Originally written for Write Club SF
When I was 9 I was in a terrible accident involving radioactive chemicals and thus grew to an enormous height. It happened in New Jersey which is drenched in hazardous waste that has been known to cause abnormalities in local wildlife, generally the squirrel and fish populations, and has been cited as the cause of Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression, and Obsession with Computers by scientific papers funded by survivalist organizations and parenting councils that advocate spanking.
When the chemicals seeped into my system my body stretched and contorted. The pains of growing at this rate had me sobbing. I’d hit my head on door frames, disturb nested birds, and have to spread my limbs out over two seats in the back of the car. I’d outgrow clothes within weeks and my feet hung over the end of my twin bed. I developed these strange lumps on my chest and I had to get a special contraption to rein them in that I wore under my shirt. I got this strange skin rash on my face. I had no idea how to handle it. All these changes are happening and you’re 9, 10, 11, like can you imagine my struggle here?
Up until this point my relationship with my body had been virtually nonexistent. It was only when I fell out of trees or scraped my wrists that I was reminded that I had a body. I was happy with my physical presence. I could run, ride my bike, and do handstands. I felt tenacious and powerful. There was peace between the nations of my brain and my body. We were a team.
Alex Mack was a television show on Nickelodeon and was the only contaminated person I had seen outside of comic books. Unlike the majestic grace of She Hulk and the brains and strength of Wonder Woman, I related much more with the awkward hijinks of Alex Mack. She had also been involved in an accident that gave her the ability to liquefy and seep under doors and through sewer grates and disappear when need be. I would inch closer to the television screen and think Alex Mack was lucky. I wished I was able to disappear. I was always on display.
When your body mutates it starts to exist without you instead of alongside you. It takes up more and more space and leaves you with more weight to carry and less room for every other piece of you. It dominates. It imposes. It edges into every situation. It’s all people see. You’re screaming from the inside of your exoskeleton, looking so tough, but feeling so larval.
My body destroyed things, shattered glasses with its brute strength, hugging people became dangerous sport. lt struggled to fit into photos, pants, and airplane seats. I sat in the back of my 5th grade classroom at a table because all the desks in the school balanced on top of my legs. My teachers were afraid of me. They didn’t say that. They didn’t have to. They kept using me as a threat that if Brian or Chris don’t straighten up they’ll make Lauren step on them and squash them flat. When they said things like that it felt like a strange type of approval. My body laughed. My body for once felt powerful. What doesn’t kill you makes you twisted.
For the first time I start getting mail, catalogs from Pottery Barn Kids and Limited Too and Delia’s and I circle all the clothing I want in red permanent marker. Deep groves of Sharpie around jeans with applicays on the back pockets and boxy tank tops with butterflies fluttering on the straps. These clothes don’t fit my body, they stretch over my frame and gap in weird places. My hips begin to widen and people comment on the size of my feet. Marks show up around my thighs and back, my skin fighting to contain my bones.
The brightly colored pullover sweaters and knee length skirts that come printed on glossy paper are for the me that exists separately from my body. The separate me is little, and cute, and exuberant, it is scrappy and feisty and smart. The me that exists in my new, molten body wears stirrup pants that my mother orders from Lands End because they are the only thing that will fit. It wears men’s white sneakers and drab turtle necks in faded reds and purples. It wears a skirt to school and gets sent home because its legs are too long and is constantly reprimanded from being distracting. Standing out is a distraction. Freaks always stand out.
In another year the phosphorus acids do their job, I try to be tough, ready to fight, I want people to take me seriously. Headlines run in local papers Mutant Freak Angry and Violent. They suspected it all along. How can someone take up so much space and not be dangerous? How can you not be damaged from an accident like that? How can you not be mad cellular chaos?
The torches and pitchforks in this story are metaphorical. The townspeople don’t all unite at once. They poke and burn as rogue individuals, seeing themselves as lone heroes and fighting the big established enemy.
My body and I just want to be left alone. We just want to go back to our books. My body and I stop talking. It carries on without me. It stops telling me how it feels. It tells me to toughen up. It tries to become more accommodating. It is observed and commented on by older boys and men. It cannot walk home from school without someone commenting on it. It tries to be sexy. It tries to learn to like the men touching it on the street. It tries to be smaller. It tries to be strong. To not need other people. It tries to be the monster it’s been made into. It fails. My body cannot manage to learn the hero or villain script. It is passaggio, the transitory space between the registers of my personality. It is constantly shifting between the dark and the light, aping control. It gives up on belonging. It skirts the fringes, learns to not trust, takes in strays. It doesn’t require loyalty of people because people fail; it doesn’t expect what it doesn’t think people can deliver.
My body gives up. It accepts it can never be a child again. It can never be normal. It embraces its weird, grotesque, freakish capacity. I ignore my body. I distance myself from it as much as possible, apologizing for its actions. Controlling it as much as I can. My body loses trust in me.
Then one day, I am no longer a monster. I am no longer a freak. I no longer tower above my fellow citizens. I no longer stand out. I blend in. My face rash fades, the roar of my body settles, and the things that made me special, that made me abnormal don’t register. My body is confused. It is poised ready for attacks that don’t come. It doesn’t know what to do.
My body and I haven’t talked again. We see each other at parties and nod politely. We aren’t a unit. We aren’t a team. We are science. We are chemistry. We are fulcrums and pulleys and angles and the square root of something.