Reclaimed by Emily Hessney Lynch
I’d had a body for as long as I could remember. I never gave it much thought. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I realized my body didn’t really belong to me. Who do bodies belong to, anyways?
On a sweltering July day, I looked down at my belly button after a shower and discovered a wispy green tendril emerging from that puckered hole. I was used to the occasional pale blond hair or piece of lint, but this was something else.
I doubled over and peered inside. The green wisps were the stretching tendrils of a baby tree, newly planted. Gently, I stroked it with my index finger. She was a weeping willow, dripping slowly out of my belly button. She was so beautiful that I wept too. I had always loved weeping willows and now I had one of my very own. It was unclear, though, whether she was mine or I was hers.
I pressed a palm to my abdomen and felt her roots grasping deep inside me. Irrevocable.
A few days later, I felt a strange tickle between my legs. After the incident with the weeping willow making my belly her home, I knew my body could no longer be ignored. I had to attend to it.
I went to the bedroom and laid down on the cerulean duvet. I wanted to make sure I was comfortable for these explorations, no matter what I found. I brought a little cup of rum and swigged from it before gritting my teeth and slipping a hand between my legs. This wouldn’t be pleasurable. I tenderly stroked the lips, took a gulp of stale air, and slid a finger inside. Dread sat on my chest like a pile of sludge. I knew I was going to find something I would rather not know about.
Splish splish splash.
My fingerpads were met with slick scales. I pulled and with a sucking sound, out popped an eel. I raised my hand up to eye level and watched it writhe in my palm.
“Are there more of you?” I whispered in awe.
“Yes, many of us. Please put me back with my kin. It’s hard to breathe out here.”
With some finagling, I managed to insert him so he could swim freely again. Was it saltwater or freshwater in there? I didn’t know.
Once I knew, it was nearly impossible not to notice the ocean rolling away inside me. I could feel the currents swirling and shifting when I walked around my neighborhood at night. At work, they would churn faster when I was in a stressful meeting and calm when I shut my office door. When I got home each evening, I’d head straight to the bathroom to examine my body in the mirror. Within weeks, my bellyskin was obscured by new growth. Fall was coming and already the foliage was blazing orange, a fire across my stomach. On the toilet, seaweed dripped from me and stuck to the porcelain.
How could I be home to so much life? Did I even belong here? Whose life was more important, mine or theirs? Coexistence must be possible. That’s what I had to believe to keep going. I was alone with no one to talk to, my partner having failed to return home from work over six months ago.
Once my vision started going, I decided it was time to consult a medical professional. I had already lost my sense of smell when vines started snaking from my nostrils and overtaking my face. Now they sprouted from my eye sockets.
“Doctor, what’s wrong with me? Is my body my own?”
He chortled. “Well, sweetie, we don’t do a lot of research on women’s bodies, so it’s hard to give you a definitive answer. From everything I know, you’re pretty normal.” He slapped me on the rump and walked me to the receptionist’s desk. “If you’re really concerned, I’ll refer you to a specialist,” he added as an afterthought before heading to the breakroom to microwave his Hot Pocket.
It was a few weeks before I could see the specialist. I took a taxi because it was hard to drive with plants pouring from my eyes. The ivy tangled with my hair now. I braided them together to keep it back from my face.
“Open up,” the specialist directed once my feet were in the stirrups. I let my knees drop to either side. The tray of tools to the left of the specialist seemed out of place. I spied a hunting knife, fish food, a net, and a periscope.
“What are you doing?” I asked weakly before the periscope was shoved inside me.
“This is marvelous,” breathed the specialist. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Can I see?”
“Oh no, that’s not necessary, my dear. We don’t allow patients this kind of view,” chirped the specialist. “Wow, a sea turtle!”
I rolled my eyes and counted to ten to dispel the anger building inside me, but suddenly realized I didn’t have any anger left.
The doctor peeled off her gloves. “You’re a wonder. The most I’ve ever seen in-utero is a small, scummy pond, or at best a man-made lake. Can I show your sea to my first-year medical students?”
With a groan, I pushed myself upright, brushed off the papery pad I’d been sitting on, and broke into a jog in my thin cloth gown. I made it outside before collapsing. It was exhausting being the home of so much vibrant life.
I am not an experiment.
I am a home for sea and woodland creatures.
I am not myself.
I am very tired.
I will take a nap on this bench.
The following week, the specialist sat on the same bench at her lunch break, playing a game on her phone while poking at the vines that dug into her backside. “I don’t remember there being so much ivy here before,” she mused aloud. Despite all her years as a medical professional, she never lost her sense of wonder at the natural world.
Emily Hessney Lynch is a short story and memoir writer. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s, Sad Girls Club Literary, Five Minute Lit, and Spine Magazine and is forthcoming in Spellbinder Magazine and Sledgehammer Lit. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their two rescue dogs. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @EHL_writes.