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The Worms Told Me to Write This

Elizabeth Boudreau

There are a lot of days when my body looks strange in the mirror, as if someone made a suit out of something else’s skin and stretched it over my form. Lumps and angles where there should be smoothness, smoothness where there should be features. I find myself staring, baffled, for an off-putting length of time. Logically I know I haven’t changed drastically overnight, my body looks the same as it did yesterday and the day before and the day before. But for whatever reason it becomes unrecognizable and incomprehensible to me. It’s too pale, and bloated, and reminds me of cottage cheese or maybe a waterlogged corpse. 

Looking at my body, I can’t help but get the impression that it hates me, that it wants me gone. Like it wants to eject my consciousness and continue on without me. And I don’t blame it; if I’m being honest, most of the time I’m pretty pissed that I have to exist in a body. So I guess it’s a mutually adversarial relationship, at least. 

They say mindfulness, forcing yourself to be present in your body in the current moment, is supposed to help soothe feelings of anxiety. It’s never really made sense to me. I’m extremely aware of the fact that I exist in my body– that’s kind of the whole issue. It just seems so cosmically unfair, that some things get to exist as these vague, ethereal concepts, and I’m locked in this useless thing, bound by the laws of physics and biology. And it’s not as if I want to live forever, but there’s just something so claustrophobic, almost intolerable, about existing in a physical form. 

It’s like I can feel myself rotting from the inside. My lungs, my heart, my stomach, all turning slimy and black. The rot is starving, insatiable. I can feel it gnawing through my gut, constantly working its way through my body’s various membranes. Something like worms under my skin, writhing and twisting together, forming intricate braids and sailors knots around my veins, making themselves inextricable from the core of what I am. Soldiers of the rot, waiting for me to let down my guard just long enough for them to start chewing me from the inside out. I can hear them singing, sometimes, harmonizing. I can feel the buzz of their combined voices behind my eyes, under my ribs. 

I hate my ribs. I hate how broad my rib cage is, how bulky. I hate how I can feel my heart rattling around inside with every step I take, like having a marble in an empty coffee can in my chest. I have this fantasy where I’m able to detach my ribcage from my spine and take it out. I tuck myself inside, curling up tight so my entire body will fit. It feels almost like another person holding me, cradling me in a gentle embrace. So much so that it’s easy to pretend it is someone else, like it’s not a grotesque facsimile of human connection involving severely mutilating my own body. Whatever. It's a fantasy, that’s all.

I saw a video once from a body farm, where forensic scientists study how bodies decompose in various conditions. In the video, a deer comes out of the woods, graceful as anything, with those big innocent brown eyes. The deer walks right up to one of the bodies and begins chewing on a human rib. I think about that video a lot. How a lot of animals are opportunistic carnivores, even the ones we think of as being the most pure, the most innocent. Even butterflies will happily drink blood if they have the chance. 

I think about how the world will find a way to make use of anything, no matter how anyone feels about it. I think about how it– the world, I mean; the rot, the worms, the deer and butterflies, all of it– will consume me bit by bit until I’m nothing but a hollow shell, clattering to the ground in its wake. 

Shells are an odd thing. I like collecting them when I go to the beach. Sometimes I can’t help but think, though, about how each one is the remains of a dead thing. Something that had a life of its own once, and now its hollow skeleton is washed up all pretty on the white sugar sand. Shells are supposed to protect the animals within; every seashell on the beach is evidence of its own failure. 

Some of them have these perfect little holes in them, just right for putting on a chain and wearing as a necklace. I read once that these holes are usually from whelks, carnivorous sea snails that eat molluscs. They have a specialized tongue, like a proboscis, that they use to first drill through the shell, then inject their own stomach acid to dissolve the creature before slurping the resulting liquid up. It’s a horrifying thought, that your own shell, your home, the thing your body made specifically to protect you, can be infiltrated so easily. That it could betray you like that. It’s gruesome, and my stomach turns a little bit now whenever I see a shell with a hole on the beach. It makes me feel weird about picking them up, putting them on chains or using them as decorations. 

But still, I think that if I died– if I were killed by something bigger and stronger and determined to eat me– and only my bones were left behind. I think if that happened and then someone happened to walk by and noticed my bones lying there and thought they were pretty enough to take, to pick up and put in their pocket to bring home and display on the shelf in their living room, I think I would like that. I think it would feel nice.

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