By Lizz Schumer
I licked the blood off my finger without thinking. To taste what I was made of. My ear had left blood on my fiance’s T-shirt, and we didn’t know why. Startled, I stuck my finger in and considered the source. Every unconscious action is a self-discovery mission. Everything is a symptom of a syndrome caused by something that happened before.
Or I’ve done too much therapy, or not enough.
A scratch inside, turns out. There are answers everywhere, if we know the right questions.
“You don’t have an off switch,” my mother told me once. An inbred love of excess. I write like that, too. Voracious for language, asking the page questions and answering them back, and again, I ford down pages like rivers. My essays explore writing as if the answer is in the language, wandering downs sentences like wormholes, squinting into the darkness ostensibly swirling inside my own mind.
William Faulkner once wrote, “I know what I think when I read what I’ve written.” Faulkner’s luxuriance reads that way. I wonder what answers “The Sound and the Fury” gave him. If he ever found the end of the tunnel. His language leaves me lost for it, looking up from dog-eared pages to find sunset where afternoon had been and I’m bereft of time and place, belonging stolen by the universe imagination created. Through the looking glass words steal me, and I emerge mystified by my own world. My chest always seizes when I return to my own world. It’s been hostile since I can remember, demons hiding in the shadows collecting at the corners of my mind, if nowhere else.
Anxiety first chained me to its bosom when I was a child, facing the world for the first time. Yanked from my mother’s womb at 29 weeks, my parents signed a form to authorize an experimental treatment to get my little lungs to inflate. Doctors pumped cow cells into my body with a tiny, blue balloon and I gasped into the world. They transferred me to a clear plastic box for the first few months of my life, where I lived under glass for all to see, poked, prodded and examined every minute of my early days. Electronic blips and buzzing replacing those gentle coos of a normal human’s first hours; frenetic saviors where peace belongs. My baby album is Frankenstein, pages of my body engulfed to the nipples and knees by the smallest diaper they had, an improbably large needle sticking out of my skull. Tubes and wires snake from every orifice, and in some snapshots, a cartoonish hand sneaks into the frame: My mother. On an early video, my father slides his wedding ring over my foot and onto my upper thigh. My first garter, shackle.
Throughout my early years, I wailed and screamed before every class play, every concert, my belly full of a fire I didn’t understand. The idea of all those eyes set me alight, in a way I loved and hated all at once. Special demon, imperfect specimen under glass, the stage enticed and terrified every enigmatic cell. I shook and shattered with excitement my tiny body couldn’t contain. Teenagers can’t rail like children, so I painted my eyes black and rolled inward, writing feverishly through study halls, math class, after school. Pouring that shaking, stuttering soul onto pages black with melodramatic ink, I discovered the roads language could lead me down, the salve of pouring my quivering heart onto the page.
My earliest trauma roots in me like I always thought a watermelon seed would, growing in my belly and snaking through my limbs, into my brain and as I trace the language of my body back, back, back, I reach the edge of that glass box and see the baby inside, squirming under impossibly bright lights. Her head too big for her spindly body, I wonder if she misses swaddling, if that nakedness is why she loves to be held back together in flighty moments, if there’s comfort in breathing deeply after those first, desperate balloon-choked gulps. If everything in us is nurture and nature, if we’re all products of what we were going to be as much as what our worlds shaped us to become, those first few days seem all the more desperate. And yet, the days, weeks, years after fall into a sort of marching order, a tenuous thread stretching from gasping baby to screaming child, scribbling teen and shaking writer with her hand on a pen she trusts to uncover truths her scar-tissued heart has buried.
How much of me is that baby in a box is still me, squirming under the probing eyes and fingers of doctors, fellow patients who know me no better than myself which is to say, they don’t. Not except in the medical sense we know our flesh, our bones hold us together when emotion leaves us languid.
Lizz Schumer is a writer, artist and freelance editor living and working in Buffalo, N.Y. Her creative nonfiction and hybrid poetry centers around the effects of environment, economic climate and sociology on the self. Her first book, “Buffalo Steel” was released by Black Rose Writing in 2013, and she is currently at work on her second book, “Biography of a Body.” Lizz‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Connotation Press, The Manifest-Station, Minerva Rising, Love Your Rebellion, Robocup Compendium, Wordgathering, Salon.com and many others. She can be found online at lizzschumer.com, @eschumer, Facebook.com/authorlizzschumer or via email to email@example.com.