THE BEAUTY OF BEAUTY IS A VERB
I hate going to doctors, especially gynecologists. Seriously, I mean, what woman doesnít? But I often put it off longer than I should, until, eventually I cave, make the appointment. At 25 I was living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a new town in a new state, and my insurance didnít offer many options. The long and short is, I listed my genetic bone disorder, osteochondromas, benign tumors, on my new patient forms at the cold and bland insurance-approved doctorís office.
As I lay back exposed, my legs spread, my OBGYN is not talking about the state of my vagina; I guess, it was just average. Instead, he wants to talk about my surgeries, my scars, my joint pain. He keeps fingering, brushing against the baseball size tumor on my ankle, sending jolts of unease because it rests just underneath a set of sensitive nerves, and because I rarely let anyone touch it. He takes what he needs for the PAP smear, says to wait right here, and leaves the room.
The air seems just as pervasive as his hands, as his obvious interest in a bone disorder heís never seen, rather than the health and wellness of my female anatomy. He comes back quickly, bringing another doctor. He asks if itís okay if this new intruder stays, sees my bones, a learning tool, you know, but the damage is already done: there are two men in the room staring alternately at my two most private parts, my body on display as it never was. I should have said no. I wasnít a specimen. Didnít he know he was exposing me twice? Quadrupled by all those eyes?
He never knew because I never told him. I didnít have the words, not then, to talk about the fear and shame I felt for my body; I only knew I felt it. While completing both my BA in psychology and MA in English degrees, Iíd never been exposed to disability literature. Thatís why earning my MFA in poetry and meeting fellow poet Sheila Black were transformative: I learned to articulate what I felt towards my body, to see how it influenced my decisions, especially my writing. To be included in Beauty is a Verb (Cinco Punto Press, 2011), to be able to walk in public or into my classroom wearing a skirt, not wearing boots or pants, not hiding my tumors, has been uncertain, scary, and empowering. My heart still beats faster, I still stand with my ankles crossed trying to distort the lines of my ankles—most days I can face it, the questions, the stares, the double takes. Some days I canít. Am I allowed to admit that I still struggle with how others see me, how I see myself?
I constantly fight to not downplay my own pain, my disability experience, to quote the clichť it could be worse, since I can walk freely, climb stairs if I must. So what if I have to walk slow, testing my steps to ensure my ankles hold? So what if the weight of my own body hurts? But then, a story I wrote was included in the fiction anthology The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked (Cinco Puntos Press, 2017). The story is about a young woman who wanted osteochondromas, tumors implanted under her skin, to make her unique, different, to be able to point to a physical manifestation of the emotional pain she felt. After reading Shelia Blackís poem, "What You Mourn," in which the speaker mourns the body taken away by doctors trying to straighten her back and legs, I was inspired to question who Iíd be without this bone disorder and why anyone would want it in the first place.
Returning to this anthology again and again, I am reminded that even though our pain is private, pain is a shared experience that teaches and heals us. In her poem "The Common Core," Vassar Miller begins, "each manís pain is norm," is "absolute," so who can tell "which blows fiercer, gale or storm?" Pain is pain, even as no oneís pain has a "double" or "synonym," which is why our own pain echoes when a poet describes her own.
So, where am I now? A little further along the self-acceptance highway, singing to a new playlist, a poet always questioning how she sees the world and how it sees her. In "A Poet of Cripples," when Jim Ferris writes, "Look with care, look deep. / Know that you are a cripple too," he sings, as all the contributors of Beauty is a Verb sing, for me, for all of us, differently-abled or not, as we find our way through. So, Iím practicing loving the surprisingly beautiful, the imperfect, the different, the disconcerting, the ruined, the painful, even failure, because each teaches us how to exist in this world.