Lost and Found
by Emma Kate Tsai

My doctor, a tall, willowy golfer, a man I met just a week ago, whips out a sharpie and bends over me, drawing an L on my left hip. The two strokes make that slightly grating sound, that whistle, and I find myself wishing he’d used red. I want the marker to scream since I can’t. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved that color, always used that color pen, always worn that color shoe. I look down. I am branded with L: I think of what L stands for—funny word, I think to myself, stand, what I can no longer do without wincing. My hip is so white it seems blue under the fluorescent lights. The black right angle looks like a prison tattoo, perhaps one made out of frustration, something scrawled with a safety pin and later abandoned. My other leg doesn’t matter anymore, and it’s the good one. My once identical legs, the same no more. Another notch on Addie’s belt. Was I the good twin, and so I was ignored? But I was never the healthy twin, just the smart, quiet one. She was healthy, she was perfect. She is healthy, she is perfect. I look back down at the L. L is for lupus, the Latin word for wolf, and what two years ago started with butterfly wings across my face, but certainly didn’t end there; L is for love, a new love I haven’t even imagined yet, a dancer named Richard, who will smile at work at the way both my hips join at my legs, who will have no idea how my left hip clicks when I wrap my legs around his waist; L is for loss, loss of an American mother who will soon move back to South Korea and fall into that happy place of forgetting, loss of a sister who will only come to visit me tomorrow at my father’s summons, loss of a brother who was exiled to Taipei City, as my father calls it, loss of every grandparent I’ve never known: loss for me means family. And finally, I look at the doctor and know that L is for lost in the maze of my condition. My reality. I have outlived it but I will never beat it. There is no beating chronic illness.

“Okay? “ he asks as he looks into my face and recaps the sharpie with a resounding pop. “I’m your doctor and I’m marking your hip, L for left. We don’t want to replace the wrong one,” he says. “Wouldn’t that be a bitch?” Such is his sense of humor, and I smile because he wants me to smile. I don’t want to cry. He doesn’t want me to cry. He does ask me if I’m okay, just to be polite. He probably knows I’m scared, but there’s not much he can do about that. With a little sparkle in his eye—I imagine that he loves his job, and can’t wait to pound a shiny piece of Titanium into my twenty-something body with a mallet, especially because I’m so young—he leaves the room. “Trust me,” he’d warned when I made the appointment the previous week, “don’t find a video of the surgery online. You don’t want to see it. It’s pretty gruesome.” Gruesome. The word had conjured up images of operating room scenes from movies, blood gushing into the cold, brightly lit room, a man with bloody gloves walking into a waiting room to tell family the bad news. I wish he hadn’t said anything.

I barely see him leave. Instead he just disappears. I can’t see well; they’ve taken my contacts. Because I’m nearsighted the world is a blurry film. It is almost impossible to make out where I am and who has joined me here. Everything runs into everything else. My blindness makes me feel even more afraid. I can’t see the hard outline of anything: everyone looks lumpy from my point of view. The beds are ponds, the edges are shores, the ground isn’t steady enough to walk on or stand on. I can’t do either very well anyway.

I am in a pre-op holding place, the backstage of surgery. We all wait for our cue. There are beds everywhere, there are “patients” everywhere. There are three men in the same horizontal holding pattern I find myself in, or maybe there are more than three. It feels like more, but I’m not sure if I just keep looking at the same group: one with the bum knee, one with two bad hips, one with I don’t know what. They are all missing the hair on the tops of their heads, all the hair they do have is snow white. Their skin is pink and soft and fair, not in a good way, not in an ivory way. I must look like a mirage to them, with my dark, long hair I wish my fiancé would let me cut short, my porcelain skin, the good kind of fair, my dark hazel eyes. I bet they can see me. I bet they stare when the nurse moves out of the way. I can’t see their eyes; it is as if they have no soul. They are nothing, no one, to me.

Nurses flit around, smiling as their hands work, but the smiles are empty, like the expressions of a telemarketer that can only be heard and never seen. That is, when I can see them, when one of them bends over me to check on something she never explains. The ladies in white—why aren’t they wearing green? how do they do things here?—whisper to the heavyset older men—peers of my “significant other,” who is also in his sixties—about the joints they are about to lose, the joints they are about to gain. The men call them “honey” and “sugar,” and it makes my stomach turn. I am a member of their club, I hate to admit, except I am different. I am young, I am beautiful, I am fertile. Finally, I am the prettiest girl in the room, but it doesn’t do me much good here.

I am starving. I haven’t eaten since six o’clock last night. I haven’t been allowed to. There are super tight stockings on my legs to keep them from clotting or something, but it feels like they’re cutting off my circulation. I want to rip them off my legs. Something begins to change, I begin to change, but it isn’t my fault. I think they’ve given me something. I know they have. I crane my neck around my back to see the IV bag that I fear is releasing some kind of mood-altering drug into my blood. I’ve only ever had a martini or two, I’ve never gotten high. I’ve only taken anesthetic to get my wisdom teeth removed. I want to be in control, I want to see what’s happening, I don’t want to fall under the spell of medication, not again, please, not again. I didn’t authorize this. How come I have to get their approval to so much as sit up but they don’t have to get mine to intoxicate me? My poor blood, those veins that have been so exhausted, so used, so tapped. Lying down in that room when I couldn’t sit up to have my blood drawn, when they stuck the needle in the back of my hand, that witch who moved the needle under my skin looking for a vein, forgetting about me, thinking only of my blood. I’ve become one of those inmates cuffed to a metal stand and a plastic bag. They can do whatever they want to you in a hospital, and you barely even know. I’m staring at a man directly across from me who appears too out of touch to raise his head. Is he seventy? Eighty? Is it his knee or his hip? Which knee, which hip? Is he married? I bet they took his wedding ring from him. They took my engagement rings and put them in a little plastic bag with a bright orange toxic material warning symbol. Will someone be there for him? I never had a grandfather, not really. He looks like one. Is he? He speaks, finally, to the nurse, to the air, hoping someone is listening, and his voice comes out gruff, altered, I assume, by nicotine. My voice isn’t gruff. I’m not old. But my boyfriend is. My boyfriend should be in this bed instead of me, I think. I’m young. He is old. Why am I here? Why isn’t he here? I keep thinking like this, in a loop I can’t get out of, for what seems like a long time: Joe is old. I am young. My voice is lilting. Joe’s voice is gruff. Joe is old. Joe is old. Joe is old.

