In Linda Rand’s latest Pandemic Diaries entry “In the Body,” she talks about how her thoughts and feelings regarding her body have changed over the years.
(Note about photo above: The fur is vintage and is kept with great reverence as are all my natural mementos. I grew up in Panama and lived in nature and have shells, feathers, bones, petrified wood found naturally. I do not encourage unethical new industry in said things since our world is suffering, but I treasure the relics from the past. My home and heart pays homage to the natural world and wants to remember.)
When my father passed away, I went to his viewing in a long, off-the-shoulder, black mermaid dress, the tails dragging on the ground, with an antique embroidered piano shawl over my shoulders, long fringes that almost reached the back of my knees. I had finished a gold-filtered, red Nat Sherman outside and was late. Time was a slippery substance and I felt outside of it.
There were people, pasty-faced in the long shadows of the bad lighting, and I knew that I should recognize them but couldn’t seem to. I felt alien, yet a required presence, and I was unable to really verbalize things then, choosing instead to communicate through style, finding comfort and grounding by keeping physical contact with objects that had a long history. I was very disassociated, felt barely tethered to my body, more like a mind on a thin balloon string, tangled up with an interesting vehicle that moved, had appetites, and fears.
As I walked in, one of my worst fears was happening. I had always been afraid of this day. He had a quadruple bypass surgery when I was eight. I remember the iodine staining his chest when we visited him in the hospital, knowing they had broken his sternum open. He would talk about death at the dinner table.
When I was a kid, I’d use my mother’s scented, loose white face powder and apply a thick layer with the puff, trying not to sneeze, then lie on the bed with my arms folded neatly on my chest, waiting, I guess. Now I was 20, and after a couple of weeks in the hospital, he was dead.
I knew I wasn’t normal, but there were things I had to do. So, as surreptitiously as possible, I clipped some of his hair with tiny scissors and I wrapped them with tissue. I still have it in a little black safe from that time. I also had to take a picture. I had social anxiety and didn’t like being noticed, so it was really unfortunate that pretty much everything I had to do in life was noticeable then, but like I said, it was a compulsion without choice. I remember thinking about how beautiful his cheekbones were, his defined temples, that cancer had really brought them out (while also being aware of how fucked up that was). I wouldn’t see him again after this day. I was losing someone I had never lived without.
I was very disassociated, felt barely tethered to my body, more like a mind on a thin balloon string.
It took another woman to show me how to love my body, and myself as a woman. I didn’t realize how much internalized misogyny I had in me. As a sort of tomboy kid and then a rebellious, independent teenager, I never realized that I might have accidentally absorbed a little of the patriarchal culture. I had boyfriends. I had close female friends. We wouldn’t have guessed this about ourselves. It’s just that we despised typical femininity, scoffed at mothers, rolled our eyes at anything sentimental, even the word “woman” seemed gross. I don’t regret it at all, hating pink lipstick or long flowy hair. We were shielding ourselves from the male gaze with our black lipstick and torn up stockings, avoiding capitalism by our DIY thrift store creations. All of that was necessary at the time to move culture forward.
But it was a revelation to be in love with someone who enjoyed her femininity, every ounce of it, and lost nothing from it. She modeled grace and generosity, was nurturing without losing her sexiness. I realized you didn’t have to be hard to hold a natural power. She taught me to like all the things about myself that I didn’t. She taught me to like my softness, my curves, my lips, all those things that were embarrassing. She liked cooking and serving the food on vintage china. She saved me from my death urges after my father died. She brought me back into the natural sensation of being in a body. It’s a good thing she was bold because I was very hesitant and nervous about everything. Everything about being courageous I learned from her. I also learned how to embrace the pleasure in life, and the truest way is through the body and relishing it.
From then on, I had arrived in my body. It was interesting. I moved to Portland, bartended, drank, and ate a lot of fine food with a disposable income. It was easy living for a few years. There was travel. I was in Paris at a cafe and there was a woman in a short blue flowered dress and, when she spun around, I was surprised to see a huge round belly. I remember thinking, If I’m ever pregnant, I hope it’s like that. I was shortly pregnant after that and I carried it high and in the front just like that Parisian.
For the first time since I was around 13, I quit smoking. That was hard. I cried a lot and craved oranges. Every kind—blood oranges, tangerines, grapefruit. I’d just go to the store and get them all. Fill my cart with all that fragrant voluptuousness. Then I’d go home, craving cigarettes, and take all that fruit into bed and peel all those rinds off, watching that citrus oil expand in the air all around me. It was an intoxicating cloud of vitamin C.
I became interested in nutrition for the first time while growing another body inside mine. I’d swim and, when I’d push off the wall, I could feel the baby a split second behind me and then bounce up. He was swimming inside of me as I was swimming. Incredible!
I have learned to love and value being in a body. It’s an amazing joy to be alive, to really feel alive.
When I had my daughter four years ago, the nurse helped me shower a bit afterwards and I was noticing how my body was already looking so different without her. The nurse was incredulous, and I asked why, and she said, “You’re so nimble.” People can’t usually move around so quickly afterwards. I was thankful that my body could be so hospitable and then so resilient. It’s done so much that I feel that it’s wrong for me to think unkindly towards it and I should nurture it with what it needs. Of course, I’ll always have aesthetics and expectations, but I try to recognize it as such and keep my feelings towards my body healthful at least, and to keep anything mean at bay, because that might be the misogyny I mentioned earlier.
When I got dressed and put make-up on to take the baby home, her dad said, “Wow, you’re like a shapeshifter.” I loved that. I do feel like my body is an expression and I’ve always loved shapeshifters. It’s an exciting way to interact with the ever-changing collaboration with reality. I try to listen to what it’s saying. It knows so much in its own language.
During the first week of being sequestered, I decided to go running, because it was sunny and I missed swimming and I had to get the angst out. I wanted to go to a track near my house because I could count the miles that way. I heard an ice cream truck and I was surprised. It was eerie how normal it made things sound. I thought, You’re selling ice cream? And then I was dismayed to see there were some people. Not a ton, but they were around.
Now, this would have been around March 19th, so, I’m not even sure if anything was closed yet, and people were still congregating, maybe keeping it under 50 in a group? But my body was not happy. I started running, though, and was pleased at how fast I was going and wasn’t losing my breath at all. The sky was really blue and the pine trees were really green and I could hear my breathing. Running is all about listening to your breathing, to your lungs. I don’t listen to music when I’m running, just my breathing. And I thought about COVID and my lungs, COVID and my lungs, all that breathing was so intimate, coming from the deepest part of me, reminding me in a rhythm of how dependent I am on that basic function. There was a guy running who seemed unconcerned that I was approaching and I gave him space, to protect him as well.
As I was rounding a lap, two females sat on the grass near the track and were talking loudly and animatedly, laughing. I envisioned everything coming out of their mouth suspended in little droplets, fanning out over the track, this normal scene of two girls talking made me uneasy, like that ice cream truck. Listening to my gut, and not questioning its message, I didn’t cross their path, but veered off the track and ran home. This was so long ago. Masks were discouraged. But about a month later, films and documents indicated that COVID is suspended in droplets and can infect through the air, crossing paths, or especially in the same closed room.
I have learned to love and value being in a body. It’s an amazing joy to be alive, to really feel alive. And it’s such a great pleasure to connect with another and their body, appreciate the miracle of their uniqueness. I’m in awe of life and I look forward to more, and I only hope that when I have to let go of this body, that I’ll have the wisdom it takes to move peacefully, that I’ll have such a full and satisfied heart, that I’ve said whatever I’ve had to say, and loved as much as I possibly could.