Storytime: Seams

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: All the pieces of me cut into flesh and bone.

Before age 14, I had never been to the hospital, let alone the emergency room. I had never broken a bone, never been sicker than something that couldn’t be treated with bed rest and over the counter medicine. But there, in the ER, with my two teeth in my hand and a gaping hole in my mouth, I was forced to realize just how fragile my own human flesh is.

The thing you don’t think about is that the human body (your body) contains a lot of blood. In fact, blood makes up about 7% of your entire body weight but that’s weird, so don’t think about it too much.

Certainly until that day, I’d never seen much blood outside of me. But like my mortality, there it was, pooling in my hands, pouring down my face, down my shirt, and onto the floor. Filling up my throat with thick warm liquid that threatened to gag me. Turning my stomach sour, filling my mouth with the overwhelming taste of copper and my nostrils with the smell of rust. Worse yet, the man next to me in the ER had a gun shot wound in his stomach. His blood somehow summed to nearly twice as much as mine. It gurgled around him, spilling down his leg before swirling neatly into a drain on the floor.

I thought of his wound as a gaping hole even though he looked to be in one piece. It must have been there, hiding, under his hoodie. Under his t-shirt. A bullet and then a hole to match. An open gap in his soft flesh matching the open gaps in my mouth. Our dual blood fountains. We were the same until a man held my hand and a woman shoved my teeth back into their sockets – trying to correct the mistake that was made. Trying to fill the holes.

I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom before we left for the oral surgeon, blood still leaking in a slow drip out of my pallid face. My skin greying, body heaving, face strange with its newest renovation. I knew then that this was only the first gap, a single rip in my flesh that would unravel me slowly. A thread had been pulled and I worried it would never stop. The gap made permanent. It might get sewn up but there would always be seam remaining.

Most people are pretty familiar with the concept of kintsugi, which is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver. This creates a beautiful effect and makes the object usable again. It’s a transformative process that seems to suggest that nothing is ever really broken and that, in fact, some damage can make something even more beautiful. I have never found this to be quite the case. Instead I feel very differently about my cracks (visible and invisible). Instead I feel defective. Because broken things get fixed and defective things can only be thrown away.

But they sealed it all up. After the teeth were back in their place they put a metal bar over the gap and then they sewed that metal bar over my gums, trying to mend me whole. Trying to mind the gap. The oral surgeon is a mist and a fire in my memory, the shock and the blood loss blurring his face, his hands, his voice into something terrifying and far away. Into some other worldly being who kept whispering “well that’s not right” over and over. Making my insides contract with fear. Making the pain feel personal.

He only went on to confirm my deepest worries about being human. He told me things didn’t look good for me and that one day not only would I lose those teeth, but also I’d need to be cut open and rearranged. That there were already gaps opening inside of me that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. I couldn’t afford to do anything about it on that day so instead he left me alone with a gap that was slowly turning into a seam inside my mouth. And a looming fear of blood, bone, and mortality.

The next person to cut into my mouth repeated my morality to me slowly with a dire warning. He said the things inside of me were too much and too little. Two extra wisdom teeth but two missing joints. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me I was a hideous medical anomaly. He said he couldn’t believe anyone had missed it – that no had tried to fix me yet. I wanted to tell him he had it all wrong. In fact everyone was always trying to fix me as if they had known all along that I was wrong inside. I had known all along that I was ugly, that I was different, but no one had laid it so bare. No one had tried to rip open a hole in my self esteem so wide. But he did a good job because when he finished cutting my wisdom teeth out, the gaps in my mouth were so small that they felt fake. I almost felt cheated. It hardly felt like anything had been taken at all.

The jaw surgeon was kinder. He never said I was ugly, he only implied it. He only flinched when he touched me. He only joked about my mouth and my face and my wrongness. He only said I was one in a billion but he hired staff to say nice things. To tell me I was pretty. To tell me nothing about me was a gaping hole that couldn’t be closed. A mistake that could never be fulled fixed.

After the surgery there were holes everywhere though. And they leaked. Gaps in my mouth, in my throat, in the sides of my neck, and even in my nose. They used all manners of things to hold closed the gaps they had whittled open in my body over 10 hours.

I fell asleep as myself and I awoke as Frankenstein’s monster. Before you couldn’t see the cuts that had been made since they were on the inside but now there was evidence on the outside. Thick, dark serrated cuts sewed closed by even thicker, black thread running parallel to my throat on either side on my neck. Blood and pus oozing out of them. Hot, messy skin inflamed and disturbed. New gaps for my new body. New holes outside to match all the gaps and seams inside of me.

The outside cuts were the worst. They took their time closing, in turning to seams. They held open for so long, like a vice was between them, pushing flesh away from flesh. I worried that I was just a gap now, a thing full of holes and seams that were constantly held open. I imagined that if I got caught in the rain that my neck would fill up with water and drown me or worse, that they would burst suddenly and blood would come rushing out all at once. Nothing to hold me in, nothing to hold the world out.

But I healed. Eventually. Holes to gaps to seams. Thick lines you can run your fingers along and feel the rope-like scars. Places to touch where my body was torn apart and came back together. Almost the same but completely different.

It came back to where it all started because suddenly, those teeth that had been pushed out of my head in the first place were not able to stay there. There is an irony in that when they cut open my jaw they had to pull teeth – but not the teeth that were knocked out. I got to keep those for another while, until I didn’t.

So, endlessly I let someone make gaps in me to fix me. And for a third time I let someone steal two teeth from my mouth. After that I had a new gap for months on end while I waited for it heal into a seam so the next step could be taken. It held there for months but eventually, it too closed, and then they put two fake teeth in its place and then they sewed me back up again. Hardly anything stolen at all, simply more lines added to my rag doll body.

And just like that all the gaps had all been filled, but all the seams still remained.

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