I eavesdrop, trying to hear what I can’t see because of my fuzzy vision and altered brain chemistry when something gets in my way. Then something begins to take shape out of shadow. It is my mother. They let my mother in, damn it. I look at her. Her name is Lisa and she is beautiful. I think this over slowly, saying the lines like I’m counting beads: Her name is Lisa and she is beautiful. She was the first person to abandon me, and an easy person to blame for this, all of this, the blurred vision, the dopey brain, the L tattoo, the company I’m keeping in pre-op in Houston, Texas, in Methodist Hospital. At least I’m not in St. Luke’s again. I’ll never go back there. From your mother, my father had explained. “The lupus gene. Your love from your mother comes at a cost,” he’d said when I’d first been diagnosed. How relieved he must have been that it hadn’t come from his side of the family, especially considering that Asians get lupus more often than whites do. (My mother is white. Does that make my father yellow?)

My mother is here, standing in front of me, looking down at me with her sparkling blue eyes, her wavy brown hair unwashed and pulled back. I hate her clothes, I hate her shoes, I love her makeup. She is wearing those ugly ugly ugly white orthopedic shoes, misshapen black cotton pants that must be from Walgreen’s, an oversized white tanktop. Her bra is dark purple, it shows through the white. Her breasts are enormous. I feel like I need protection from them. I’ve always needed protection from her sexuality. It’s the cause, the root, of our every problem. Or is it? Would she have stayed if she were schoolmarmish and homely? Would I have wanted her to? I look up at her, and I see one of my best features in her face, what makes my brother so seductive to the ladies: our high cheekbones. They are bare of makeup. Her full lips are colored in a brilliant hot pink, that Jade lipstick that’s green before it touches the wearer, and her skin, her skin is so beautiful, so freckled, so fair, so soft, so unwrinkled. She’s never looked her age in the face. That is where the similarities end. The body is a different story. She is wider than me by about a third, she is squishy and full and plump, she has a butt that the black men love, that she gave to my sister. “You’re just like my mom, you’ve got her frame. Some butt, but mostly lanky.”

I don’t want to look at her anymore. I might lose myself. I look away. I look down at the floor, the floor is dirty, I wish I could jump off this gurney and clean it on my hands and knees. This is a rare moment in my life for my mother is hardly ever where I am. And now that she is, I want her not to be. “Honey, are you okay?” she asks. Then she answers her own question: “I know you’re okay. You’re strong, honey.” I want to slap her. I’ve told her to stop calling me that.

Then she asks many questions in succession, firing them at me, they literally feel like bullets to my brain: Has the doctor come in yet? What did he say? What about the nurse? When will they take you in? Can you just relax? Should you be lifting your head? Does it hurt? How do you feel? Which one is it? Is it this one? Am I leaning on the bad leg?” (It’s not my leg, damn it, it’s my hip.) She jumps back when I wince and says, “You know me, if something’s fragile, I’ll break it.” She laughs her beautiful laugh that sometimes makes her cry great, happy tears. It is my laugh. But I can’t even smile. She’s still performing, filling up the silence with her questions, her laughter, her nervous little movements. She keeps shaking her head, as if her hair is down and she is modeling for a shampoo commercial. She taps her foot, she moves her hips back and forth in a subconscious, impromptu dance, her bracelets and necklaces and dangling feather earrings make the sounds of a soft xylophone. The noise, the movement, the closeness is too much. I want quiet. I am suffocating. Her short stubby fingers are fireants moving up and down my skin as she squeezes and pinches me. Thank god I don’t have her hands, I think, as she reaches beneath the sheet to make sure she touches me, flesh on flesh, without the cloth in between us. Without anything to shield me. I can’t even raise my arms to defend myself. I am helpless. My left leg tingles a little bit. I stare at the sheet where her hand is, and watch it bouncing up and down as if it were a parasite. I can’t seem to stop its attack.

I am trapped. The hospital has taken my power, my independence. I can’t get away from her, I can’t bat her hand away, I can’t give her a look that silences every ridiculous query she’s really not interested in my answering. I can only lie here and grow quietly insane to the noises coming out of her mouth. I hate her hands. They’re cold and clammy, and I fear they’ll stick to me, and I’ll never be able to tear myself away. I am fixed into place. It isn’t fear of the surgery that renders me immobilized, but fear of my mother. Fear she’ll leave, fear she won’t. Her belly pushes against me and makes my skin crawl, yet I still cannot move. “You used to always love to be affectionate with me, remember? You loved sitting in my lap.” No, I don’t remember. I don’t remember her when I was a child. I don’t remember sitting in her lap. I don’t remember wanting to.

I want my dad to sweep in and take her away, or take me away, and save me from her. As if answering me on command, he does. As he always has. As he did when we were five, when she’d stolen us and taken us to Tennessee, and he stole us back. As he did two years ago when I first got sick and she tried to invade my territory. “I’m gonna come to Houston, to your apartment, okay, honey? I’ll take care of you. I just quit my job, I’m leaving Shanghai. So don’t worry about anything. Okay, honey?” That, of course, the job, had nothing to do with me, though she pretended it did. She’d been fired. She was going through a divorce, her third. She wanted to run away, again. She needed me. Lupus or not, I didn’t need her, she’d trained me well not to. “Mom, I don’t know. I’m gonna go to Baba’s.” She’d started in, using her line, trying to persuade me. She was good, I’ll admit it, but she wasn’t that good. I wasn’t a little girl anymore, it took more than a pretty smile and a pretty face and a string of empty compliments to get me to change sides. I could barely hear a word she was saying, every syllable faced the contradictory image in my head I knew would turn real if I let her into my home. I heard the words “take care of me,” but I saw my mother taking care of herself: the smell of the marijuana that always came between us, the crowds of empty beer bottles shoving aside back issues of Women’s Health and my journal and whatever novel I was reading, the sight of her readjusting her cotton shorts between her legs and flopping over to get more comfortable watching my TV on my couch, the Chinese bowls degraded to the role of ashtray, the mess she’d make, how hard it would be to get her to ever leave. She tried again. I again told her no. My father watched my face, ready to handle her for me. I was struggling to even stay conscious, much less to hold on to the phone. The fever hadn’t cooled. It was only my second day in the hospital. Finally, I’d simply handed the phone to my father, tired of hurting her feelings, tired of listening, tired of talking, tired of her. “She come home with me, Lisa. Better that way. She has her old room, Addie be there. Better that way.” Mom started crying when he handed the phone back to me but then I slowly drifted back into unconsciousness. Fever was my savior.

