As a child I often felt as though my heart was beating not just in my chest but all over my body. Sometimes I would stop, and listen, and the steady thumping would consume my thoughts as I felt it pulsating in my toes, my throat, the crooks of my elbows. I could feel a buzzing in my limbs, the rush of blood through my veins and arteries, like a river crashing over rocks to reach a waterfall. At night, lying awake in the dark I was never alone, because my lungs would whisper to me words that I could not quite make out. And how could I sleep when there was so much noise going on from inside my body? My grandmother called me a ‘distant’ child, and my mother would wonder where I went inside my mind since I was never exactly present enough to answer her questions about school or friends or what I wanted for dinner. How could I tell them that it was simply too difficult? It was so much easier to fold myself inward, to let the rhythms of my eager blood and fervent heart lull me into a trance. Even my skin seemed to ripple and shiver on my bones.
I was obsessed with the idea that it was not just me that was alive – the soul, the spirit, the essence of me however you want to describe it – my body truly was, too. Not just functioning, but full of its own excited energy; an electricity that I loved to hear crackle and spark through my nerves and across synapses. As a young child, neat brown hair clipped carefully back from my face, tripping and falling in the playground was of the utmost pleasure for me. I remember clearly the day I tripped on a loose paving stone on my way to school and fell onto my knees on the pavement. I remember it so clearly because the pain was so sharp, so focussed, like I could feel each tiny skin cell break, as my eyes shut involuntarily I watched the miniscule grains of dirt and rubble from the pavement embed themselves in my knee, merging with the ruptured skin and specks of blood against a kaleidoscopic background of colours and patterns bursting in my mind.
And of course, all children are prone to accidents, so before long I had learnt not only to seek them out, but to differentiate between the different types of pain and pleasure that could be brought on by different so-called ‘accidents’. These were my childhood phases. By nine I had learnt that putting my hand on the boiled kettle or in a pan of boiling water would send a shock of fiery pain rocketing through my nerve endings, that if I shut my eyes the colour red would bloom over and over again behind my eyelids, and that when it was over I could press my ear to the angry mark left behind and hear my blood still simmering so close to the surface of my skin. But when I reached eleven, I found I had rather overdone burning myself, and that it was more exciting somehow to run an icy cold bath for myself and sit in it for as long as I needed, as long as I could stand it. It was far more relaxing; as I sat there and let the freezing water caress my skin I could hear my blood, my heart going faster, feeling as though my entire body was screaming desperately to be let out of those extreme conditions. I would violently shiver, imagining that I could feel all of my bones freezing but rattling around inside me, shivering with such intensity that it came right from my core. I would lie down and taste my lips and know that they tasted blue, and feel my hair floating in the water around my face, each strand full of so much cold. And then came the numbness that started in the tips of my toes but spread evenly, fairly into every nook and cranny of my body. When I would move to sit up I could feel my whole body tingling, but as though I was very far away, like it was happening to someone else, or like I was just remembering the feeling rather than really feeling it. Then I could wrap myself up in towels and blankets and drink hot chocolate and feel my lips fade from blue to purple to pink to red, feel the blood swimming freely in my head again in a way that felt grateful, as though my body was telling me how relieved it was to be warm again.
Pain was a friend. Each and every cut, scrape, bruise and burn was a comfort to me, and no one ever understood that when the time came for me to start explaining myself to professionals and doctors. They couldn’t understand that all they had to do was sit still and listen and they would know what I was talking about. I am older, and I am quiet, and I am alone most of the time, but I am never lonely, and I am whole. I can hear it.