My son tries to take a picture of me but I can’t stop moving. I hear birds making noise in the arbor vitae and think about the nest and eggs. Babies. I turn my head as he takes a picture. The camera is locked on lens blur and so my limbs are smeared.
He is pleased with the picture because he tells me I never let anyone take pictures of me.
There is a photo of me from when I was his age. I was in the backyard and I had just been crying or about to cry. I don’t know who took this photo but a fingertip covers a portion of the lens, which makes me think my mother must have taken it.
On the outside, she was always put together perfectly. Heels. Just a touch of lipstick because she needed no makeup. But with us and in our home, we knew her clumsiness with things. How she tore open a milk carton so that it was impossible to pour properly from. The general filthiness of the fridge. The dogs that were never properly trained to go to the bathroom outside.
When friends say to me, why is your house always so clean, I am shocked. I see the flaws and the places where I have missed some dust and feel a great deal of shame. My cabinets need repainting. I need to bleach the grout again. All of these things.
In a workshop once, Dorothy Allison asked us (we were all women), how many of us needed to clean our house before we could sit down to write? About half of us (including her) raised our hands. My compulsion comes from physically needing a sense of order around me so that it does not compete with my crowded brain. My compulsion comes from a deep sense of shame and a fear of chaos.
As for how my body looks when I write, I don’t care. It does not exist when I write. The vessel. Limbs blurred.
When I moved out and into a house with my boyfriend at age 19, my mother encouraged me to dress for him when he came home from work. Brush your hair. Fix your face.
I was a student with a full load of coursework and several jobs. I worked all the time. I would not dress for him. Let him dress for me.
I didn’t say that to her, of course. I let her say what she needed to. I realize her need for my outward appearance to be pleasing was more about her than it was about me. I realize that now. Then, though, her comments about my weight, my hair, my clothes stung me. I worked hard to be pleasing to her, mostly so that she would stop saying what she said to me.
I feel this now as I push my son’s hair out of his eyes and he pushes it back. I try to stop my hand from moving his hair, but I don’t even realize I am doing it. This is his hair and his head. His. Not mine.
In the photo my son took, I am in movement as I always am. I move when I try to sleep. I move when I sleep. This is a photo of me. A photo of how I am put together and how I am broken.
Let us love the broken pieces of ourselves.
Without these pieces there is no whole.
Let us be broken.