“Guai guai,” my father says to me now in greeting, my favorite word in Chinese, smiling that slight smile that cons everyone, even me, into believing he is the perfect father. My mother’s hand slips from my leg. There is never room for anyone else when my father is present. He slips my glasses into my hand and I smile like a blushing schoolgirl. He is such a relief after Mom; for once I am happy for his brevity. I look up, put on my glasses, and his face comes into focus: his beautiful olive skin, his huge eyes, his thin lips that look thinner when he mistakenly thinks he should grow a moustache, his Chinese nose I only have half of. I see it in his eyes, that expression of love that traps me, that makes me forget every look of disgust he has ever sent my way. “Tao yan.” What he says when I’d been bad. “Tao yan, dinner for eating, not talking!” “Tao yan, stay home and study, I don’t even know those people, why you want to social with them, you just want to play play play, COME ON AND STUDY NOW.” “Tao yan, you wearing makeup? Don’t put ANYTHING on your FACE.” “Tao yan, disgusting, dishonorable, why you write this? You write these notes to your friends?” He is not saying that word now. That means to beg for disgust. Right now, he doesn’t hate me, right now, he loves me. He always loves me when I’m broken. Well, not always. Only when he can’t blame it on me. This isn’t a hoarse voice or a cold. This isn’t my fault. It’s the doctor’s fault. He squeezes my hand. “Guai guai, everything okay. We wait outside. Good girl.” He takes my mother away and they leave me in peace.

My husband is somewhere, except he isn’t my husband yet, and he won’t be my husband for long. Right now he is my fiancé, my boyfriend of eight years though I’ve never called him that. Sometimes Joe calls himself the boyfriend of the year, when gets me tampons at Rice Epicurean, the little gourmet market he likes, when he fixes my car, when he helps me move, even when it was to move in with him. But in public, around his friends and his family and his colleagues, I am the girl he “met in the parking lot.” He makes up a story so he doesn’t have to tell the real story: that I met him applying for a job that I interviewed for in a college conference room. He was fifty-three when we met, I was nineteen.

He loves this, my being in the hospital, his not. It is in my weakness that he feels most strong. He lives for these moments as my companion, when he can take care of me, serving as a shabby replacement for my father, who is the only dependable parent I have but one I can never trick into liking me for very long. I can, however, trick both symbols of paternity into taking care of me—thanks to the constant illness and discomfort. My father: the pink eye I got twice, once in the seventh grade, once in the eleventh. The twice-a-year throat infections. The cold sores. The leg rash. The head-to-toe rash from being allergic to penicillin. The stomach viruses. The fevers. The flus. Joe: the anxiety, the introversion, the shyness, the childhood pain. The car accident, the falls, skinning my knee, my leg, my elbow, my chin. The nausea, the faint spells, the dental surgery. And them both: the killer, lupus. Vomiting on the kitchen floor as I gripped the countertop, my knuckles turning white, coughing up streams of blood before I had a chance to brush my teeth, weak joints that sent me to the porcelain floor on my knees when I tried to shower, where I let the water rain on my head too tired to do much else, dizziness, a hundred and four degree fever, open sores inside my mouth, the facial rash that replaced all makeup, the amenorrhea. And now, finally, the avascular necrosis that again keeps both father and mate by my side, in my life, fixated on my face, my body, my symptoms, which is all that I am to them in this moment. “You okay?” The word no is all they truly want to hear.

 

I am twenty-seven, I am two years past three misdiagnoses and one right one. I’d done my time in the hospital, I’d done my time at my father’s house. I’d gone back to work, back to friends, back to home, back to self. I’d gone back to kickboxing and weight lifting and running.

It wasn’t running that did it, but I was running when it happened. It had to be a sports injury, which would have labeled me a real athlete at long last. I breathed, I counted, I listened to the sound of my feet hit the cobalt blue makeshift track in the basement of the City Club, a members-only society club I can’t afford on my own. A club my parents can’t afford. A club only my much older companion can, who was once rich and pretends he still is. It is five a.m. on a weekday and I am sprinting. I run fast, so fast, I feel strong, agile, powerful, unbeatable. I am alone, the track is mine. I can breathe, long and deep without coughing. I can move, easy and free without pain. Shit, I can stand. That is enough. I turn a corner, hard and fast, I want to scream I am so happy. I feel naked, my workout clothes fit so well, so snug. The sun comes up higher and higher and higher. I notice it when I round that corner where the windows are. I pass the darkened spinning room, the curtains to the tennis courts, I spot the back stairs.

Then something clicks. And pops.

Do I hear it first or feel it? It only pops once, so I keep running, I ignore it. It is nothing. (Though everyone who eventually hears this story winces when I get to that part, the part where I hear it.) I keep sprinting the curves and running the straights. It has to be nothing. But there is a pressure there now, a weight on my hip, as if two hands are holding my hip from either side, forcing me to push through the pressure, move against the resistance. I do, and I keep running. I remember what every athlete says about pain in motion. Push through it. But the pain doesn’t exactly go away. And it seems wrong. I start to hold my breath. I focus on the sound of my feet slamming into the ground, the softness of this ground compared to the asphalt outside, the cyclists spinning their wheels at one corner, their teacher’s voice rising over the sound of Axl Rose, “We’re going climbing!,” the tennis players underneath the stairs using the wall as a backboard , the windows that face the church library across the street, and the sign that says faster runners should keep to the left.

When I slow down, a couple of laps later, I can still feel my hip. I can feel everything it is doing as I walk. I can feel it turning, I can feel it grinding, I can feel it rubbing. I try to forget it. I try to be aware of my other hip. I try to compare the two. I can’t seem to, I can’t seem to figure out what makes the good one good and the other one bad. I think I might run and absorb the pain in more pain and just as I jump on one foot, the other foot in mid air, I stop. Something tells me to stop. I drop my foot. I see the stairs, I look at them, I look back at the track. I do this for awhile, looking back and forth from the stairs to the track to the stairs again until I realize that I must stop. I exhale in involuntary defeat. I walk towards the stairs and away from my run.

