By Sarah Meyer
As a kid I conceived of birth marks literally: bruises on the little body applied in the course of birth that remained forever. To this end for many years I thought the birthmark on my left shin was a bruise that, were others to touch it, would hurt extremely. Others did touch it, because I was always showing it to people. And when they touched it I would recoil in a pain that felt real but technically was not.
Yesterday a mentally ill woman tried to trip me in front of an oncoming train. I did trip, but fell the other way, toward the platform wall instead of toward the tracks. Had I fallen differently I would of course not now be writing these words.
My birthmark, I like to say, is in the shape of a heart. Although anything can be in the shape of a heart if you want it to be. When my sister and I bathed together as children she memorized it. Years later, she mentions knowing my birthmark is on my left shin because it was always on her right side when we were in the bath, sitting across from each other sharing toys.
I’m thinking now of Achilles, of his one point of vulnerability, where his mother pinched him as she held his baby body over the river Styx. I think of us in the bath water, my birthmark between us, and Achilles rises to the surface. I am thinking how my birthmark used to feel like that kind of singular vulnerable space, how now my entire body feels like such a space, how it might be nice to feel like my vulnerability were reduced to a one-inch diameter, how despite how it felt to me then, that was never near true.
After the woman tripped me, I fell toward the wall and held onto it. The tiles are white and smooth. I looked at her, and in my shock the only thing that came out of my mouth was the word what. “What?” I asked her, and held onto tiles on a wall that are wide and flat and difficult to grasp. We made eye contact, and she stuck her tongue out at me and fled. Her tongue was knotty and fat, and it has come to mind in the hours since this happened, the tongue alone. I could feel the spot on my left shin where she’d struck me for hours afterward even though she left no bruise or cut skin. I just knew where she’d struck me, on the left shin on or near my birthmark, and it rang out to remind me of something the rest of the day.
As a child I was often confused about how some babies managed not to become marked during their birth. How did some of us exit the birth canal, touching the sides of it, of our mothers, and leave with a bruise when others could do this same thing and not be marked? Continue Reading…