Three weeks ago, I got into a serious bike accident. (Yes, on my beloved Bikey! RIP Bikey! *pout*) When the front fender broke, the wheel jammed up instantly, and I was thrown face-first onto the road in about a quarter-second. I didn’t even have time to put my hands out to break my fall, so I landed right on my face. Ouch. I came away with a broken nose, road rash, two black eyes, a fat lip, numb teeth, an injured knee, five stitches…and my life, thank goodness.
I wasn’t wearing a helmet (I know, I know), but all that yoga and dance came back to me in an instant—apparently I fell perfectly. At first, the ER staff didn’t believe that I had hit so hard and hadn’t sustained any permanent injuries. My nose even stayed in the exact same position after it broke. They kept expecting to find a vertebral fracture or spinal cord damage or a brain bleed, so they did a CT scan and took about 14 x-rays of my neck and ribs and back and hips. While I was out in the hall waiting for the brain scan, I had a scary moment. A man on a gurney rolled by with a caved-in skull—literally, you could see his brain through the hole. My heart leapt into my throat: “That could have been me!” After the ER doc stitched me up and wrote out my prescriptions, he confided: “You know…if you had fallen differently, you would be dead.” I could see that he was absolutely serious. Guh. You would be dead. It’s like a broken record in my head. (It didn’t happen, but it could have happened, but it didn’t happen, but it *COULD* have...)
I feel incredibly, blissfully lucky that I didn’t die. But something in me has changed since the accident. There’s this intense feeling of vulnerability. It’s not just because of the injuries, though I’ve definitely felt fearful about being around lots of people in case they knock into my crutches or accidentally bump my nose. But, mostly, it’s that I’m sitting with the knowledge that I live in a body that can break and die. Before this, death was like a distant fairy tale…something that might happen to me one day. But now, it whispers in my ear at every turn. When will I die? Maybe now. Or now. Or now. That bus, that man, that food. Any of it might kill me. I’m moving through my days like I’m getting away with something just by being alive. Like death made a mistake back there at the accident scene, and it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with me.
For the first few days after the accident, I was just trying to pull myself together and heal. There was so much pain and swelling and vulnerability and fear. It wasn’t until I went to a specialist about my knee that I realized this accident had dredged up something big from the past…
This woman, maybe in her mid-sixties, is shuffling through the waiting room with her walker. She stops on the spot when she sees me (my leg was in a brace, and my face was still a mess). She says, “Now what did you do?” I tell her what happened, and she winces in a motherly way. She tells me about a car accident her sister-in-law is recovering from and assures me that these things sometimes take months. “How long has it been?” she asks. I say five days. She says, “Well, well! I thought it had been a few weeks, or something! You’re a survivor, my dear. You keep that up.”
Besides really needing to hear that, it made something clear to me about this mistrust of my body that I had been feeling since the accident. I am a survivor. Of sexual abuse. Thus the echoes from the past and the all-encompassing fear that felt way bigger than the accident. My body has betrayed me, so it’s a delicate relationship to begin with—orgasming while being molested, shutting down when I needed to feel, keeping out the good stuff because of the bad, and now all the breaking and swelling and pain.
When I went to another clinic to get my stitches out a few days later, I was getting looks. You know the looks I mean? The he-beat-the-hell-out-of-you-didn’t-he-and-I’m-sad-and-embarrassed-that-I-have-to-see-the-evidence looks. It’s part staring, part patronizing sympathy and part trying not to look. Ahh, the hetero-feminization of injuries. When a woman’s face is bruised and messy, it must have been the work of her boyfriend. I thought back to the night of the accident and remembered that there was a man whose chest puffed up protectively outside the ER when the kind, lovely man who had volunteered to drive me to the hospital helped me out of the car and into a wheelchair. The guy with the puffed up chest gave a look that said, “What has this fucker done to you?” These women’s bodies of ours. Acted upon. Not active. When these injuries were cross-referenced with my femininity, I automatically read as a victim.
As femmes, we’re steeping in these awful assumptions all the time. How easy it is to believe that I occupy this woman’s body passively. That I’m a body that things happen to. A victim. When the nurse came to get me to take out my stitches she asked, with a knowing look, what had happened. “Bike accident,” I said. She sighed with relief, “Oh! I thought some man beat you!” she said. She laughed like she shouldn’t have been so dramatic about the whole thing. How silly of her!
But it’s not. It happens all the time. These bodies of ours have been convinced of their weaknesses, their flaws, their availability and their perfect usefulness as an outlet for desire or rage or blame. And that baggage can sure make us look like victims.
Back at the bone specialist, while I was waiting for the doctor to come in, I got a chance to look at my x-rays up on the screen. Bones are so beautiful, you know? The sleek lines, the sculpted curves, the rounded joints. Everything fits together so perfectly. I looked at the images with genuine gratitude and awe. Look at all those places that aren’t broken, I thought. All the healthy, perfect bones. And I realized that I do live in a strong body. A body that has been stronger than the rest of me, at times. Its wisdom has helped me heal stunningly fast, and it helped me fall well to minimize my injuries. If my head had hit at another angle? Boom. Over. Broken neck and brain dead. But it didn’t. My body aligned into the strongest, most flexible position and braced for the hit. And maybe that’s all we can ask of ourselves in this fucked up society: the trust that our femme bodies will always bring forward our strengths in the smartest way possible.
When I talked to my partner Linz about the accident and filled her in on just how lucky I had been, she was unsurprised.
“You’re a survivor,” she said. “You always will be.”
A couple days later, a friend posted this link on my Facebook wall. “The chorus belongs to you,” she said.
It belongs to all of you, too, my lovely femmes.
Appreciate the beauty of your bones. Like community, they hold us together strong.
And that's a structure we can rely on.