All content © 2009 by Kellie Wells
He (to be) looked on and blinked, so in burgeoning disgust I finally punted the crippled X, amputee, that hobbling, one-legged Y, over to It, deciding his Himness. I could see that He né It, future brow in a phantom crimp, would have pondered ontological mind-benders all day had I not taken decisive action. Where would we be now had I been as equivocal as we seemed fated to be? Perhaps swapping sex like shoes—today the yob, testicles descending, Florsheims polished and reflecting redundant chins as we bent to tie them; tomorrow a filly, donning a frock, legs crossed tightly as the clasp of a coin purse, retracting the truncheon, passing it under the table like a secret, internal relay, Mary Janes kicking the curious dog as he wags by sniff-sniffing. You can imagine what fatiguing work it would be to cobble together an identity out of such fleshy ambivalence. So I drew a line in the genetic sand and it has divided us (zippered together though we are like conjoined sleeping bags) ever since.
Some nights I stroke his face as he sleeps, feel a tingle in my own. I will him not to stir and he doesn’t. He heeds the messages I send him through the beats of our hearts, palpitations we’ve learned to compose and decipher like Morse code—thum-thump thumpity-thump: Don’t Move. And I know he does the same to me, caresses me in sleep as intimately as congenital disease. A residue of sensation sometimes pinks my throat as I wake in the morning.
Naturally, we do everything together. Even if we weren’t soldered along the torso, I don’t think he would ever have left my side (though he dreamed of little else). When we were children, our parents always told us they were doubly blessed, as they grinned at us tragically. And so are you, they’d insist, having as we did the peculiar honor of sharing skin and bone, internal organs bridging that gulf of Otherness that renders the rest of humanity small and cheerless, discrete, forsaken (honor schmonor, anima and animus warring under one tent, launching missiles in a relentless covert land grab, thought I petulantly in those moments when I yearned for autonomy. "Beat it!" I’d sometimes bleat aloud instead of think, and my brother just clasped his hands and endured, the saucer-eyed supplicant). "That’s what we all really hanker for," my mother once whispered to me, and she did frequently look upon us with eyes moist at the corners and narrowed with envy.
Most days, we took our blessing seriously. At my brother’s urging, we practiced saintly behavior, gave nickels to the humpbacked, dirt-scabbed, addicted, and street-diseased people along the Paseo, people who slept in rusting, wobbly-wheeled shopping carts and donned a full wardrobe even in August, people with palm-sized army knives, packages of crumbled crackers, slim, green New Testaments, Tiparillos, and quarters cadged from blood-bank volunteers in their pockets. These people other people took circuitous routes to avoid pressed themselves against walls as we passed. We parted crowds, crowds of those who usually made others hasten their step. We were a freak’s freak.
One day, on a visit to our maternal grandparents in Michigan, walking along the shore of Asylum Lake, my brother (a subject implicit in whom is myself—there is no grammar sufficient to express the bifurcated id, et al, that rends us, joins us) became fascinated by the Jesus bugs, those splay-legged insects that skate across water, sleek as geometry and weightlessly optimized to take advantage of surface tension. He was certain we were somehow equipped to do the same, on our archless feet, large for our size, flat as platypuses, so we stepped off the dock and onto the water, and for a second we hovered there, the water heavy as ballast that kept us, grown sheer with divinity, from floating up into the sun, kept the thinning wax of being from melting off our bones. But I couldn’t sustain the insubstantiality and I dropped into the drink, pulling my brother with me.
My brother has all the Jesus on his side. It was always me who ran after the kids who hurled chestnuts and hedge apples at us (in place of clever invectives, the snot-nosed galoots) as I schlepped my pacifist brother beside me like a lame appendage, so forgiving, civil, so disobedient to the genes flanking him scrappily to his right.
Sometimes we lie in the hammock, sunk deep in its belly, an inverse pregnancy. I move my mouth to his, kiss him, and it becomes confusing, whose lips are whose, whose chapped, whose sticky, whose molar is aching at that moment, but then I taste the bitter balm of godthefather on his lips, and I remember which mouth is mine and pull it back. When we take communion on Christmas and Easter, my brother (our soul’s emissary) laps the grape juice, tries discreetly to dislodge the host from his tooth with his tongue, and, try as I may, I can never stifle the belch that rises up within me from that hub of sutured selves, that centrifugal nucleus that seems to blow us out and blow us out from the inside and haunts us both with a feeling of excess. I can see the vapor of Jesus slip out of my mouth like soap bubbles, pop pop . . . pop, see Him float toward the pastor’s clasped hands. The pastor gazes past us with an aspect of forbearance that seems pasted to his face with thin glue, a look that appears as though it will curl forward at any moment like improperly hung wallpaper and will reveal the hole in the wall, the bottomless despair beneath faith that makes his soul gape. An undressable wound—that’s how I’ve always thought of faith.
The rich repast of body and blood are best taken with food or milk lest you risk an ulceration of the spirit.
When we turned thirteen, my brother became suddenly modest. Though he showed a predilection for this at an early age, fig-leafing himself with his hands, averting his eyes from the exposed charm of his other half, he quickly recognized the impracticality of such behavior and distracted himself by looking through our body like a Viewmaster to gaze upon the silvery soul, unhampered by a bodily hedging of bets; he was buoyed by how it swam free of genitalia, floated inside us cleanly and purely with never the need to unzipper its trousers. Finally acquiescing to physical imperatives, he slumped on the toilet and occupied himself with chaste and hygienic thoughts, while I, happy to reclaim scatology from the stifling ether in which eschatology hung (it was lost on neither of us that the subtraction of the bodily from the heavenly left only a flip-flopped and befuddled "he"), always marveled at the insider information I collected at such moments.
I have always loved my body, loved running my hands across hill and dale, loved the discovery of soft puckerings of flesh hidden in uncharted fissures.