Strange Bodies

by on July 9, 2012

Essays Issue 3 Nonfiction
Strange Bodies

“We need more food!” Anj yelled,surveying the line that still stretched one hundred people deep. It was past ten o’clock. Shane and I rummaged through the piles, pulling out cans of beans, onions, cucumbers, and yogurt. We sliced more bread—there was always more bread and more apples. Within a month there would be so many crates and plastic buckets of this fruit (there is no better fuel for the revolution than a freshly picked October Mackintosh), that during the raid the police carted off rotten apple pulp along with my friends, my tent, and my favorite pair of jeans.

Skinny men and a blue-haired girl swept the concrete paths. A weathered Zapatista with a cane and a beret ambled along, stopping ever so often to smooth his skinny moustache. From the east side echoed the call and response of the General Assembly as the circle tried to decide what to do about foreclosures and racism and all that fucking garbage piling up. And the drummers—what the hell were we going to do about the drummers? I could barely hear the discussion, but I didn’t care. I had sandwiches to make. I had lives to sustain. I had the girl with fiery red dreadlocks to impress. There was too much energy, too many people, too much to be real, and this evening is really so many scenes, so many splices of insomniac nights that we thought would continue forever as long as we kept the audience enthralled.


I made it until April (one month; 60 stories; 30,000 words) and then switched jobs—left the skyscraping office building in Brooklyn for another in Manhattan where I wrote even more articles at a breakneck speed. There was always the Next Big Story: the debt ceiling, Planned Parenthood, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Casey Anthony. An update on Syria and a critique of the teachers’ unions. Conjectures about the staggering spike in tornadoes (apparently it really is global warming; it’s not just better tornado detection technology). The Women’s World Cup waited with taut, adrenaline-filled expectation on my tiny desk, only weeks away and demanding coverage, Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage that would inspire millions of young girls to play and convince universities to comply with Title IX, 800-word daily filings that would make Hillary Clinton and Mia Hamm proud. Better work than I could offer—especially those days when I took 20 milligrams of Klonopin just to get myself to the office each morning. Another 40 to sleep at night. And coffee, of course coffee. Coffee to function.

No one will read these articles, I comforted myself.

It didn’t work.

Most mornings, I woke around 4 a.m. First, the gasps, the irregular breathing. Next, the hot tightness spreading up my forearms to my shoulders and neck, down my thighs and calves until I clenched the arch of my feet to keep from clawing at my skin. Then, the medicine, the tiny white pills that slid down my esophagus with a sip of gin, dissolved into tiny particles, rushed toward my brain in a stream of blood, crashed through my skull, and Velcro-ed themselves like jetpacks onto the tiny neurotransmitters, zooming back and forth through ever widening chloride ion channels to shut down my nervous system as fast as possible. It’s the same medicine used to treat epilepsy. Within 20 minutes, I’d be calm enough to curl up on my half of the futon bed and sob quietly.

The apartment that I shared with my boyfriend was a single, 220-square-foot room. Our next-door neighbor was a burnt-out strip club. I imagined the women dancing before the fire, hips gyrating, shoulders shimmying. Their performance looped behind my eyelids. The world’s pain appears on women’s bodies first, I thought, creating tiny scars like the first cracks in a frozen lake.

“The body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance,” wrote Silvia Federici. “The human body was the first machine developed by capitalism.”

If so, mine was malfunctioning. I fingered my jutting hipbones with revulsion and fear; I weighed less than I had since middle school. The skin on my legs already bore smooth white remnants of nights, years ago, when I dragged a single-blade razor across my quadriceps, watching the beads of blood spring from the cut like hot tears. I didn’t want my body marked by this world anymore, but I was too anxious to eat.

“The civilizing process, the celebrated march of the mind demanded by capitalism, [has] long entailed the intensification of body-disciplining techniques,” wrote Roy Porter.

Before Freud, some thought mental illness itself was caused by capitalism, that the system drove people to insanity. Then we learned the problem was just hysterical women, so life marched on—and our bodies became the unheeded warning labels, canvases with our economy’s side effects etched in white ink.


On the night of the attempted eviction in October, everything was at stake. A police beating. The destruction of our well-organized shelves. The future of the park. The future of all humanity. But all we were really thinking about was sandwiches. The sleep deprivation, alcohol, and white glare of the police tower stationed across the street were obstructing our vision, but we could still see the thousands of people pouring into the park, their clothing rumpled after riding the overnight busses from D.C. and Boston, their eyes bloodshot from watching the online livestream all night in their apartments in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. City council members came and children and Grannies for Peace. The city had said that we were to be “temporarily” evicted in less than an hour for cleaning.

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