material parts were supposed to interact. The only explanations seemed to be magic and miracles. But even more damning was an inability to defend the necessity of the mind or the soul. What did they explain on their own that the body could not? Memory could be locked up in neurons and the senses seemed dependent on other nerves. There was no closing my eyes and still “seeing,” except in a mystical poetic sense. I could not do so and drive. Personal revelation is no good at an intersection.
Arlington, Virginia made me. Manhattan unmade me. At least so far as I was a healthy philosopher. Whatever mental conundrums I faced, none was harder to overcome than the simple physical facts which were going on with my body against my will. As the years in university wore on, my body asserted itself once more, not as a site for growth, but the location of multiple disappointments. They did not all come at once and nothing precipitated each malady. It started with skin troubles. First there was eczema, then I had swollen eyelids. In each condition I left a constellation of pale dry flakes behind me wherever I went. From there on, I began to suffer internal damage, which was a new experience of vulnerability. No more flesh wounds or fractures for me. Instead, I developed arthritis, hemorrhoids, and ulcerations lining my small intestine like cobblestones.
While I eventually moved on to full materialism, the way I view my body currently contains elements of my previous theories. I remain a faithful Hegelian above all else. I am not a soul trapped in flesh, or a free-floating mind trying to move my limbs about. Ben Nardolilli is between a bag of interesting chemicals sometimes prone to leakage, and an exquisite machine made of meat. But thanks to a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, another element has been added to my body. I am a carrier. The disease is not communicable, for sure, yet it remains inside of me. Fortunately at this moment it is in remission, which also means it could come back at any time. There is no telling what can set it off or how long it can lay dormant like a Lovecraftian abomination. Scrolls of wisdom in my genetic code may hold the clues. I do not care to read them. Understanding anything that goes on in me remains fruitless. If my past has taught me anything, it is that my body is full of surprises.
#Real #BodilyConcerns #BodyImage #ChangesInMyBody #PersonalEssay #PersonalReflection #MyBody #SeeingMyBody
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