by Sarah Jho
To future parents,
Remember that your child’s body is their own and never yours. They have always been
in charge of their own bodies. They were in charge at eighteen, at twenty, even at age one, two, three, and four. Your child’s body is theirs, not yours, not his, not hers. Your child’s body is not a gift to give, a means to make amends, to keep people happy. They do not have to hug you, kiss you, cuddle you, or sit on your lap. Saying “no”, loud, is life-changing, life-giving, life-saving.
Your doctor reaches his hands down your pants to trace your ovaries,
first the left and then the right.
Each fingertip, a deliberate threat
Your body twitches in staccato.
You say … sorry.
You pray away the touch
Your running heart, the goosebumps,
Force back the stopper that fell out of some crevice in your brain
Where bad thoughts crawl out like neon centipedes,
Centipedes that are already laying eggs that have no business along
The pink fissures of repressed memory.
He reads your body but he doesn’t see you.
He tells you to relax with
his fingers still pressed down on you.
You are eight years old.
You are eight years old, and
You love him because one July afternoon
He kicked a soccer ball straight over the tallest palm tree on the block
So high up you swore the ball paused by the silver moon and almost disappeared into the blue sky.
He is twenty years old, he wears white basketball shorts everyday
Once a week, the older kids ride shotgun in his car to the bowling alley
Where they take secret drags on his cigarettes.
They flip through his comic books, searching for an illustration of a breast, for pretty girls.
But you, alone, ride on his shoulders, the little princess.
Summer in Los Angeles is sundresses, colorful bandanas, eating watermelon with spoons, comparing mosquito bites. Summer in Los Angeles is running full-speed and not caring who sees under your skirt. Summer is never knowing shame.
Pink slips out of basketball shorts
Big hands caress you.
There is no one else in the room.
You only wear pants now
Zippers and buttons
Are the loudest way you know how to say no.
He unbuttons your pants anyway
Putting his hands down your denim
You’ve seen intimate parts of him
You know that
Without knowing how
You may have even touched him
All you know is
For some reason
Your skin lies heavy
Your bloated bones know shame
Later, as the bathtub faucet runs down your scalp and across the nape of your neck, the world will still feel too loud and so you duck your head underwater where it is mesmerizingly still.
Later, you will sit in front of a refrigerator, feeling its white light stirring the beginnings of a migraine. Your mouth acidic, stomach already as tight as a drum, but your fingers continue to move from jar to mouth, jar to mouth.
Later, you will tempt fate. You’ll throw mirrors, jump repeatedly on sidewalk cracks, write your name in red, you will smear mud across a body supposed to be a temple.
One day, you will fill a cup of coffee and pour it over yourself just to feel it burn.
I sit across a woman who holds out an inkblot and asks me to tell her what I see and why
My eyes dive in hungrily
I throttle the image, hold it at a chokehold, and chain it to my ankle.
I demand the image to tell me how to heal.
But as I describe its particularities, its edges, contours, and colorways
I find myself hanging on by my fingertips
At the edge of an hourglass turned upside down.
Because I’m transported to Los Angeles summers
I’m in a flowered sundress
Watching a soccer ball sail straight over the moon
Sarah Jho is a member of the Yale College Class of 2020 where she studies the History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Sarah is interested in the intersections of health, race, and state surveillance. Her senior thesis looks at the strategic uptake of epigenetics as a rhetorical tool for understanding and addressing historical trauma in Aboriginal Australia and post-colonial Korea. She is looking forward to seeing how the medical humanities responds to shifting notions of trauma with epigenetics’ entry into the cultural vocabulary of youth. Sarah hopes to continue medical humanities research post-graduation, and will eventually train in psychiatry or clinical social work.