Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Love Park

Written by Kassie Daughety
The Super Colon came to Love Park. Housed in a tent, nestled into a corner, it made up the bulk of a roaming exhibit on the health of the organ whose arcs and coils crowd the dark interior beneath our stomachs.
The Super Colon came to Love Park. Housed in a tent, nestled into a corner, it made up the bulk of a roaming exhibit on the health of the organ whose arcs and coils crowd the dark interior beneath our stomachs.

The day was lovely. Someone had dyed the park's fountain pink, perhaps in honor of the main attraction: a six-foot tall sculpture of the large intestine, cross-sectioned, magnified, displaying the disorders to which our bowels are prone. Surrounding the tunnel were statistics about colon cancer and the pictures and profiles of several young women and men who had succumbed to it. It was because of them that the exhibit would be visiting major cities on a national tour. There were prizes to win, trivia to learn, and a station where you could practice giving a legless mannequin a colonoscopy. Only a few people were milling around under the tent, and no one was near the Colon itself, so I donned the required headlamp and doctor's booties, and took my time crawling through.

Cave diving in a body, playing the doctor; the dark bowel illuminated by flashlight. This secret loop of tissue that no particular hand has sown so neatly into our bellies, blindly collects its material from an opening in our faces and punches it through twenty-five feet of channels to the end of the line.

Inside the tunnel, the pink plastic was ribbed and decorated with blooming clusters of artificial polyps, which vaguely resembled sea anemones. Diverticula adorned the walls, pockets of tissue bulged rigidly from the sides. As I inched through this tube of disease, exploring the progression of a fictitious bowel cancer at the level of its detail, I fantasized about the act of illness, the act of cancer: to affix myself to the slick membrane of a warm animal; to infiltrate an organ; to become multiple.

For a year, it was my job to listen to cancer patients describe the state of their bodies in private interviews. Transcription mornings, I would drive out of the city to the cautiously landscaped corporate suburb where I worked. Interminable construction blocked half of the expressway I was on twice daily. Four lanes narrowed down to a single track, and bright, threatening, Men at Work signs adorned the concrete barriers. No concrete was visible, because the highway was ceaselessly pulsing with cars. At only a little after seven in the morning, drivers were wide-awake, strategizing their choice of lane and jockying violently into position. I was one of them. And though I also shifted lanes to try to move faster toward my daily destination, and though I blasted hateful music to get into the spirit of the workweek, I always hesitated by the door to the building, wondering if I could take another day of cancer.

Nod at the receptionist. Drop my bag by my desk. Slip in the designated microcassette. Push the foot pedal to play. Begin the information transfer from headphones to paper.

The cancer was electric and I was its conduit: it ran through my ear and into my brain, through my brain and out of my fingers. I wrote the cancer and it was written into me. I carried it home and inhabited it. I sewed its edges into a hideous purse and filled it with the bone-shaped sound of living. I tacked all of this evidence to the cushiony wall of my cubicle.

I know about doctors now. I know about surgeries and relatives and being thirty-five with no hope of reaching forty. I know about diarrhea and the blown-out colons of twentysomethings. I know about breasts and the eggs of disease inside of them. I know all about children.

We are doomed. Cancer eats its way through organs and bones and blood. Cancer washes through the bodies that we are, that we make, that we wish to make complete. It paints them and readies them. It fixes their stars and solders them to the future. I don't know how we'll make it go. I don't know how to make body into sound into hieroglyph into meaning.

I never saw the people whose disease joined my brain with theirs in a common landscape. We met like this: ear pressed to headphones on an analog plane. It was only because of the failure of their bodies that I met them at all. I never saw what color hair they used to have. I never knew the secret of their disintegration. I never held them. They were my bad commute and my unsleeping. I could only think of them like this: a casing; a having lived; a not.

The pink plastic ended, my cancer tour was over. The Colon's anemones had burst, had become malignant and untreatable. Should this organ have belonged to a person, she would not have survived. I was stripped of my medical-cum-spelunking gear and was encouraged to visit the rest of the presentation. I was free to meditate on the unseen spaces in my own body.

It's years later. I no longer listen to patients, but I still think about them. I drink tea and eat cereal, and then I'm off to the library where I look through a general disease manual designed for orthosurgeons in training. It's a small book, but it displays glossy color photographs of one hundred ways the body can annihilate itself. I see a woman whose breast is being consumed by a shroud of black and yellow. I see a crumpled, palsied man in a wheelchair he can't operate. Cushing's disease. Crohn's disease. Bowed legs, arched backs, splayed hands, warped digits. The inside coming through the outside. The inside incinerating the outside.

We know our heroes by the way their teeth are gleaming. We know our past by the way our body marks time. The world that hangs over us, breaks open for our shapes, makes space for waves, issues seed, sprays us with its opacity: this is the world that doctors know, that genes know. Disease has a corner on time, and doctors on disease. I have no way of knowing what our futures will bring.
Illustration by Molly Schulman 

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