You’re maneuvered around and then lifted out of your mother. You’re covered, like all babies, in a white waxy film called vernix. You’re the last of your mother’s eight babies, the only one to be born via c-section, the only one who causes your mother to have the scar, a thick pink ribbon that stretches vertically in a gash next to her bellybutton.
You wonder what’s in there, wonder if you could open that scar. You’re a female, like her. You imagine the scar as if it’s on a hinge and it’s the little door that’s there for a lantern’s light. You’ve seen the coiled guts of mice, of birds and squirrels that the cats leave on the doormat. You’ve stepped on them with your bare feet, springing your foot up like you’ve touched something fiery hot.
Leave out the day-to-day illnesses, the strep throats, the trips to the steaming bathroom with the croup, with bronchitis. Leave out the basic stomachaches, the hives, the skinned knees and stubbed toes.
You come across a hard lump on the back of your skull, as if a tiny doorknob is starting to grow. You feel it and wonder, when did that happen? It feels like one of the smooth stones that you pick up on the beach in the summertime, but it’s underneath your hair, your scalp, pushing out….
In the operating room, they put a thing like a plastic bowl over your mouth. It’s peach colored and looks like an athletic cup. The doctor tells you to count to ten. Masked faces look down at you with their different swipes of eyes, one pair droopy, another pair bright. You have a mask on too, this peach colored plastic thing that smells like a new doll. The masks feel like bumpers when you look at the nurses and doctors, when you feel it over your own mouth.
Your bed is a giant metal crib that looks like a cage. Your mother lowers the side and makes a face at you that says, These cribs are crazy! The doctor who removes the lump says it looks like a piece of popcorn. Your oldest brother loses a molar. The tooth, you think, looks like a shriveled piece of popcorn as well. The doctor laughs as he tells your mother that you talked all through the surgery. A real chatterbox! When he tells your mother it is only a cyst, you see her face relax as if warm sunshine is hitting her after she’s been cold in the shade….
At Thanksgiving, going around the table, naming heroes, you say your hero is the family pediatrician. He is tall, old, and kind. You hate it when he has to check your private area, but it’s part of the check-up. He has a funny way of asking if everything’s okay, listing off a litany: any grumbles or grunts? rumbles or rants? wheezes or whines? When you learn that his first name is Sterling, he becomes a long silver spoon, and somehow related to Sterling North, in your mind, the man who wrote Rascal, a book that you enjoy about a boy and his raccoon.
Leave out the checkups, the vaccines and all that stuff. Leave out the dental world of cleanings and fillings. Don’t get into the slips on the ice or the mini hockey stick hit in the head at recess or the wipe outs on the bike, getting the wind knocked out, the jammed thumbs or really deep splinters.
You are wearing your regular clothes, lying on your side on an examining table. There is a watercolor of a heeling sailboat on the wall opposite you. Its colors are like cotton candy, which make it ugly and prissy. Your mother is holding your hand. A couple of people—a doctor, a nurse, you don’t know—are standing behind you. One of them is digging carefully with a needle, like he’s looking for a sliver of glass, on the side of your neck, behind your ear. At school, Jimmy Roney is holding a sharpened pencil with its point sticking straight up. Somehow you bump into him, or fall, or something, and the pencil tip stabs you in the neck. The doctor is looking for the graphite. Or maybe it’s not in there and the pewter mark is a tattoo. You are thinking that this amount of attention seems excessive for a poke in the neck from a pencil. Maybe this is a dream. Maybe this is one of those memories that is a combination of other memories, or possibly it is a dream.
Leave out the poison ivy, sunburns, and cracked lips.
Stitches from sledding and the little knots of the stitches look like rat whiskers. It might be your friend who gets the sledding stitches. Or your brother. What is certain is that the bright blood on the snow is a red that you have never seen before.
Don’t include that your mother dies. It happens too fast to need a hospital. Plus it wouldn’t have been you at the hospital, it would have been her….
Now it’s falling apart. What is this idea that you have? What is it that you are writing down exactly? You are not saying enough to make a point, yet you are saying too much for something pointless.
Don’t include the broken toe when you kick the shopping cart wearing only a flip flop. Don’t include the pain in your chest that you become convinced is gall stones after your diligent googling. A sonogram reveals nothing. Don’t include the mammograms.
Your oldest sibling is diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Her doctor tells her to tell all of her six siblings to get tested because it runs in families. It takes you a couple of years but when you finally have a check-up and ask your doctor to please order the celiac panel on your blood, he guffaws. Can you eat a bagel? he asks you, as if he’s asking you if you can spare a cigarette. You tell him, Yes, you can eat a bagel. And wonder, What does he mean? Without dying? Without gagging? You think of that ice cube feeling you get in your chest….
An IV is replenishing fluids before the procedure and pumping a sedative into you so you’ll barely notice when they place you on your side, roll you into a darker room, and then drop a little camera down your throat like a tape worm in order to see the walls of your small intestines on a tv monitor. At one point you vaguely wake up, feeling calm and easy, and see the pink gooey slopes on the tv monitor.
Now it’s just silly. You are boring even yourself. You’re unsure of what you’re trying to say by writing this all down. Sometimes there’s a little vein of sense, then it goes. Plus, thinking of the endoscopy makes you much more interested in the time when your three youngest kids all had endoscopies themselves, one after the next, on a June morning in New York. They had laughing gas to knock them out and each one reacted completely differently….
In the recovery room, they all three wake up gradually. You and your husband divide yourselves between the three of them, checking on who’s coming out of it, who’s waking up. The giddy girl is now a dramatic cranky person, tangling herself up in her sheets, her hair covering her frowning face. The panicked girl wakes up stricken, screaming about falling down a tunnel, crying in great, huge gulps about how scared she was. Their doctor, a beautiful woman who looks like an Indian princess, turns to you during your daughter’s crying, mouths “Oh my god I’m so sorry” with her face looking partly up at the ceiling. The boy comes out of it muttering something about a train, grunting and slightly annoyed, then asks for a gluten free cookie.
You and your husband put your arms around each other. While you were waiting for them to wake up, you’ve been looking at this recovery room made for kids with its giant photographs, one of wildflowers… Imagining the many sad scenarios. Worrying that your child won’t wake up. Listening sideways to the Hasidic family in the section next to you with a toddler who you’ve gathered has a liver disease. Your children are only here so that the doctor can see the walls of their small intestines now… You think of how strange it is to know you have a disease before your body even shows you that you have it, before you have any symptoms….
You listen to the mother sing softly to her baby. Whatever is wrong with him, you are certain that the mother would take that disturbance into her and eat it into nonexistence if she could. You are certain that she would rather take his medical story and zip it into the place where she conceived and carried him, and hold it there, like a weight inside that lantern that you’d picture behind your mother’s scar. What’s lurking where. What we hold inside. The sheen of an animal’s pelt in the dark, slinking around corners, down into holes, and then a burst of clarity: a peony coming undone as it falls open, pricked with a bloody lip. What’s rustling around. You think about how what’s inside all of us is so much more mysterious than any kind of light.