By Laura Warman
TO DISAPPEAR: NO ONE EVER DIED FROM CONTRADICTIONS
1. I am at the gym and I am trying to fall over. I fell over earlier on my way here because it is snowing and I didn’t shovel so I walked on ice. I fell on my left side, later I will have a bruise on my left knee. This body is destructible. On my way to the gym a grey Corolla pulls up next to me, driving slow, a window rolls down, a woman says, “Can you help me? Can you get in my car and help me?” Because I live in a small town, I get in the car to help her. She puts the car in reverse and we go backwards one block picking up a man on the way. We pull into her driveway and the man gets out and grabs a shovel and begins to shovel the walk. I carry the groceries inside. We do our jobs without complaint because we are neighbors.
2. I arrive to the gym for the first time and fill out some paperwork. If the gym kills me I will not sue. It is my own risk. I agree and pay $95 for 3 months. I arrive at the gym when it first opens and can choose any machine. The only machine I have used ever is the elliptical. If the gym will kill me I want it to be on the elliptical. I find one that faces a window and push the buttons but nothing happens. I want to be Simone Weil. I want to be transformed. I want to wield my body. My body is the only thing I own and I don’t even own it.
3. I have wanted my body to disappear. The body is so sexual, but for whom? At age 13 my body was for the observance of men. I couldn’t wear a tank top, I couldn’t wear a skirt shorter than my knees. If my body was distracting, I wanted it gone. I started to keep track in my little notebook of everything I ate: One Amy’s Black Bean Enchilada, 330 Calories, one pack of Swedish Fish, 140 calories. Counting calories is nothing new. I needed to have a body that couldn’t be desired, I needed to disappear. If you can’t have my body then I can’t either.
Daughters of Christ can’t be desired. We can be beautiful but not erotic. I was beautiful then, in 2003, blonde hair straightened, looked like Lauren Conrad without knowing who she was. I bought my first mini-skirt; I wore it over my pants. I dreamt nightly of martyrdom. I saw it like Columbine: the shooter approaches me, says, “Are you a Christian” I say yes & I’m gone.
4. “Finally I came to prefer the risk of falling to the arrogance of solid ground” (Waldrop 95)
5. I want my body to be the perfect poem. I want you to see the poem and not the body. I walk to the other side of the gym. On my walk I see a woman hop on an elliptical and start moving. I go to the elliptical next to her and mimic her movements and I too am working out at the gym. We are all at the gym together: we are all working out. No one is talking. We all have headphones. I am sweating through my white t-shirt and my bra wont stay on even though it’s only there for aesthetics. No one notices. No one looks at me. I am just a person at the gym. I am sweating but I am smiling. I want to work my body through death & past death.
For women the body was always the center. Laws are made on my body, my body is fucked, my body is married, my body is virgin. I forgot to bring water. I keep moving. My vision becomes spotty but I keep running. I wonder if I will faint. When I faint will I fall on this woman or the other woman next to me. I have never ran a mile only pieces of miles. Until today: I ran a mile on the elliptical. What is the exercising body? The bodies on the third floor don’t perform gendered roles. We are all vessels working out. We are bodies of the future. Exercise is a contemporary performance of a body; an idle upper-class body. This body gets in the car and drives to the gym. This body changes into workout clothes in the bathroom. This isn’t a body at all. This is an altered body. The body that is allowed to be thin & strong. The witness of privilege. Our bodies mark our interaction with capitalism. My body shows I don’t have to work hard. I am a graduate student. I have been granted the privilege of destroying & strengthening my body over and over. My body doesn’t have to perform a function so it goes to the gym. Apart from sex, my body isn’t needed.
I don’t want to apologize for my body, I want to use my body to transcend. I want to feel just my body. In the gym we all work towards loss. The machines and feet make all the noise. The televisions flash. What is the body that falls? When I fell in the snow I felt lighter than ever. I laughed, I expanded.
6. In my childhood I was not used to having power so bodily destruction was a release. I ran to the end of the cul-de-sac & I knew: I would always be running. What is it like to be alone? It is the body without. The Joan of Arc, the Simone Wiel. A body destroyed. A destroyed body is one without language. The body post-language is the orgasm. If you let yourself out the door you can’t come back. A state of zen cannot be communicated through words. The whole training towards zen is reliant on phrases, lists, words. If successful, these words lead to the absence of language. If I destroy my body may I too become an absence?
Disappearing my body is now for a new god. As we approach the hopeful death of capitalism, the disappeared subject gains power. This is not the power promised by visibility politics to marginalized communities, this is the subverted power needed in a surveillance society.
7. I just ran three miles but it was on the elliptical. I was seeing visions I was listening to techno. When I walked into the room with all the ponytails bouncing the only sound was machine. The whir, the beep. I don’t need to make a commentary about the gym and the future job I will have, running in place, because Black Mirror already did it, but there we were: A group. A non-producing group. A losing group.
I am expensive because I am a body desired. People buy me hotel rooms, dinners, earrings, bus tickets, drinks. My body has worth; my body is overflowing with erotic potential. In accelerated capitalism, this is me: this is who I am. The only way I can escape is through disappearing my body. “What one can see is in every way related to what one can say” (Phelan 2) If we cannot see it we cannot appropriate it. If we cannot be seen we cannot produce or be produced…But what about the gaze? I sleep all day so no one can see me. I keep my eyes shut or I wear sunglasses at the organic grocery store. I am healthy; I am powerful. You haven’t seen me, you will never see me. I walked out the door a long time ago. “Language expresses the position of the ‘I’ as it sees the Image” (Phelan 15). I will disappear for having too little money, for making too little money from art.
8. Is this hysteria? Hysteria comes from the greek word for womb. The hysteric woman is the woman empowered beyond her era. In the Victorian times one could be accused of being hysterical for not wanting sex or for wanting it. The typical treatment was a pelvic massage until orgasm. This “condition” brought us the dildo. These women are as hysterical as I am always. Women with bodies close to power but that hold no power. The hysterical body is the fainting body. When my body faints it is because she can’t take it anymore, the anxious faint. I am at the gym making myself faint because I can. For this moment I have ownership. I can work my body into uselessness.
9. Simone Weil died
Simone Weil starved herself
Simone Weil caught an illness
Simone Weil had tuberculosis
Simone Weil was a war hero
Simone Weil disappeared
Simone Weil’s body left
10. The body was never the doctor’s, and that is why making us come never cured us. The doctor made us come to show we needed him. We didn’t. These are women with agency over their bodies. The fainting woman has agency. The anorexic woman has agency. The woman at the gym has agency. We are all choosing what our body will look like and how it can serve us. We are commanding the body. The body is ours.
Originally published 7/22/15 and was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.