Congrats to our June Writer’s Regimen Winner!

 

At the end of every month-long Writer’s Regimen, participants are invited to submit up to three of their best regimen-inspired pieces for a chance at publication in SER Online. It was difficult for our editorial staff to narrow down the submissions we received following February’s Writer’s Regimen! We’re pleased to congratulate Alexandra Brenner on her winning piece, “Peculiar Vessels.”

 

“Peculiar Vessels”

My husband promises to stay until the end, which may come sooner rather than later. He is a good man with plans to bury me according to my wishes. I hope that he will stay, but I remain skeptical because his predecessor left me for someone who could love him back, smiling, with her legs open. She’s very pretty and her body functions nicely. The able-bodied women say that I must sexually awaken if I am to keep my marriage alive, but there is nothing left to awaken. The pain persists in spite of their unsolicited advice. They frown and implore me to try harder. To them, my disability and its side effects are a choice. They see my lot in life as punishment for my choices, for being different. My symptoms are just an inconvenient excuse for not trying harder. They want me to become their figment of a disable woman, a perfect martyr suffering in silence. She is neither seen nor heard. I am not her.

These able-bodied women love telling me how to feel. This gives them a sense of purpose, so I tolerate their admonitions. With an open mouth, they force their charity and misguided advice down my throat. If their words contained the same magic as their perfect bodies, then their sentences could cure me. I wish there was a cure, but all I have is dangerous medicine. Five years of ingesting black box medication has left holes along my digestive tract, making it hard to eat. I often retch blood. Sometimes these able women worry about my depression, but shouldn’t a sober assessment of my health yield at least some despair? Sorrow does not consume my mind, but it is present. They pressure me to be dishonest about how I feel because the truth makes me bad role model. No one should model a life after mine.  I’m only here to represent myself.

The able-bodies understand very little about me, their living trope. They don’t understand that sadness comes and goes with lupus flares. Fevers are a frequent visitor, but that is normal with any autoimmune disease. Internal equilibrium can be difficult to manage, causing fainting spells. My disability is often invisible, but sometimes butterfly rashes feed on my face. Sores have been known to punctuate the soft gummy flesh inside my mouth. My knuckles often swell so large that I can’t move my fingers. Bleeding rashes dress my flesh in a costume so frightening that I have made children cry. Seizures come and go. Breathing can be a challenge because my lungs fill with fluid spontaneously. With every breath, an invisible plastic bag tightens around my head. I suffocate. I drown. Rivers of sweat carve valleys into my clothing; they carry away the body. During a flare, everyone can see me for what I am. Early on my husband recognized what I was and he adjusted his expectations accordingly. The able-bodied women pretend not to see my symptoms, they avert their eyes. To them, none of this is real. They cackle amongst themselves, chastising me. “Try harder,” they say, whipping my heels with their doubt. I’m bleeding, but they don’t care.

The able bodies call me weak while pontificating about how I can save myself. Their remedies are meaningless snake oil: more kale, more sex, less gluten. Physical love seems arcane now, a devastating symptom of the disease. I live inside a fragile house that no one can touch. My husband looks in on me from the outside. His breath fogs the glass, but I can’t feel it. We used to touch each other.

A long time ago, when I was an able body, people used to love me and I loved them back. That body is dead now and its replacement is a most peculiar vessel. The onset of sterility was quick and painless, physically speaking, but the psychic wounds remain fresh. This disease has taken so much of my life, but I don’t let the able bodies see me cry.  Even the most enlightened among us gladly lob stones at sick, crying women. Meanwhile, they march for my rights on television where they speak for me because it is easier than speaking to me. These hallowed champions of diversity then stow us away in their closets, only to wheel us out like artificial Christmas trees the eve prior to a photo op. In the movie of their lives, we serve as evidence of their tolerance. Cheap tokens. Cracked dolls. Thin caricatures.