Soft Bones: Notes on the Body
The twelve-year molars grew in riddled with holes. My first cavities grew in, pre-caved, like not pearls but swiss cheese.
Left shoulder crashed to ice, the weight of my body and skis atop, then the collarbone snapped left of center. Full break. I was in eighth grade, and one boy found me in the halls daily for a body check, so the healing became a slope, a knotted mountain on my posture.
The wedge used for splitting wood? It felt like that wedge was in the sole of my right foot,—each step running cross country at 16 was splitting me. My physical therapist said “probably a stress fracture; stick to the bike for now.”
Another stress fracture, this on the base of my right femur. What happens when doctors insist for years that your knee problems will dissolve with weight loss, but you’re actually missing a meniscus, an ACL, an MPFL, and an MCL. The impact of every step you take, every dislocation, begins to split the bone.
Trauma is the only explanation, repeated trauma, for a bone break by not impact but rip. And that’s what my patella did: as I took a step last month, it ripped itself in two along a watershed map of fractures.
My bones are not softer than average, and their pain when broken is sharp, hard. But years of injuries have taught me that bodies are soft—softer when wounded—all the way down to the bone.
Keratin & Caring
For three years I stub my right big toe, the nail colors like mashed blueberries, ferments, falls off, grows in, gets stubbed again, hues dark again, falls, grows, fall-colors like the season,—falls… I begin to believe the cycle will last forever. It doesn’t occur to me that a dead nail could ever unsettle someone.
My then-partner joins my family skiing after Christmas. It’s their first time, and I’ve never seen them so frustrated. “Well you are still in the stage of your relationship where you’re trying to impress each other,” my mom reasons. Horrified, I think “...trying to impress each other? I’m supposed to leave a good impression??” and I recall our second date.
I had cancelled our original plan and invited them over for a movie because I was tired: I wore gray sweats and no socks. My toenail was more colorful than my outfit, the couch, the walls, the carpet, and I showed it to them. But the nail wasn’t quite as bright as my cheeks, blushing at the memory. On the ski hill, they crash through an orange fence, roll over, and wave, and I wonder when first impressions end.
A week later, as we bunk with friends in Oregon, the nail I showed them on our second date—now black—falls off. Our bodies are new all over again, in every season.
In one season: the first time seeing a shooting star, first time skiing, a piano burned in a bonfire, a dozen waterfalls, swollen with December rains, to sprint between together. In another season: a broken knee, a view from my balcony of them carrying two canvas bags of ingredients for shepherd’s pie across the park, approaching me.
In each season, my heart goes soft.
The screws in my knee are longer than those anchoring my bookcase to the wall. Longer than the screws I hand-twisted into studs for the floating shelves. And the bone fragments they bridge,—the screws are longer than those too.
The estimated recovery time is longer than any other I’ve gone through. A full year for the bone to heal. Maybe another to regain mobility. And how much longer to overcome the fear? Each time I put weight on my right leg, there’s a flash of sensation, of the pieces all crumbling around those screws.
Even before my injury in May, I was cautious. Careful not to push myself when running. No longer rock climbing but only belaying, believing that, as long as I was consistent with my physical therapy, at least hiking was safe. But this month, this month walking, my bone pulled itself apart.
I’ve read stacks of books this week, in my new apartment, because when I look too long—too longingly—at the ridges and mountains past my paneled balcony, I’m overwhelmed. I can’t even drive there; my leg is locked straight in a big metal brace—I don’t fit in the front seat of a car.
I can’t go down a trail of frost-patterned dirt and Ponderosa and red brush. I can’t go to a coffee shop to read poetry and sip a spiced latte. I can’t make it all the way through the ten repetitions of the three physical therapy exercises I’m allowed yet.
I can joke that these past few weeks I’ve felt like a Jane Austen character—listening to town gossip as a river of visitors flows by my bedside—but I can also feel those screws in my body, pulling together my kneecap and pulling apart my sense of identity.
Who am I away from the trailhead? Away from my six-days-a-week gym routine? Away from downward dog and warrior two and long walks along the riverfront? I’ve been injured so often, but this injury’s sown more self-doubt than I expected.
So I wait on phone calls. Book recommendations. A coffee run. Company I can chat with, show around my new place. Someone to look at the bookcase and shelves, who won’t see the screws behind them.
That stretch marks are scars is common knowledge, so for years I believed that their formation on my skin, too, was common.
Idle fingernails hook beneath a scab on my hips, the largest in a ruby string marking where my skin is pulling itself apart. I get maybe one of these scab lines, these bloody springs, new each month. Sometimes I’ll stall for a half year, a quarter,—but otherwise they appear on my hips, shoulders, chest, upper arms, thighs... Like wave lines on the beach, they’ll ripple into scars stacked over and beside each other.
It wasn’t until college that I realized others didn’t have to bleed to scar.
The stories written on our bodies aren’t written in stone, but on sand. Some stories are more visible than others, all shifting always, and marked by our conditions. Roughened by storms that overturn fossils and break bottles and lodge driftwood above the waterline for decades. But softened by them, too,—sand ground fine. Softened by waves that wet sea glass in the sunset.
Sometimes softness is weakness; it’s when everything slips through your fingers like sand. Sometimes it’s strength: it’s the shell-pink shiny scar tissue that forms when you grow faster than your skin. Softness, like sadness, walks hand-in-hand with pain, and all three leave their uneven footprints on the beach of the body, tracking the season in soon rippled steps.