Our Word :: Week 4 Days 1-3 :: {Face} {Breasts} {Body}

by Cassie

I.

10
is the number at the top of the scale that started at 1 that represents the level of resistance I am feeling in trying to describe my face, this face, this mixed bag of bones and skin and muscle and tissue, all these layers of life settling down on it like strips of papier-mâché, and so here it’s a little thicker and over there it is slightly uneven and just across the ridge of my brow all my sorrow sits in a row of wrinkled crepe, but I don’t know how to write about any of that because it’s so much of who I am.

9
is how many times I have sat down to write this today and become distracted instead by my late grandmother’s diary, it’s 1948 and she’s nineteen and in love with an asshole and she wrote the word “fuck” and it blows my mind every time I see it because she was always a religious institution but here she is as human as I ever saw her and it’s intoxicating in its strangeness so my eyes keep straying to this little black book of secrets that smells just like time, remembering this girl grew to tell me the angels kissed me twice to gave me dimples.

8
is about the age I was when she broke my nose, the girl we had to live with for a while. She got mad at me and swung a heavy toy truck in my general direction and it smashed right into the center of my face, changing the way it looked forever, and my grandma once said you used to have such a lovely nose before then once and I wanted to cry, and sometimes I Photoshop the stupid bump away because history itself isn’t so easily altered and a little false control feels better than none at all when I’m having a bad day.

7
months into my last pregnancy when the dark spots started showing up — each cheek and over my eyebrows and above my upper lip like a three o’clock shadow. The medical term for it is “chloasma” but in our house it was just known as “this shit all over my face” and I kept waiting and waiting for it to lighten up and finally it did but without make-up you can still see it and it always looks like I need to shave and I try not to think about it but sometimes I see pictures taken in the wrong kind of light and my shoulders shrink up around my ears with embarrassment.

6
years ago I was approaching 30 and my face seemed so much the same as it always had but half a decade of mothering and moving and ushering in life and holding space for death has altered it so quickly that I barely recognize myself sometimes. And I used to find it frightening to look into a mirror for a long time because after a while, my face lost all meaning and it became a stranger staring back at me through time and space and sticky glass, and I am learning that aging has that same disconcerting effect of turning me into someone I don’t know.

5
is how many fingers I hold up in front of my mouth when I really laugh out loud, because my strong teeth that have never had a cavity probably could have used braces and the off-center way they’re set into my face always makes me self-conscious, and some of them are the color of old ivory up near the gum line but I won’t have them whitened because I have a weird superstition I can’t quite articulate about teeth telling the story of someone’s life and if mine were straight and sparkling they wouldn’t match most of the tales I tell between them.

4
eyes is what I have when I wear my glasses and it’s them or the contacts because otherwise the world is a blur around me – my first pair were mother of pearl and too big for my face and the first set I had I lost one and didn’t tell anyone for months because I was too scared to get into trouble, so I saw half in focus and half out for half a year. Eyes like so many in my mother’s family, the amber of a well-aged whiskey in the sunlight, a bitter brew of dark coffee under less than full moons, and it’s comforting to have her eyes, to have a lineage of color like a family tree, and to call up your mama when you look in the mirror is a powerful magic I’d place many things on an altar for.

3
is how many laugh lines bracket my mouth and the first best friend I had who was also an enemy once told me my lips were flat, and she had a full mouth like the center of a rose and a C-cup and a fat ass and sometimes during sleepovers, I’d wake up with her hand in mine, so I believed her for many years, until one day a lady behind the counter of the corner gas station in my hometown told me my lips were the most beautiful she’d ever seen, and then that kept happening, and so I guess maybe they are beautiful, a little, how they never need liner to hold a perfect cupid’s bow, the way they go lopsided when I smile with my mouth closed, how they close in on kisses like offerings.

2
is how many months ago I took an early morning post-workout selfie and stood in shock staring down at the screen, my heart skipping beats under my unsteady palm, because that face was the face of my father, and I’ve never really looked like either of my parents, but my smile has somehow become my dad’s in the wake of his death, a strange gift of genetics, the power to make me smile in a haunted face when he rarely ever managed it in life. And I showed my husband and he said yeah, so? and I was like you just don’t get it and I think about that moment so often, the first time I saw a shadow of him in me, how it was like a sledgehammer.

1
is the angle I allow myself to be photographed from. Head tilted slightly to the right, the perfect oval of my face tilted slightly down, neck stretched up in grace, turn until the bump of the broken nose is lessened, barely raise one eyebrow. And this isn’t the real me, you know, so I’m kind of a fraud, because I don’t look this way when I’m animated in front of you, but it’s one kind of me, and really, sometimes I don’t want to see the random breakouts I still get, the chicken pox scar along the high shelf of my cheekbones, the small circle of flesh in the side of my nose where my piercing went wrong, the chin that can point too harshly, the sallow skin. All the nurses said you were the prettiest baby they’d ever seen, they said. Oh what a pretty little girl, they said. What a lovely young woman, they said. You are so gorgeous, he said. You’re so fucking hot, he whispered. You look like a princess, he marveled. And it’s only from this one angle that I can ever see any of that at all.

II.

10
is two years before I even had buds, when I still went swimming with boys without worrying about hard nipples showing through the wet second skin of a bathing suit.

9
plus 10 is when we used our lunch hour to sneak away from work and park in the shaded lot of an empty green golf course, and he was almost as old as my own dad and had kids almost the same age as me and he was married and I knew it but he had the sweetest smile and all he wanted to do was put his hands up my shirt, lay hands on my chest like it could heal him.

8
days of summer camp and on the way home in the back of the church van, he reached down in the dark and let his hand creep up under a shirt that featured the face of Jesus, and second base was a familiar place for me, so I let him, and as we were unloading our bags in the parking lot later, he broke up with me because I guess he couldn’t pray past the way my breasts still felt hot under hands raised to heaven.

7
days of the week checking them for strays, plucking them out with my favorite pair of tweezers, a tiny forest of coarse hairs mapping out my areolas, and I used to shave them, a secret shame in the shower, but when I was fifteen I nicked one nipple with a razor and had to wear a Band-aid under my bra for a week, and the tweezing is a kind of meditation for me which is why I don’t mind it.

6
years of breastfeeding altogether, four for him, and two for her, and she’s still going, still needing that all-night closeness, and they have been pinched and pulled and bitten and stretched in every conceivable manner, and they’ve faced infections and engorgement and six new teeth at one time, but these things are fucking magic, they have fed brand new humans and single-handedly helped them grow and they have swelled up like boulders and lay empty across my chest, and they are talismans and scrying balls and globes that map out an entire early existence.

5
and another 5 are his fingers around them, hot breath against them, tongue and teeth and every nerve ending swelling and expanding and exploding outside of my body, a constellation of constant touch forming in a halo above his bent head.

4
pectoral muscles when we press our chests together and how solid we are there, with our hearts sharing space and our breath fogging up our faces and that very particular noise that sweat-soaked skin makes when it pulls apart reluctantly.

3
months pregnant and the way they bloomed in my sleep and the deep tingling inside them brought on by the simple act of breathing, my diaphragm expanding and contracting just like my cervix would later, and the hot way they hurt all the time, as heavy as lava, and how my second pregnancy announced its impending end by returning them to normal before the blood began.

2
ticking time bombs, that’s sometimes how I think of them. They took one of my grandma’s and the cancer came back in her chest wall and so I kind of have a space in the back of my brain that waits for the day they come for me with a scalpel and a bag of chemo, and every time I hear of an elective mastectomy, I have an internal round of applause for that woman, because that’s some hard core self-love and self-preservation, to take the things society seems to value most and cut them off and throw them at their feet just to live. And I would do it if I had to and that helps me sleep at night.

1
under each palm, thirteen years old under summer sheets, feeling them rise like small suns, shooting roots of pleasure down into my belly, and there’s a quivering along the insides of my thighs and when I close my eyes I see his face, how it looked under a canopy of leaves, skin like cut wood and sweat lighting it up like tears, and there is a rubbing and a reckoning and a prayer that comes after I do, for forgiveness, and in thanks.

III.

10
is the number of pounds I’ve been overweight for at least as many years, all of it centered in my belly, the soft folds of it draping gently, the way it accordions itself on top of my lap, and sometimes I’m okay with it and sometimes I’m not, and it used to define me, but now it only defines based on what kind of day I’m having, and that’s a good part about getting older and gaining perspective, gaining acceptance for yourself, learning to turn your kindness inwards.

9
is a single digit size I haven’t seen since I was seventeen and starving myself to fit in my prom dress, since I was twenty-two and popping pills that tore up my stomach lining like a mill machine pulling up a road. And it’s no wonder I didn’t start to get smart about shit until my mid-twenties, because it’s hard to do anything other than breathe when you’re hungry all the time, when you wake up to glass grating in your belly, when you lay down at night with a gnawing all the way down to the center of your spine. And I’ll take double digits if it means knowing what it is to be full.

8
years old the first time I felt fat and I couldn’t tell you how I remember that or what the specifics were but I know that age like it’s been marked out on the map of my life with a fat red circle around it, and I didn’t know what a thigh gap was but I kept trying to find one.

7
is how many years I’ve been saying to myself you are worth more than whatever number you see flashing up at you and it’s been a hard ass road and sometimes I run off it and sometimes I turn around and head back in the other direction, but I’ve taken great enough strides to cover the world twice over, and I can look at this body with love, with gratitude, with genuine tenderness for its fragility, with awe at its incredible fucking strength sometimes.

6
is two arms, two legs, a head and a heart, and how amazing these things can be at working together; the way these calves and these thighs are like the pillars of a temple, guarding the door under the upside-down arch of my pelvis; how these arms are steel extensions of my soul, gathering to me everything dear, pushing away anything that smells of danger and discord, lifting up babies and lovers and cradling my cheek as I sleep; this head full of a big beautiful brain and all these memories and music and the important parts of all the books I’ve read; and this heart, oh this glorious unreliable enormous unstoppable heart, how it fills up my whole chest with its beating and its loving, how the sound of it singing through my bloodstream is the first song, the best song, the life song, how if I could hold it in my hands, I would lift it to my lips, and kiss it all over, because. Because because.

5
toes and five more, stepping all over hallowed ground because it’s just wherever we feel holy, how the third one on each foot overlaps the second, the same way my dad’s did, the carved out edges of hereditary bunions made worse by years of waitressing, the nails that are never painted and have had one pedicure in their entire life, the heels that are tough as leather from a lifetime of walking barefoot. And when I put my feet in his lap, he always picks at the uneven way I cut the nails, and it has the weirdest way of making me feel loved.

4
elbows + knees and how they creak and crack and ache, and maybe it’s arthritis and maybe it’s lupus and maybe it’s fibromyalgia but either way some days they’re junk and when I get out of bed I feel like I’m ancient, like my bones are buried far beneath the earth and I’m fighting to move them through mountains of dirt and debris but some golden days when the sun shines bright through the windows I only feel my age.

3
pregnancies but only two that made it and I don’t even count the one in New York because it barely lasted the length of a breath. And my belly has grown as big as the ocean, carrying half the world’s water beneath my breasts, and I have spread my legs and given it back and given birth at the end of it, and my spine has screamed, and my pubic bone has split as an earthquake pushed beneath it, and I have felt the formation of life under the thinnest layers of skin. I have been all breath and belly and birthing hips, and nothing else in the world except for the persistent push of procreation ripping through my ribcage. I have been spread across an endless sky, dropping new worlds into the darkness and the stars. I have made life and felt life between my thighs and I am a goddamn goddess of fierce femininity, roaring my pleasure and panting my pain and feeling the pulse of life spark and spread all along my sacrum.

2
ears and how they curve in like delicate seashells left at the edge of a sunset shore, how they have four holes because two refuse to ever close completely, how I rarely wear earrings because they’re so sensitive, the way I love his tongue along the back edge of them, the shivers it sends across every square inch of skin and how I pull him to me so I can hear the heart of him right in my eardrum, so it can set the tiny bones inside shaking with the vibrations of love in the way that he breathes. How they hear the first “mama” and carry the sweet sound of it tip-toeing up my spine. The first time they caught the way someone said my name in the middle of lovemaking, how it flew from his lips and found its way into my heart like honey. All the music, all the music, all the notes and the words and the beats; and the recitations of poetry that gathered on my taste buds like birds weighing down a wire; and the gift of someone reading me to sleep, the zzz’s in all the shapes of the alphabet.

1
body and that’s it, ever, and goddamn it I love this rickety old house of sticks and straw and when the wolf comes to blow it over, I’ll gather whatever is left to my breast and set my feet on fire.

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