The hip is moving, it is making my legs move, but I can’t walk very fast up the stairs, I certainly can’t run as I always do on stairs, and walking down the long hall to the locker room is almost excruciating. This, this walk back, is usually my favorite part of my workout, when my breath comes out deep and even and excitable, when my legs feel used and important, when the sweat starts drying on my forehead. Around the corner from the locker room door I can hear breakfast happening in the little area overlooking the “front nine” (what Joe calls these nine tennis courts near the entrance to the club), where what I call “country club men and women” are eating oatmeal and English muffins, feta and spinach omelets, and egg sandwiches between slices of thick bread that taste like cake. I am in that place where I am sick and they are healthy, I am injured and they are cheerful. I am resentful and they are delighted. My hip screams.

I swing open the door and a woman greets me and hands me a towel. I shuffle into the shower, relieved to find an empty one, and turn on the water. Once I get in, I let out a breath as the discomfort fades away under the heat and pressure of the water. Under the steam the water makes and releases. But the fear doesn’t evaporate, the fear of what it could be, the fear of what lies beyond my limited knowledge of my own body. I’m on the edge of a panic attack, and I know exactly what that feels like, I had them every day, all day, when I first started taking prednisone, that nasty, godforsaken drug. That sense of terror creeping up the inside of my body and into my heart. After a good ten minutes when the pain begins to leak from my body and wash away with the sweat, I don’t—I won’t—rest completely on my left leg. The pain isn’t gone, after all, it’s just dried and sticking to me. I don’t rub the soap into what I’ve now namecalled “the bad hip,” I just spread the suds around with three fingertips, afraid to dig too deep. I watch where my hands caress it, wishing I could see what were happening inside, wishing this little massage were enough to cure whatever’s clearly gone terribly wrong. When I exit the shower, I shuffle so no one can tell I’m actually limping. It is only when I make my way to my little vanity, the first one, and sneak into a corner of lockers where no one else is and no one else can see me that I hand my body over to my left hip, throwing myself at it, waiting to see what it will do, how it will feel. I glance over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching. I’m not sure why it’s so important that I’m not seen, exactly, except that if it is something, if it looks like something, and someone else sees that it’s something, it—this—will suddenly become real. It will no longer be all in my own head.

I ease into weighting my hip ounce by ounce, rolling off my toes and onto the ball of my foot, pressing into the arch, balancing on the heel, until I am proudly bipedal again. Then I shift my weight from left to right as if I am preparing to ballroom dance, practicing equilibrium until I’ve regained a little of the confidence I lost on the track. I practice some more, left, right, left, right, I bounce. I try to walk. I step forward two steps, slowly rolling on the ball of my foot onto my heel, I pivot, I pivot again, I step forward two more steps in the same slow motion. Okay, I can move, okay, I can walk. I’m okay. I smile unable to help myself. I want to jump. I want to run. But I get dressed instead.

 

I move on, and I forgive my hip for being bad. It’s good again. I keep running, I keep kickboxing, I keep bouncing on my feet, I keep jumping rope, I keep lunging, I keep squatting, I keep bending my knees. I keep dancing in the bathroom, I keep running down the stairs, I keep clicking my heels. And I keep walking. I tell my boyfriend, the former number one tennis player in the state of Texas and the former scholarship tennis athlete (nearly forty-five years ago), about the click and the pop and what quickly turned to pain. I tell him when I come in from work, though we’d talked maybe five times that day. He always needs to know where I am. He seems unfazed by my tale. “Baby, that’s a groin pull. All athletes get ‘em. What were you doing when it happened?” He doesn’t wait for a response. “Yeah, that’s all it is. Just stay off it for a day or two, and here…” He throws a torn dishtowel over his shoulder as he always does when he’s interrupted while cooking, and jogs agilely up the stairs. I’m envious of how beautifully he moves. I don’t follow him. I hear him rummaging around in his bathroom cabinets—pushing aside anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants and gauze bandages and tubes of Neosporin and hand grips and insoles that won’t fit in a medicine cabinet, and thank god he refuses to share a bathroom—until he finds what he’s looking for. He trots just as gracefully down the stairs, and tosses a heating pad at me, almost smacking me in the chest with the on/off switch. “Put some heat on it. Do that now and I’ll keep making dinner.” I kiss him on the cheek, he shrugs me off of him, and I go to my little office. My office is what the condo’s study turned into, his is the guest bedroom.

Groin pull. WebMD should know. “A groin pull—or groin strain—results from putting too much stress on muscles in your groin and thigh. If these muscles are tensed too forcefully or too suddenly, they can get over-stretched or torn. Groin pulls are common in people who play sports that require a lot of running and jumping. In particular, suddenly jumping or changing direction is a likely cause.” I had been running. I’d suddenly changed direction. What I’m reading is a blanket diagnosis—a lie that is easy to believe because it is one that I want—need—to believe. It means it is curable, and it will go away and leave me the fuck alone. I read about the symptoms: “Pain and tenderness in the groin and the inside of the thigh. Pain when you bring your legs together. Pain when you raise your knee. A popping or snapping feeling during the injury, followed by severe pain.” Certainly the first one, and the last. As I keep reading, I get to the good news: “Happily, a groin pull will usually heal on its own. You just need to give it some time and rest. To speed the healing, you can: Ice the inside of your thigh to reduce pain and swelling.” Not heat. So Joe doesn’t know everything. “Experts recommend doing it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone. Compress your thigh using an elastic bandage or tape.” Joe has four kinds of bandages, and two kinds of tape. “Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling.” I’ll take some Aleve, it’s my favorite. “Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.”

I go back into the kitchen. “Yeah, Baby?” He only calls me by name when he’s not happy with me. I hardly ever call him by his name. “The Web says ice, and exercises, maybe, depending on what the doctor says. Should I do that? Ice, I mean.” I don’t really want to ask his permission, but I know it’s better than the alternative: doing something he won’t like and hearing that professorial tone I hate just as much as my mother’s Tennesseean accent. He’ll roll his eyes at me if he catches me disobeying his “doctor’s orders.” “You want a man to do things, tell him you admire him,” Joe would say. “We want to be deferred to. That’s how you get us to take out the trash.” Not that he takes out the trash. That’s what the guys downstairs are for. But he’s nicer to me when he feels smarter than me, which makes him less critical of me. All around, mine is the selfish approach, and strategic.

“Baby, you don’t need a doctor. It’s just a little sports injury. But, sure, try some ice. Here.” He pauses again, throws a second dish towel over his other shoulder (he’s forgotten the first one was there already) and pulls a long band of ice packs out of the freezer. “Wrap that around your hip and just sit in the Eames chair.” He pauses for a moment and looks at me. “It’ll go away. Trust me.” He puts both his hands, wet from his constant handwashing, on my shoulders. The athletic architect makes his diagnosis. He turns back to his stew, and I take the hint.

