People tell me I should smile more.
But look inside me.
My toes. My toes point soundly forward in shoes that should have my prescription orthotics in them. I choose not to because I’m 28 and I’m wearing heels as long as I can, so I can feel the “normal” parts of my 20s – and choose pain that I cause myself, thank you very much. I want reminders in 5 years that I could pass as someone my age. Right now my toes are sound. I trust my toes, most of the time.
My plantar fascias are aching. They threaten to cramp most nights as I lie in bed, still awake after hours of restlessness. They ache and throb as if my heart itself has moved to the bottom of my feet. I ask a lot of my feet. These feet hold me in place as I struggle against the rest of me to cook, bathe, check the mail, pedal my bike, press the sewing machine pedal, and occasionally walk in high fashion runway shows.
Though I’m largely unaware of the pain until I pop my ankles, they remain stiff all the time. I rotate my feet clockwise and counterclockwise, back and forth in quick rhythm, in attempt to loosen my ankles and rice krispies happen. You know, snap, crackle, and pop. Rice Krispies don’t hurt, but my joints do. How can these sounds accompany so much hidden pain that suddenly takes the red carpet?
My knees are chronically, invisibly enlarged from years of soccer and running long before I knew why my injuries were so intense, why they didn’t heal like they should. My quads and hamstrings play injury-tennis, back and forth. The pain is in your court now, left hammie. My weakened muscles are constantly overcompensating for what my body can’t naturally do: fight inflammation, toxins created by overuse, expectant injury, and scarred tissues and bone spurs. Instead, my body fights my joints as if they are alien matter.
My hips. Where it all began. Where, when I was 13, my 70-year-old friends told me it seemed like I had arthritis when I walked like a wounded, albeit still graceful, ballerina after complaining of cramping and stiffness. My hips were first and are still the worst, now with bone spurs and fusion permanently impacting my flexibility and ability.
My torso. A constant thud repeated deep within my chest as I acknowledge it is my heartbeat fighting through another day. I’ve made it this far, keep beating, heart. My chest. I feel it expands exaggeratedly when I struggle to breath. This…this tension caused by the teeth of my spine anchoring imaginary strings that keep me invisibly corseted.
As a young person, bystanders believed I was never content when they witnessed audible exaggerated sighs I wasn’t even aware were escaping my lips – my default reaction to lungs that could not breathe as deeply in a body that learned early on to fight to fill a cavity with air. My lungs’ incapacity to adequately serve a most essential need: the breath of life.
My shoulders miss their lubricated ball bearings that now swim against each other in a dry, fragmented pool of broken bits. Pain. My joints scream as tendons and ligaments stretch around inflamed masses that do not allow me to move my arms without pain. Their constant, deep ache is the only consistent existence in place of the strength that used to move household furniture from truck to bedroom when I was a professional mover, only 3 years ago. How quickly a once-efficient body ages with a degenerative disease.
Wrists and hands that once massaged the backs of friends and teachers, now internally and eternally inflamed, in need of retroactive massage. So recently, they could still fasten clasped jewelry, twist open jars, grasp the handle on the dryer door, release the parking brake beneath the steering column…but often now they exist allegorically as paperweights or snow-globes – placeholders for memories. Every day my arthritic body screams that rain is in the atmosphere, but I live in Sacramento and we’re in an historic drought. There’s no rain here, but my hands scream a flawed, erroneous forecast daily that could end the drought, if it were only true.
My head. My face. The first parts of me people see. The parts I look at the most in the mirror. My face with jaws constantly clenched. My lips pursed together, all because of pain and a determination to survive. My eyes squint from unknown reactions to the constant pain, the concentration I’ve grown unaware of that helps me mask the pain and ignore it the best I can. My face is taut from the strain of fighting daily pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and fear of the future.
The future, it seems, is right here beside me, holding my 28-year-old hand with its scythe while I fight with every step to keep the grim reaper in her place beyond my view.
People tell me I should smile more.