A gathering in the head, my grandmother called it. Something distinctly female about the whole thing, they said, and locked her away for ‘women’s troubles’.
And yet. Her son, my uncle – with those same voices, the same tightening of the temples, that same peculiar style of weeping into the insides of his elbows – received a year’s salary staying home with ‘business nerves’.
So that’s how that goes.
It must be feminine because it bleeds out of me with the tug of a gutting knife, leaves me double-folded, breathless as an ice bath, wondering how it must be to live without this weight, this burden. What might that be like?
It’s in the blood, they tell me. Bad water. Something dead upstream, poisoning the river.
But blood doesn’t flow. Blood clings, congealing into lumps and clots and glutinous strings, stretching like boiled rhubarb, seeping into the grooves of your fingerprints, and all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this iron brand.
They cringe at that; disgusted by that warm inner softness we’re all born of. They show no such horror when they want to climb back in, to force their way home – and yet my absence of shame is nothing short of an aberration.
The course of action is simple, they say. Stop up the access and passage to remorse. Make thick my blood. Unsex me here. Unwoman me, unmake me, untether my womb from the moon. Stymie the flood with speculum and scalpel and stitch. Leave a void there instead, where nothing can manifest. Hysteria will surely shrivel without its source – an unnecessary organ the size of a pear and just as fickle – so quick to turn. To rot. To mulch.
And what I am, I forget. I return to the fluid; the quiet beneath the bathwater. Without, I am weightless. Within, I am gathering, raveling up the broken vessels to redirect the flow. I am sanguine, now. More water than ichor. Placid as a lake, just the way they paint us; less warlike Macbeth, more obedient Ophelia, drowned by her own petticoats and silent to the last.