 

I stop exercising for a few weeks. I stop everything: running, weight training, spinning, kickboxing. But it comes back. Worse. So I stay off my hip—I stay off exercise—a bit longer. It goes away again. I take this second opportunity to at least return to kickboxing, I haven’t been myself without it. As I step into what was once a lube station, sign in, smile at my trainer and everyone else there who knows me—by name, height, and the snap in my kick—I forget about my hip. I don’t think, for at least the duration of the class, about the risk I’m taking, how I’ll probably make my hip worse. For sixty minutes I’m powerful and strong. It’s a Saturday class, and that means circuit training.

My first class was on a Saturday like this one. I was stationed on the side of the blue mat closest to the door going through right leg drills, when Tony, my trainer’s husband and a master martial artist, stops me mid-kick. “Here, you want to kick like this.” He stands on one foot, lifts up on the ball, and slams his calf into the pad wrapped around my partner’s arms. As soon as his leg makes contact with the plastic, I think the pad is going to blow up. It makes a sound like a thunderclap. My partner is pushed back on her heels and bounces several times before she stops, her back arching to keep herself from falling. “You want to act like you’re going through the pad. Your body should face that way, you should pivot on your heel, your heel should come up off the ground. That’s where the power comes from. Kick, kick, kick, kick. Here.” He lands on his feet like an animal, light and flexible and pliable and strong. His palms flatten against what I later learn is known as the “core,” and he twists his midsection back and forth to illustrate to me the origination of the strength behind his kick. I step back. “Go head, kick, ” he commands. I pad over to my partner, who’s shaking a little at the knees (she just came for a workout, she wants no part of this “training”), and I step to the side on my left foot, bring my right foot up, and kick the pad. My kick merely pats the pad, but he squeezes me on the shoulder and says, “Good work.” He walks away from me, nods at Michelle, and walks out the door.

 

I become obsessed with it, from that first day. For whatever reason, I’d always wanted to try it. I’d looked up classes after I’d broken up with Kenny, the guy who’d only lift weights, but the first person to get me into a gym. I’d never done anything aerobic, other than P.E., and I dreaded it. I’d much rather take another math class. The only thing I was good at were sit-ups; I ran a mile in seventeen minutes, I lasted eight seconds on flexed arm hang, I always got slammed in the head by the ball, any ball, I always missed any ball I had to hit with anything, even my own hand or foot. Kickboxing was cost prohibitive when I first got interested, but one day I’d found a gym in the Heights that advertised a class that wasn’t. The gym was a real martial arts studio: a warehouse with high ceilings, a large blue mat we walked on barefoot, a Brazilian flag hanging from the rafters in honor of jiu-jitsu master Royce Gracie, and full-size punching bags that bordered the perimeter of “the ring.” Large, grimacing grapplers sat on benches wrapping their hands; slender, lithe fighters bounced on their feet in the corners preparing to spar. I nodded at them, slipped off my shoes, and tiptoed over to the mat. That was before the end of the first class in which I almost fainted, the day that turned into a night when I couldn’t sleep for how every single muscle in my body ached. I discovered tendons in my back, my neck, my wrists, my torso that I had only seen in diagrams.

But I was hooked.

I went to the gym as often as I could—every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday—until I tried competitive kickboxing training with Tony—classes that came after Michelle’s at seven thirty at night—and a fighter who didn’t want women in his ring kneed me in the shin.

 

The class ended, and I thanked Michelle. I was thanking her for the distraction from my hip, but I didn’t divulge my secret. The sweat poured off my face and the salt dripped into my mouth as I quickly toweled off, slipped on my shoes, and ran out the door. I was meeting my friend Sarah for lunch at the usual place. My hip started to cool and by the time I’d closed the distance between Urban Jungle and El Rey I knew it was back. I felt it the second I opened the disagreeable glass door of that little drop-in place on the corner. As if a vice was gripping my hip. I pushed against it, forced into walking straight-legged, unable to bend my knee. I didn’t want Sarah to know. After we sat down with our food and started to talk, I silently begged my body to work with me. I begged it not to make itself known when I stood up. I told myself I was just tired, that it was just the same old soreness I always felt after kicking for an hour. I made my three wishes, the same three wishes: that it wouldn’t hurt. That I wouldn’t limp. That it had gone away. But I was negotiating with destiny. I was on my way to getting worse, not better.

When we were outside the restaurant, in the bright glare of the sunlight, Sarah stopped short and turned to me, taking me by the arm. “Are you limping? I think you’re limping.” Then, like Joe, she didn’t wait for an answer. “Go to the doctor.” And, like I had with Joe, I followed this second round of advice.

 

The pain is sharper this time around. Harder to ignore. And I can’t ignore it, but I push through it. I am used to that, minimizing pain. It’s a lot easier to minimize this kind of pain. It feels a little like being back in high school, going to school, attending one class after another, pretending I liked my life. Smiling at people, laughing when things were supposed to be funny, greeting people as if I weren’t terrified of my father, as if I had the kind of mother everyone else seemed to have. “Sure, maybe,” I’d say to every invitation, as if my father would ever let me go anywhere. I was afraid to even ask. Afraid of his shout, his tortured face, his hand slapping my hand until it cracked for my even suggesting going anywhere for fun. And like my father’s hand, I am afraid of whatever hand is on my hip, and I am getting used to whatever it is. I am afraid of getting used to it. Soon, the pain becomes a security blanket: the longer I have it, the more I almost begin to rely on it. Everyday that the pain is still there reminds me I’m not crazy, and what I feel is real. And everyday I get one step closer to greater pain and greater injury. I find new ways to sleep, but wake up often, unable to get comfortable. The joint buzzes and vibrates, as if rattling inside the cage of my leg. When I lie awake at night, I look over at Joe with his bright orange earplugs in, the pillow between his legs. I can be an athlete just like you, I think. I can take it. I can suffer through it. I lie very still, flat on my back, and stare at my leg. I want to will it to behave. I want to pretend I still have control. But my body doesn’t give a shit what I think. My hip hurts, it aches, as if someone is standing on my joint, and if I roll or move, I only cause him to push more weight into my body. I am pinned to the ground.

