Iphigenia in pieces

On my way home from graduation, I brake too abruptly at a stoplight, causing the front tire on my bicycle to turn and skid. Something in the weave of reality contorts too far and snaps, and I tip over onto the asphalt. My right thigh takes most of the impact, and two nights later, like a foregrounded flower in a darkroom as it sinks into a tepid bath of photo-developing liquid, a purple-yellow bruise appears, sudden, complete, and firmly fixed. My elbow and hand, painfully abraded, leak wet patches of blood onto my clothes. Taking in weak, shallow breaths, I make a point of not looking at my wounds as I push the bicycle the rest of the way home.

The mornings are cooler now. When I wake up, Strawberry has left the warm moka pot on the countertop, still half-full with dark, soupy, silty coffee. I change my band-aids and listen to the American news from the other side of the ocean. The headlines–vivid, heady, satanically sad–drift past me like a chunky crowd of sleepy, slo-mo arrows. Sometimes, as I prepare breakfast, an arrow splits off from the mass and, finding me off-guard, pierces me deeply. Hearing, for example, the story of a woman separated from her dementia-afflicted mother, unable to see her in the flesh, unable to stop the flow of her forgetfulness through the laggy connection of a Zoom call, was enough to knock the breath out of me. I clutch the cutting board, fingering the soggy, droopy, flimsy wood until I can force down that blue, leaden lump of secondhand sadness stuck in my throat. Afterwards, I feel angry at myself. I am filled with horror at myself. My emotions are low, lousy, suffered only briefly, felt only cheaply compared to the nighttime river in spate of that daughter’s pain. The worst possible kind of voyeurism.

The bruise fades irregularly. The yellow goes first, but a mangled smattering of dark red splatters remain for days. Disaffected, estranged, I examine at my leg and the bloodied quilt made by a dozen veins splitting open. I am meat and bones. I am fat tissues and frayed keratin. It fascinates me: how my body heals itself, mindlessly, devotedly. Even though there’s always a scar left behind, I am charmed by the earnest attempt by bubbly platelets, stretchy collagen, and fighter cells, to turn the page, soften the blow, and keep me going. A humble, calloused vessel that, though continually emptied, fills and refills itself with warm blood and green breath, trying again to renew, recover, reawaken, and, when that proves impossible, to simply stay alive.

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