By Ella Wilson.
Every time in my life that I have had the opportunity – that is to say I have been in the presence of a huge coming or going or leaving or starting, a massive adding on or taking away – every time I have had the chance to step out, to leave behind, to shed, to transform, to butterfly, to snake – every time I could have showered off the detritus of some time in my life that lay heavy on my skin. Every time I could have grown, instead I wet-toweled.
2. Starting school
Here is how you wet-towel. You take the thing you might have stepped out of, a skin, a time, a loss, a tiny pair of pants, a hit in the face. You take that thing and you wrap yourself in it.
3. Suicide attempt age 12
You shiver at first because the wet towel makes you cold. The weight of it makes you slow. After a few days you start to smell old and nothing seems like a very good idea.
Shame is sticky and the antidote to transformation.
5. Losing my virginity
Shame tells you to hide, unfortunately the tools it gives you for hiding promote shame on shame. Shameless self promotion.
6. Leaving school
When you would rather not be seen it is preferable to hide in anything you can find.
7. Leaving home
8. Getting a job
9. My father dying
When my father died I did not notice. This is not because I was not paying attention exactly, in fact I paid so much attention, maybe too much. Nursing him from when I was 13 to 22. But something can become normal, like someone being ill, like thinking someone won’t really die. So I slept on his hospital floor for months. I swabbed his throat with little pink sponges. I knew the nurses names. He died. I wanted to stay on the floor. I wasn’t ready not to have a father. I wore his clothes. I didn’t cry. I did not become fatherless. I just became personless.
10. Moving to America
11. Being hospitalized for anorexia
12. Getting married
I was me with a ring on and 3 toasters.
13. My mother dying
I sat with my dead mother for a long time, keen not to make the same mistake I made with my father. I stared at her chest as it failed to either rise or fall. I watched as blood collected, blotching her skin. Liquid giving way to gravity. No longer pumped skywards, lifewards by that enthusiastic organ, the heart.
I stayed and looked and looked, so I would be sure. My mother has died. I do not have a mother. I am no one’s daughter. I am a pregnant adult person. I stared so I would know. But I did not know.
Towel number 13 sat especially heavy. It was the kind a sales person or catalogue would tell you was not just a towel, it was, in fact, a ‘bath sheet’. It tangled around my ankles.
14. Spending a month in a psychiatric ward
15. Having a baby
16. Having electro convulsive therapy
There are times I have even tried to make my situations harder. Aware perhaps there was much to slough away. I have cut at my arms and thighs, thinking maybe if I can physically lose some of what is pinning me to my current experience, then I will be able to step forward, lighter, better, drier. But as I have watched my own blood disappear down my bathroom drain, thinking how funny it is that a part of me is escaping out of the house, into the river, out to sea. Yet I am still hiding in my bathroom, surprised how much blood shows up on navy bath towels.
17. Having another baby
18. Slitting my wrists
There have even been dramatic gestures towards skin-shedding: digging in the woods at night, burning pictures of my shame, screaming with shamans – crystals on my chest.
19. Having a tummy tuck
But this is beyond that. There will be no dramatic skin shedding moment. If I am lucky what there will be is a daily, maybe hourly, reminder of who I am. Where I am. When I am. A minute by minute stating of the year, my name. A wiggling of the toes and naming of the objects in the room. Any attempt to shed 39 years of life will not serve me well. A constant restarting seems more possible. This is not then. I am not her. You are not him. That is not now. I am Ella Wilson. I am safe. I am in Portland. It is 2017. I am in a room of formidable women. It is Sunday. I am supposed to be here.
*This essay was born in The Writing And The Body Workshop- created by Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff. To register for one visit Lidia’s site. You can also email Zinn@corporealwriting.com for info on the next one.
Ella’s Wilson’s essays have appeared in Catapult, LitHub and Literal Latte, as well as in the anthologies Show Me All Your Scars, Same Time Next Week, Mamas and Papas – On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting, and Birth Ambassadors. Ella finds many things disappointing, but a few things strangely thrilling. Find her at www.theellawilson.net.