 

I can’t suffer through it. I stop everything for a long time. Six months. I can no longer walk pain-free. It isn’t just pain anymore, the pain is venturing into immobility. I start to limp. I can’t step down all the way on my foot, no matter how slowly I ease down into it, and it isn’t just pain getting in my way, but it is as if I physically cannot do it, as if I am missing some muscle or tendon or bone in my leg that I need in order to switch weight from one foot to the other. I try to use my hands to flatten my foot to the ground, but it won’t work, it won’t obey. I don’t know what to do to my hip to get my foot to listen to me, to do what I tell it to do. I can no longer walk without limping. I put all my weight on my right foot, lightly touch the ball of my left, and hobble along like that everywhere, limping even more when no one I know is in sight, afraid for what people I know might say. Their concern would be too huge a dose of reality: it’s bad and it isn’t getting better.

I don’t go to the real doctor, the doctor that will fix this, or open the door to real recovery, but I keep going to the other doctor, the lupus doctor. I tell him about my hip, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. He focuses instead on his lupus medication protocol. “Okay, so what are you on now? What dose?” I recite all of them for him, including the scheduled times, and he glances down at the open file folder in his lap. I am taking five medications in an off-balance schedule that I type into a spreadsheet to keep track. Some I take on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, others I take on Monday/Tuesday/Friday, still others I take on Wednesdays or Thursdays. He makes up the new schedule in his head, on the fly, sometimes I think just to fuck with me. I keep taking prednisone, which I will later find out caused all of this, because I don’t know it can cause all of this, because he never tells me that it’s bad. He never tells me nearly ninety percent of the side effects of that steroid, which include panic attacks (that I discovered on my own), high blood pressure, cognitive dysfunction, numbness, loss of touch with reality, confusion. And yes, something called avascular necrosis. I limp my way into his office, but he doesn’t watch me to see that I can’t walk on my left leg: he is always too busy playing with the computer and looking at my numbers. White blood cells, platelets, antibodies, complement. My numbers are getting better, but he’ll be damned if he’ll reduce any of my medication. I’m always on the edge of my seat waiting for that day that he’ll finally say enough is enough. But he never does. I have to change doctors to get that to happen. “Okay, drop from 45 milligrams to 40 milligrams, and we’ll see how that goes for awhile,” he says. If only he had stopped the drug, if only he’d told me, if only I’d known. When I find out later what that drug did to me, to my hip, I theorize that he didn’t want to tell me—because of course he knew. So I would happily follow his prescripted drug schedule, carefree and medicated.

 

Nine months pass. I can’t bend over to tie my shoes. I have to reach my feet behind my back and tie them blind. I can’t bend my knee to sit down. I have to straighten my left leg then lower myself slowly, cautiously, on my right leg. I have to balance on my right leg to stand up. I can’t bend forward to wash my legs. I am now always tired before my day even begins. It is exhausting, getting up and down, bathing, dressing, walking.

Prednisone. Oh, it does more than make you gain weight. It kills your hip. Sometimes. Your hip can die, it can collapse. Avascular necrosis. Death of blood. It happens to me.

“I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, a sports guy.”

“You’re wasting your time,” Joe scoffs from the passenger seat. I’m on my way to drop him off at Rice University, where we both work, before I head out to my appointment. “It’s a sports injury, I’m telling you. All they’ll tell you is to stay off it.”

“It’s been nine months. I haven’t worked out in two months. It is not going away,” I almost shriek at him.

“Yeah, they take a while. But, whatever, I’ll be interested to hear what he says if anything.”

Once I’m in the doctor’s waiting room, I look around, afraid that he’s right. I don’t belong here. I’m surrounded by innocent people in casts on nearly every part of the body, spread out on the twenty or so injured souls that wait for someone who can help them. I feel them eyeing me as an obvious outsider, some complaining little girl who shouldn’t waste any of this man’s time. Where is your cast, their glares seem to demand, where is your broken bone? But I have a limp! I want to shout, yet I don’t. They’ll see it when I stand, if they even care.

A faceless woman takes me down a long hall to get my x-ray first, then puts me in a doctor’s office to wait. “You’re sure you’re not pregnant?” I want to laugh. Joe hasn’t touched me sexually in years. “Oh I’m sure. I’m not sexually active.” “That’s a pretty good way,” she says, laughing. She doesn’t know why it isn’t funny. On my way to the doctor’s office, I pass a clay figurine of a man on an operating table that is mounted to a wall. A joke is written above it, something about surgical mistakes. I don’t think that’s funny either. There are more comic strips of likeminded tone tacked to the wall of his office, along with gory pictures of hip surgeries gone bad. I don’t register any of this as applying to me. I don’t for one second think I’ll need an operation. I redirect my attention to the diagrams of the leg and all the bones and muscles in it. Even the photographs of the healthy hips turn my stomach. So red and creepy and vesseled. Golf paraphernalia fills the space in between all the hip cartoons and photographs, and a framed photo of the doctor with Tiger Woods. I close my eyes. It’s easier to not look at anything.

“Richard Kearns, fun being here, isn’t it?” He puts out his hand to shake mine.

I smile. “Not really.”

“Yeah, well, you’re really not gonna like what I’m gonna tell you next. Here, let’s have a look at your film.” I follow him five steps down a hall, where he pounds a keyboard with his two index fingers and pulls up my x-ray. “See that there? That’s necrosis, avascular necrosis. Death of blood. You’ll need to get a new hip. A total hip replacement.”

I’m stunned into silence. The words are so big and meaningful they almost don’t register. “Avascular necrosis.” I don’t know what that means. “Total hip replacement.” I’m struggling to understand. “What?” Anxiety takes over. I can’t think.

“Here, look. See that?” He points to a black space where the joint should be flush against the bone. The heat is rising up, stopping at my throat. I think my face must be turning red. I look to where he’s pointing. It looks like someone forgot to turn the lights on in my body. It’s so dark, so hard to see. “What happens with this thing is your hip collapses. It should be up here.” He shows me the edge of the pelvis where the hip joint meets it. “Not down here.” He looks down at my chart. “You’ve been taking prednisone, right?”

I nod. “Yeah, for a while.”

“That’ll do it.” I follow him back into his office. “Remember,” he bends over and stares into my eyes, “it’s not if, it’s when. Let me know what you want to do, okay? I do them all day long, it’s a safe and easy procedure, there’s like, what, 99% success with these things. With you, I’d probably use metal on metal, best range of motion, you can still do everything you want. You’re young, so you might have to replace it after a while. It’s like a car, you add miles to it, it wears out faster. But it might last your whole life. You never know. Anyway, give it some thought and give me a call. Okay?” I don’t respond, I don’t want to be mistaken for having agreed with him. “It’s not if, it’s when,” he says again before he leaves, and I smile, not wanting to.

