Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Inner terrain

recently i was lying in bed with my lover, who said something particularly sweet. i said i could feel her words in my heart, and i put my hand over my left breast to show her where. she smiled and said, "you know your heart isn't really there." "are you calling me heartless?," i teased. "no," she said, "really. your heart isn't really on your left. it's pretty much in the middle of your chest, just slightly to one side."

i stared.

"you're kidding, right?" she shook her head. "the middle of your chest? for real?" "uh huh." this was in the olden days, before i'd seen my own heart on an echocardiogram. "well," i said, gamely, "i suppose that makes room for your stomach and your liver." "sweetheart," she said gently, "your liver isn't on the left side of your body." "yes it is!," i argued, foolishly. i never did take biology in high school, but who wants to be wrong twice in the same discussion? besides, it's my body. wouldn't i know?

turns out i didn't know the first thing about how my body was -- literally -- organized. i had all my main bits lined up on the left side like a big club sandwich: heart in front of stomach draining down into spleen sitting on top of the liver until finally digested food got squeezed through my gall bladder (a bulb on a tube) and on down, somehow, to the large and small intestines (which i had backwards). "but what's on your right side, then?," asked mo, gently. i paused. i'd never really thought about my right side. in my imagination, the right side of my torso was just a vast empty space until you got down to the frond of the appendix, waving about prehistorically somewhere in the pelvic basin. "the right kidney?," i suggested, touching my lower back.

turns out the kidneys are more mid-back than lumbar. and your gall bladder intrudes on your liver like the biological equivalent of a dishwasher tablet. we walked through all the organs of my body, me gesturing, mo correcting, until everything was present and accounted for.

at which point, i burst into tears. it's not that i'd been so gobsmackingly ill-informed (though one does have to wonder how a person lives four decades under such misconceptions). it's that it no longer felt like my body. it was like going off to work in the morning whistling dixie and coming home to discover that someone had moved the kitchen next to the bathroom and your bedroom onto the main floor: workable enough, perhaps, but not home.

i've calmed down since and moved back into my organized body. but -- and don't tell mo -- i've flipped my liver and my gall bladder around so that the gall bladder can nestle down into its livery bed. it just feels better that way.

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