Dark monsoon clouds lifting over the Badlands, South Dakota. A Conoco gas station silhouetted between the sunset and its reflection in the wet pavement. July, 2022.

Emerging from Moving Pains

Essay Dec 16, 2022

Santiago, August, 2022

I’ve been in a deep period of hibernation and, I think, subtle transformation for the past five or so months. After leaving Tucson in April, the end of my life on the road seemed just ahead, yet it’s been long, switchbacked, is still unsettled. My purpose hasn’t been very clear for some time now, and it’s been difficult to simply sit with all that emerged and continues to surface in the process of leaving, of saying bye over and over again.

The first time I left the United States for good was just shy of eleven years ago. Three days of ninth grade, a long weekend, and my entire life shifted. I said only one goodbye then, and have no memory of packing, flying, arriving to the same rainy house as always, suddenly lifeless and quiet. Grief’s obscurities.

This leaving has been so different. Packed, unpacked, and repacked a million times, in beloved temporary homes all across the country. A careful weighing of what to take, of preparation and anticipation, of loosing irrational attachments to random objects. I drove east, then all the way back west for the second time in a scribbled year. The monsoon broke halfway across South Dakota and Darlise rattled feeling like she might rip between hydroplane and gusts. Towers of sand broke out of the pastures, lightning from the low wash of dark clouds. After days of even grasslands and fields, everything was sudden. The rain clearing away, the light of sunset at the edge of sky, the silly tourist town, the hotel room and what we said.

I flew home to Chile on the new moon a few days before my birthday. I’ve been alone, resting, applying for jobs, reading. The back pain that has come and gone over the last year came again, first as a general tension, then in its spreading burning stab between shoulder blades. I finally went to see a chiropractor. My feet are slightly off, so my knees and hips and back must compensate. After years of being told not to slouch and of forcing myself to sit tightly to avoid back pain, it turns out I’ve been overcompensating in the opposite direction, and have probably ended up causing myself pain after all. Now I need to relearn how to sit and stand, so I am more constantly aware of my body than ever, and feel off-balance in this reshaping of my proprioception.

It’s strange to realize I’ve been standing wrong. I’ve been practicing yoga for several years now, I dance, I’m trans; I tend to think of myself as quite aware of my body. My younger sibling recently learned the word embodied and laughs every time they hear it, because how else can you be, they say, disembodied? Just a floating head, an abstracted shell? But I do feel that not all my days are equally embodied, and that I’ve put in lots of conscious effort to be more in my body. Yet now that the very act of standing is thrown off balance, I can’t help but question my practices, my movement, my so-called embodiment.

The chiropractor pushed and twisted me every which way, cracking my back and neck in great cascades. You hold so much tension in your spine, he said. Frighteningly loud the release. I felt much better afterward, but during the night awoke repeatedly, with the sensation that the knots were tying themselves back together. I grew hot and pushed the covers off my bed for the first time all winter. It was a cold night. I dreamt I was unable to care for a lover who also has chronic pain, and they shivered feverishly while I tried to hold them. The impenetrable individuality of pain. As I woke up, the night over at last, and turned over in a small stretch, the stabbing point coursed down my spine back to its familiar place. The chiropractor said it would be hard work getting my body into alignment over the next few weeks, but I didn’t expect my muscles to seize up so quickly. It’s as if the hurt missed me, was just waiting in the mattress to crawl again across my back and pull.

Pain becomes a background noise, a static, the low buzz of an unplugged amp; a part of my mind is always occupied with smothering. Every few moments, I readjust, cracking, wondering if I’m sitting right this time or just causing more damage. I spend hours each day stretching, long minutes in the shower letting the hot water loosen my shoulders. I know my pain is small in comparison with many others’, and my ability to move through it in the ways I can, a luxury.

My pain began when I started working full-time, at a home desk eight hours a day, so I could afford the massages. It’s no secret capital makes and breaks across our bodies. Obsessed with ownership, I claim my pain, call it mine. My goblin, my haunt, my shade. Hold it up for comparison: here are the traces of instability, stress, and exploitation knit in the muscles around my spine, behind my wingspan. Where are yours.

Billie the cat sniffs at kitchen utensils recovered from storage in Providence. May, 2022.
Protection playlist from shortly after my arrival. September, 2022.

Read while writing

COMING OFF THE ROAD (for a little while): a decade of queer sex in all fifty states, by CAConrad

Not Finishing Things, by Alice Sparkly Kat

Earthsea Cycle, books 1-3, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Exoplanet Travel Bureau, by NASA

Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald