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Essays that Worked!

Shannon E. Keating '13
Ridgefield High School, Ridgefield, Conn.

I’m more comfortable curled up. Erect, I ache. Stretched out straight I’m obtrusive; unfolded, I am vulnerable, and open to the elements. With limbs whining for well-worked joints, I have a body meant to bend.

I like to think I’ve failed in completely acclimating to the world outside the womb. My ceaseless inclination to double up, clutch my knees to my chest – shrink — seems to me indicative of some subconscious prenatal nostalgia. Maybe I yearn for that kind of personalized closeness, that secure, wet warmth: a distinctly singular existence, compact and uncomplicated.

I have both scientific and spiritual fascinations with birth. That fascination translates into the way I look at bodies: interestedly, hypercritically, but with a platonic detachment. My easiest conclusions are sensibly drawn from the body at my constant disposal. And my favorite conclusions to draw are about how and why I bend.

The moment my raw pink arms and legs shook loose for the very first time, I had just been freshly excavated from a slapdash caesarean. Parting my amniotic-slicked lips, I screamed. For my first few weeks of sleepless existence, I screamed. My mother, overwhelmed, lugged me back to the place I was born. There, a doctor rearranged my small red appendages to fit together the way they had pre-birth. With a quick little gasp, a stretch and a yawn, my vocalized discomfort came to a close.

For seventeen years I have continued to indulge in those calmingly, repetitive motions. I accredit them to the same physician my mother owes many a night’s sleep. I take tests with my legs wedged haphazardly underneath me, read books in a complicated body knot on the couch. I sleep tucked in a neat little ball, secure between my sheets.

There are those bugs I loved to nudge as a kid, ever-curious, just to coax them into tight slate spheres. They and I may share a common natural tendency to curl away from the unpleasant, if in fact I’m not just recreating the safest place I’ve ever known. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

I am flesh, and I am bone. If I temporarily dislodge myself from my busy little life — my glorious, happy mess of a life – I am, for a moment, robbed of my neurotic obsessions, my books and my songs and my stories. But wipe me blank, tabula rasa, and I am also gently freed of my trivial day-to-day pains, which are rendered manageable, distant — even inconsequential altogether.

This is my secret. At night, if my bed fails to hold me close enough, I’ll draw a bath. The rising temperature whips stagnant air into steam that clears my thought-bogged mind. I strip down bare, a whole complex human encased in uneven, thirsty skin. And I immerse myself in thick hot water that boils a layer of my lifeless cells into warm oblivion. I am licked clean and new.

There, I am cradled and contained. There, I pull myself close, and can forget. I may as well be suspended in bodily fluid, an embryonic sac, surrounded on all sides by a silence that demands nothing of me quite yet. There I am the kind of alone that doesn’t encompass lonely, because I alone actually exist. The heat momentarily laps at my accumulated years, and I am ageless as eternity.

All we are is bodies.

Somehow, I was small once. Somehow, I’m not anymore. I was born in my own body, and then that body grew. The mind may forget, but this body of mine has instinct sunk deep in its bones. And those bones remember the way they lay all those years ago. As I grow – despite my keen sense of discovery, of wonder – some tiny part of me laments the new and the unknown. I’m comfortingly propelled, when the world gets too big, to make my own world very small.

I bend. Once, two cells turned into ever-dividing billions, and now I bend to bet the reversal of time’s tugs. Fingers curled, arms tucked in tight, cross-legged and spine curved. I am more comfortable curled up.