I sit there for a while, wondering why I’m fielding this alone, wondering where my back up is. I need someone to take over, to make decisions, to get me out of here. I drift out of his office, I pay, I want to smack the smile off the receptionist’s face. But I smile back and act gracious. It isn’t her fault. I drift down to the elevators, to my car in the garage, and begin the five-minute drive towards Rice to pick up Joe. I want to get rid of this information, I want to spill it, I want to throw it at someone else. I can’t get the image out of my head of my own x-ray—even I can see that darkened valley that should be filled with beautiful white bone. Anyone could. I pull up to the curb and I watch Joe as he strides with athletic grace towards the car, the one he’s embarrassed to be seen in. But right now, he slips in, smiles at me, and greets me warmly. “Hiya Cutie.” He’s forgotten about the doctor’s appointment.

I waste no time in the subtle I told you so. “So, I have avascular necrosis and need a total hip replacement.” I say it with dramatic effect. I say it with a laugh in my voice. And then I do laugh a little, as I do when I’m in therapy. My face hurts. There should be a drum roll to back me up.

He hesitates. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope, I went, they took an x-ray, apparently it’s a side effect of prednisone.”

“I cannot believe this, I don’t believe this. You can’t possibly need a new hip. You’re only twenty seven.” He turns from me, stares straight ahead, and so do I.

“You should have seen it. This big black void where my hip should be. This black space at the edge of the ball. I could see it.”

He turns back to me and immediately dons another hat. “We’ll get through this, you’ll be okay. I’ll be there. Make another appointment. I’ll go with you.” He changes. The world has now become post-avacular-necrosis, and that’s all he needs to show me what he’s made of. He is not the man who told me this was a groin pull and went back to the stove. He is the man who is now taking over. He is the man who will take care of me. He holds my hand in a way he hardly ever does and we’re home in barely any time at all.

 

I get a second, and a third opinion. Three hip doctors that all make the exact same diagnosis, and prescribe the exact same total hip replacement. It isn’t rare, for a person who’d taken as much prednisone as I had, apparently. It’s as if I have AIDS, or mono, or breast cancer. In their world, I have one of those things people get; it’s boring to them for how common it is. I email my father and let him know, with an understanding of what’s to come. He’s going to be furious, then he’s going to be loving. “Make an appointment with Fisher (he forgets the letter c). I’m coming with you. Make an early one, before nine.” We meet in front of the clinic, its grand, beautiful building always a jarring sight to see when you’re in pain. Our footfalls echo on the marble steps as we climb the staircase in sync, until he notices me holding on to the railing and taking each step with both feet. My father helps me over to the elevator by allowing me to hold on to his shoulder as I limp.

When Dr. Fischer comes in to find my father not smiling in way of hello, his head twitches a bit, and he moves around my father, focusing on me. “Hello there, how are we doing?”

My father barely allows him to sit down before launching into him. “Did you know she can’t walk? Look at this, watch her walk. Emma, walk,” my father orders me. I stand up and walk across the room, limping, absolutely unable to step down on my left foot. The doctor’s eyes widen. “Did you tell me about this? When did this happen?”

“I told you. It started in October.”

He begins flipping through his notes. “I have no record of this. Are you sure you told me?”

“Yes, I told you, in October, and later, and recently. I went to an orthopedic surgeon. They said I need a total hip replacement. That I have avascular necrosis.”

“They want to replace her hip!” my father begins to shout, as if I hadn’t said anything. “From that steroid! Why she still on that thing! Long term drugs never any good. Just at the beginning, yes, to get her well, but she been well for a while. Two years she been on that thing.”

Dr. Fischer turns to me, closing a door (not literally) on my father’s rant. “What did the doctor say?

“That I need a total hip replacement. That I have avascular necrosis. That it was the prednisone.”

Dr. Fischer looks at me, his white coat clinging to the outsides of his thighs, his bald, greasy head glistening under the harsh lighting. His belly rests between his legs, his eyes start to water. He wheels his chair closer to mine, but my legs are crossed so he backs up. “Oh no,” he whispers. I see it in his face, the way it falls. I’m one of his favorite patients. Of all people, he wishes this hadn’t happened to me. He likes me: I am young, easygoing, relaxed, and pretty. And so down to earth, he’s said. So real. So calm. He is none of those things. None of his patients are any of those things. But now he has done something to me. And he finally feels guilty. “I was hoping this wouldn’t happen. Oh, no. Oh, man.” He is crestfallen, so devastated I almost feel sorry for him.

“You knew? You knew about this!” My father is still screaming. He doesn’t see one sign of the pain I see on the poor man’s face. Nor does he care. His eyes burn into Dr. Fischer’s face.

“It’s a side effect of the steroid. Not that common, but it does happen.” His voice is soft, he doesn’t even attempt to counteract my father’s outburst.

“Horrible, just horrible.” My father shakes his head back in forth with disgust. I know that face. I feel sorry for anyone who has to see it. “What are we going to do? She can’t walk! Can she get a handicapped license plate? How will she go to the store, the mall? Look at her! Look at her walk!” I stay seated this time, and my father doesn’t seem to notice. He calms down a little, and gets to the business of managing my inabilities.

“Sure, we can do that.” My doctor slips into business mode right along with my father, jotting down notes, flipping through pages on his clipboard I am sure only serve to save him from my father’s concentrated glare, then presses a button to call someone in with the proper paperwork. My father can’t wait. He storms out of the room, and I look back at my doctor, who’s staring at the ground.

 

Prednisone. The drug that saved my life. I am twenty-seven, and it has forever limited me.

The surgery is what all successful surgeries are: being awake, then asleep, a family member balled up in a chair, sleepless nights of having my vital signs checked every four hours. The recovery is what all successful recoveries are: waves of pain, bed rest, restlessness, flowers on a bedside table, learning to be normal again.

My recovery is a little different, I think, because it involves learning how to walk, a skill we all take for granted, one we don’t have to learn. We just fall and start over again until we stop falling.

