becoming, esaays, nonfiction


Mustapha , December 6, 2022

I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…
Why am I so changed?

– Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Seventeen, supine in my bed, I read Wuthering Heights for the first time. Chronic sciatica has left me home from school and, for the better part of six weeks, largely horizontal, even though that is contrary to medical advice.

You must walk, are you walking?

I fashion myself a pseudo-Victorian invalid, cloaked in a white cotton nightgown, because you have to find the funny somewhere; it billows with each intestinal vapour, my little gifts to sweaty sheets. I am missing a lace ruffle. Nevertheless, I play the part with aplomb. I submit to Brontë’s heath – fitfully, fully  and imagine myself in command of my limbs; able to cross fields, jump over rocks, running generally ragged, possibly in a storm, because I am seventeen and storms are somatic.

I have never tried to evaporate my body more than I do during this time; to seek a transcendence from it, as those most famed for conquering pain have done. I have read about these people. Mostly Americans, some Biblical.

(I am becoming a thing, but what?)

I try to explain it to a friend over the phone. “It’s like being mauled by a cohort of kittens with lava claws; like being eaten from the inside by fire-breathing ants; like being the coconspirator, executor, and victim of your own Anne Sextoninspired revenge porn.” An eventual manifest destiny. Might as well prepare the vessel. Years later I will develop my own seismometer and micromanage the minute changes in my body that happen daily, hourly, everly.

(Tick tock.)

The beats and sustained tingles of my nerves syncopate themselves to the January winds and rain as my windowpane rattles and I begin to hear voices outside, on the street, whilst the fire in my shins, back, and thighs swells and subsides. I put down the book. The curtains are fluttering. Ever so slightly but I can tell. Sneaky.

I want to get up to take a look outside but  little fires on the stairs, the landing, inching towards the roof. My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. The only thing that calms them is to lie down and sink into Brontë. Also, the Valium. Valium with a side sprinkling of Tramadol. I imagine the drugs as a pool, like the ones in What Dreams May Come. I imagine skimming its stillness whilst Robin Williams holds my hand and tells me an impossibly sordid yet family-friendly joke. I imagine the pastel kind of pool, not the Dantean kind. But mainly I bask and wade in the Brontë.

When I want to taste the muscularity of certain parts of her prose, when I think about carving them into my flesh, I study the angularity of my bedroom walls like never before and recite scraps in a rickety northern drawl.

No one puts Baby in it; the dunce fondles it either in scorn or glee, back turned to the class as it fizzes in faux-fervent study; Francesca Woodman emerges from them, playing peekaboo; Brutalism praises them; my mother used to cower in their embrace in childhood: Corners hold secrets. Or the bodies of women. Potato potahto. I like to dance with my back to them.

I am trailing my finger down the back of Emily’s neck as she writes by a window, overlooking heather.

I trace the lines in the walls. We have subsidence. I wonder if my parents know. I wonder if I know what subsidence actually means.

Constellations of cracks. I relate.

I tesselate my concerns for the family body with a source of little visible delight – perhaps I should tell them?

I sink back into the kinks of my sheets as the drugs blend the walls with

I am the eternal rocks beneath.

Who speaks?

Two nights later, when Cathy is raised from the dead, my windows syncopate once again, anew, on cue –

let me in

 – and I wonder whether the walls and the windows can hear the pages, hear my soft muttering of her lines as I try to make the morse code tap-tapping under and between my thighs subside in response.

I manage to swing my legs to ground, shuffle over to the window–

let me in

– and open the curtains.

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