Something I wrote for a personal essay many years after my first posts.
|I am living.
From the moment I left my mother’s womb, I have been a part of the living world. My chest rises and falls with each breath I take. My heart pumps oxygenated blood through my arteries to nourish my body. My brain instructs voluntary and involuntary muscles alike to move. And when I am hit, my bruise exists as proof that the system as a whole is functioning.
“Oh my goodness, Claudia what happened??”
That was the reaction of one of my suitemates as I walked into her room last Thursday night. I immediately whipped my head around, expecting to see some poor soul limping in with crutches or something equally debilitating. Nothing. Fully enjoying the frozen chocolate covered banana I’d decided was my prize that night, I let a cocked eyebrow do the questioning for me. Her hand gestured impatiently at my elbow and forearm,
“You’re covered in bruises!”
It was true to an extent. I sported six new bruises that day, three on my left elbow and three on my right forearm. To be honest I was quite proud of them. The fact that my arms were bruised rather than my sides or back was proof that I had successfully blocked most of the strikes from Jiu Jitsu practice that day. I commented on my suitemate’s reaction to another friend during dinner. After a momentarily guilty look (he had been my sparring partner that day), he mused, “Well, I guess if I didn’t know where the bruises were coming from. I’d be pretty concerned to see you bruised every day.” I understand this response, but I would like to offer a different viewpoint.
I am healing.
The bruises on my arms are my proclamation of freedom; they reflect my understanding that there is no such thing as success without sacrifice.
For three years I carried on my person a military watch, the physical manifestation of my perceived duty to be at the beck and call of another. It was an article I wore willingly at first, eager to be of help, and too naïve to realize what it meant. When I finally understood its significance, it was too late. I was terrified of the lashing that would surely fall on me if I took it off. The slightest shift towards independence would be rewarded with a bashing of my self-worth. Any activity that could result in bolstered confidence was monitored, and if it seemed to threaten the tenuous hold over me, it was prohibited. Among those forbidden activities was a form of martial arts I took interest in, a form made so a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant. This form is called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Mortal Kombat echoes throughout the room from our instructor’s stopwatch, the signal for us to begin practice. Inhale. Turn to face my opponent with legs shoulder width apart, dominant side in the back for maximum leverage, knees bent slightly so I can shift weight at a moment’s notice, fists up nearly resting against my cheeks, back erect, eyes focused. Exhale. The dance begins, a circle around the floor, taking turns to skip just out of reach. I could do this all practice, come home with no bruises at all and still get a decent cardio workout. But what have I accomplished then?
I am my own person.
I rush in, impatient for something to happen. Wrong choice. Now I’m stumbling past my target, wincing from the clap on my ear and the ringing in the air. I was too obvious in my intentions. But I know what I want, and so does he. This time he moves forward. He knows it’s dangerous to let me set my own pace. The space between us closes rapidly and I have to remind myself in the moment: “Don’t close your eyes. Watch.” This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.
I am free.
Success at last! I countered and got in a solid body hit of my own. Out of the corner of my eye I see the instructor nodding in approval and I let myself bask in confidence for the moment. My opponent rubs his side ruefully when we return to our dance, but he’s smiling as well. We all come for this exchange of blows. You give and you receive, and together we all grow stronger. That said, countering does require I block a heavy object at high velocity with my forearm. That’s definitely going to leave a bruise.