Joe tucks me in upstairs in bed, laying the sheet of physical therapy exercise instructions that I’m supposed to self-administer on top of the covers. At first, the pain is great. “I shot morphine into the joint when I was putting it in, so you’ll feel good while you’re here, but horrible when you get home,” the doctor had said before releasing me. The painkillers make me ill, so I take Aleve instead, which does nothing. I can feel the pain in my brain. I follow the exercises: I pump my ankle, I bend my knee, I slide my leg out then slide it back in, I tighten my thigh, I raise my leg, I rotate my hip left and right, I circle my knee, I straighten my leg from bed. I flip the sheet over during each set from boredom. The other side shows a couple embracing in bed in three different ways: safe sex. “Sometimes Hubby just can’t wait to stick his dick inside his wife,” Joe said on the way home. From the man who rarely cusses, his words made me reel. And it was as if that didn’t apply to us at all, as if we were medically asexual. I flip the sheet back over and grimace through the exercises.

I can’t cross my legs, I can’t bend over my legs. I have tools now, too: a “platinum reacher” I can use to straighten my clothes on my body and tie my shoelaces but I’ve never been able to figure out how, a long-handled sponge so I can bathe myself in the shower, a “sock assist,” the “easy reach lotion applicator,” a toilet—a bucket under a toilet seat that sits higher than a standard toilet—that Joe empties for me. He’ll do that but he won’t bathe me, he won’t look at my naked body, he won’t touch me. I have crutches for the first time but I hate them. They pinch my armpits and slow me down. I’m a master limper by now. Ray McLaughlin, Joe’s friend with the nagging wife everyone always calls by his first and last name—yes, he’s just that rich and just that successful—gives me an antique walking stick to use. I hate that, too. And the spirometer I’m supposed to breathe in ten times an hour. I cheat, I lie, I say I do when I don’t, I don’t care.

Joe brings me breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And dessert. He gets my books for me for the masters program I’m about to start, he brings me treats and my favorite smoothie from Smoothie King and cinnamon muffins made out of a cake mix and “protein” (sliced turkey) and Schlotzky’s and pickles and Quizno’s and vegetable stew and corn chowder and anything I want. He takes the flower deliveries to the bedside table upstairs—from the gym, from the psychology department where I work, from John, my associate editor that I do an online book club with, from everyone at my old job. We switch sides of the bed for a while, so my leg will be next to the edge and not next to him.

I don’t have a laptop so I have to go downstairs to work. And I don’t want Joe to help. Getting over to the top of the stairs, doing my “Chinese shuffle” as Joe calls it, I sit down and slide on my butt all the way down the stairs, as I’ll have to do to come back up, going backwards. I’m out of breath when I make it down and it seems to take forever. As if I’m running six miles and the end of the course is so far I feel like I’ll never make it. But make it I do, and I grip the piece of granite—“the horizontal plane”—covering our bookshelves of art books on Miro and Le Corbusier and Dianne Arbus and leather bound classics meant only for show, the double doors to my study, the sides of the white-painted desk, then the chair, holding on to the wall so it doesn’t wheel out from under me. I don’t bother trying to walk or figure out how just yet.

 

By my first checkup, two weeks after the surgery, the pain is barely recognizable from what it once was. I’m getting closer to normal. Kim, the doctor’s assistant with the flaw of having no affect, comes in the office where I wait, popping out the stitches fast. I don’t realize then the little holes where the knots were will never go away. I want just the scar and nothing else. The doctor comes in, shakes my hand, and tells me to walk. “You’re still limping, see that?” He shows me in the mirror he’s brought. He knows what he’s doing. “You learned how to limp you were doing it so long, so you have to learn how to put weight on both feet. Okay? Come back in two weeks and we’ll see where you are.” I hate it, the way I walk now, hobbling around as if one leg’s longer than the other. I drop the exercises and focus on becoming mobile.

 

I teach myself how to walk. I practice putting weight on my left foot, then switching weight from one foot to another, then walking in one, fluid motion. This time, I can do it, I can feel the pain is different, I can and I do step down. I am back in control. I watch myself in the mirror. I’m determined to remove the limp. It’s the last piece to go. I walk and walk and walk, down the long corridor of the ninth floor of our condo building. Every day the limp’s a little less pronounced, every day the pain’s a little less sharp, every day I gain a little more speed. And I learn to live with the second thing that will never go away and leave me the fuck alone.

I’m well enough to hand the tools to my father to store at his house, including the toilet. I’m back downstairs most of the day, and Joe stops doting on me.

 

The better I get, the more lonely I feel, the more neglected, the more rejected. I’m alone in my recovery. My relationships weaken with every stronger step. I don’t need Joe, and he only needs me for my needing him. My father has long ago stopped emailing. Joe can be responsible for me. My caretakers go back to being whoever they once were.

Joe avoids intimacy now that he has no illness or injury to mask his love in, hiding in his office across the hall from our bedroom, as he did before the surgery, before the lupus, after the lupus went into remission. My father’s sympathy slips from his face as if it were a garment he could take on and off. We’re back to the semi-regular weekend interrogatory lunches, the stern look on his face, the straight-lipped line of no smile. “You saving money now? You need to save money. How’s work? Don’t steal anything from the office, not even a piece of paper. Don’t take advantage. Go back to work when you can walk.”

I find my connection to my body again, I officially conquer my limp, but I lose the men in my life. I find that I miss it, almost, those months of pain, those days it hurt to walk. I miss them. Those mornings Joe dressed me, those evenings my father would call. Lupus was the only instigator for him to pick up the phone in the almost ten years since I’d left home. Joe goes back to waking up before I do, eating breakfast before I’ve gotten up, making his phone calls while I’m getting ready. My father stops calling.

It is as if I never got my hip replaced. It is as if it never even happened.

In my solitude I advise myself. I’m my only counsel. I tell myself I have to be greater than them, I have to be more important than what they can give me. Thank god it’s more important to me to be well than to be loved or I’d keep this up, the injury, the infirmity, if I only knew how.

 

Six weeks pass, and I’m good for exercise, I’m good for walking fast, I’m good for spinning, I’m good for dancing, I’m good for swimming. I choose kickboxing. It feels like home.

The squeaky blue mat between my bare feet, I look into the eyes of the handful of girls and the one or two fighters who know my punch, who’ve felt my kick, who greet me with a barely perceptible smile and a nod. Amanda and Naomi, the roommates, Leslie, the born again Christian, her best friend Katie, fast as a rabbit, Kristin with the great ass, Sarah with the striped socks. Victor who likes to rub his head when he laughs at Michelle’s jokes, Jesse who I’ve known since he was a kid. They see me. They barely blink an eye that I’m back: I’m one of them. Nothing keeps them down. A broken leg, a torn Achilles heel, worn away knee cartilage. I am more than an unreliable body. Here, L doesn’t mean lost, it means something else.

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