We are now beyond the polite sundress season, way past hiding bra straps and donning breezy cardigans. In almost any weather, I prefer layered clothing. Just as socks protect me from blisters, keeping my thighs and arms under wrap prevents chafing and other discomforts. When you hike and garden and wander as much as I do, you get used to swaddling a body.
Until August. Ninety degrees and 100% humidity is my breaking point for modesty. I wake up every morning itching mosquito bites along my ankles and calves. I am acutely aware of what a damp, needy, sensitive body I have, all the livelong month. It’s too hot to feel shame or do anything but seek shelter and cling to relief (as calamine lotion or aloe gel or a tower fan or a glass of ice water).
August is about surrender. August is about bodies.
Hangups, embarrassment and neuroses are for humans, so if you want to forget all that, spend time with animals. In August I pet-sat for friends while it felt like everyone I know went to Europe. I stayed behind with keys to apartments, canned food and leashes. This month brought me the smells, longing, bodies and needs of animals. This month taught me to take comfort in each of those things.
A household with three cats showed me the Three Faces of Longing. When owners travel, here are some options for coping:
- To sneak out and really leave. Maybe start over with a new family. Maybe wander for a while. Once out the door, no looking back.
- Escape the house but stay close. Relocate under the porch, crying out day and night. Stay outside a boundary, but just close enough to note when the beloved ones return.
- To stay inside, wait patiently and receive regular meals, rubbing a curved back against any ankles that pass through.
These creatures need food, water and shelter. But they need so much more, and they give it in return. They want the attention of another warm-blooded being, to see them and be seen by them. They can’t stand to be alone; they need to know someone is watching once in a while.
They want to be touched. Without shame or contradiction, pets offered their bodies to me while I cared for them. That’s what makes them domesticated.
And those were the cats. I haven’t even gotten to the dogs napping in the sun, pinning me under gentle paws so they could keep track of me, so I wouldn’t leave.
I’d curl up on the floor with them, brushing every inch of fur. Or sipping a cup of coffee. I grew to miss the weight of the paws pinning me down. That’s what makes me domesticated.
In August I explored the notion that freedom from the discomfort of bodies comes from more awareness. I enrolled in a heavily-discounted yoga class at a studio–the August Special.
I paid attention to the stacking of my spine, the top of my head, the flex in my toes. After a session, I remained aware of aches in all kinds of secret places for days at a time. Some days I could not raise my arms without points of pain in my shoulders. Some days back muscles insisted on making themselves known.
I thought: Perhaps my body isn’t just a carriage for my brain after all? I have an aversion to writing about bodies, I am told. I don’t put things like body language or the sensations over skin on the page. Even to the people I am close to, I bumbled through trying to explain my body this month. I swear the teacher called this one, “the meat under my sit-bones.” But this, in my middle bits? From when I breathe into the flaps around my navel? Flabs? They feel like flarps to me.
This August I read about bodies. The short stories in “Large Animals” by Jess Arndt and “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay kept me transfixed and disturbed and page-turning. (I also put away “The Dog of the Marriage” by Amy Hempel, because I admire her deadpan style and I would have never been prepared for the emotional demands and rewards of caring for pets if I hadn’t read her story “Nashville Gone to Ashes” last summer.)
I’m not the first person to try to write about bodies, but for me it’s still new. I don’t want to go into this strange place alone. I had these guides and I feel grateful to them. I think and read and dream about bodies.
The August light reveals the first stretch marks on my upper arms. Does this mean gaining or losing weight? I can’t remember and I haven’t read a Cosmo since middle school. I do remember that mindfulness means approaching everything, even (especially) myself with curiosity and not judgement. I practice in the strong light of August.
Laura Eppinger graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA in 2008 with a degree in Journalism, and she’s been writing creatively ever since. She the blog editor here at Newfound Journal.