a body is a map
paper, digital, breathing, wavering
a body is a map
[[open the map]]
[[ignore the map]]
[[artist statement]]January 4, 2015.
Your family remembers [[Christmas in summer,]] coconut milk and hot street food, tequila distilleries that bloomed. They remember carrying their bulging backpacks that stretched farther than the narrow expanse of their backs. They remember the burn on the sole of a foot at the beach. They remember [[Mayan ruins,]] Mexican cathedrals, [[beaches]] that smelled like [[wet salt]].January 4, 2015.
Your family remembers [[Christmas in summer]], coconut milk and hot street food, tequila distilleries that bloomed. They remember carrying their bulging backpacks that stretched farther than the narrow expanse of their backs. They remember the burn on the sole of a foot at the beach. They remember [[Mayan ruins]], Mexican cathedrals, [[beaches that smelled like wet salt.]]Winter break in Mexico, 2015
You're sixteen, but only barely. Adulthood is close; ash on the tongue. Your body feels bulky and strange. You are unfamiliar to yourself, a body in a body in a body, swelled shut.
You don't remember what they do; a getaway is a getaway, isn't it? (until it isn't)
What you remember is a [[hand]] on your thigh, beached seaweed, hermit crabs, black sedan. Flamingoes, bright blushing bodies; blood on the surface; legs like needles shot into the water.//I think about the house a lot, where we stayed. An Airbnb.
It was flat, open. A broad house that moved wide, spread-eagle.//
The shape of the house was strange, marble tiled, elaborate and not, wanting and waning. It shaped itself in a way that isolated, collected.
//The island of Progreso is a narrow strip, this house a single point along the beach-lined segment. The house was owned by a man, a [[woman]] - business partners, strictly. I remember his emphasis there: colleagues, partners, strictly business.//
You saw her infrequently; a ghost, almost, floating; did she know? Had she any idea what he had done? Maybe if he'd done it before?
You won't know; can't know.//We left in his black sedan and started driving around the small town. It was a long strip of land, laid against the beauteous line of the ocean.
Before we had gone far, he stopped at a convenience store to buy a beer. He offered to buy me a soda, which I said I didn't want, but he bought it anyway. Back in the car, he started to hold my hand. Thumb over the knuckles, bumps forming up and down my arms. Something sour filled my throat, my mouth.
I wanted it to end. I didn’t know what to do. I let it happen.
We stopped again at a thin stretch of beach somewhere in the main part of the town (I think). We sat on this cement wall sort of thing, and he kept holding my hand, still. He asked if I wanted to swim. I told him that I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit. He was surprised; “I told you to wear a swimsuit before we left!”
A sharp shudder broke at the base of my stomach.
A red light pulsing in my mouth, a warning.
He gave it up quickly; I still wonder why. Maybe that beach was too public; shops behind us, a sidewalk. Anyone could have seen. Maybe that was it, or maybe not. I won’t ever know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. What happened, happened. Right?
We sat there on the wall for a while. He was so close to me.
He kept holding my hand and talking to me. Holding my hand. Touching me. Touching me. Touching. His face felt close to mine, but I couldn’t look at him. After a long time of sitting there, he nudged me off of the ledge and told me that he wanted to take me somewhere else.
“There’s something else I want to show you,” he said.
I agreed. I didn't know what else to do.
We got back [[in the car]] and drove way out, away from the town, away, away, away from everything. The space around us, around the car, the environment embellishing that tumbling road felt entirely separated from everything. None of it felt real, or stable, or familiar. It was the middle of nowhere on a small island in Mexico. Progreso.
I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t know where I was, which felt surreal. But no one else knowing — no one else in the world having any idea where I was - felt…heinous. It felt disquieting and cold.//The smell of wet salt still drowns you; buries your senses, swallows you; it deluges you.
"The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic, for example."
Your back returns to that hard-packed dirt; the swamp at your feet, broadspanning water body that gulped; the hands, the mouth;
Across the water, the sun was pocketed between the feathered pink bodies a thousand feet away. Blushing flamingoes, bare and blood tinted.
They didn’t know, couldn’t see the hand on your leg, the mouth close to your neck, cheek, the boned hip against your own.
Soft panic rose upward in your swelling throat, a snake slithering forward in slow bites, wide venom teeth to soft honey flesh. You felt him on you. His body, breath, the weight of his presence around your soft body, it overwhelmed. Your body an island sinking, his weight an air of rainstorm around it. His body shifted, a hand moved up, eyes narrowed inward, his mouth leapt at you slowly. You remember so clearly his chapped lips, beige or brown, searching for yours to catch, to nip, to devour.
You remember his callused hands like sandpaper against your thigh, the wet of his mouth on your cheek like glue.
The flamingoes across the water the only bystanders, your body shrunk, alone, impotent.
[[Flamingos]] aren’t your favorite bird anymore.You remember Christmas in summer coconut milk and hot street food, tequila distilleries that bloomed. You remember carrying your bulging backpack that stretched farther than the narrow expanse of your backs. You remember the burn on the sole of a foot at the beach. You remember Mayan ruins, Mexican cathedrals, beaches that smelled like wet salt.
//Pastor// on street carts, sweaty restaurant stalls. Coconut milk from the fruit's swelled bowl, pilose and brown.
The summer light glinting off of tinseled trees; it fell over raised sunburnt skin at night, shadows glowing.
New Years' Eve, it comes and goes. Swelled songs lifting from the center of the town, rising and falling, soft breaths.
[[Do you wish you had opened the map?]]They rose in the winter sun, burning, burrowing into eroded mud and stone.
Climbing the corroded steps leading up to the top, that narrow space between four earthen walls.
You wonder what they're made of; myths hold stories, stories myths, are these abraded walls made of ground human bones?
These ruins are ruins, nothing more.
Temple of the Cross; Temple of Sacrifices
A cross is a cross; a sacrifice only a sacrifice.
You'll leave but remain whole still.
[[Do you wish you had opened the map?]]His hand was bigger than yours, manila rope curled around soft knuckles. Parched and stale. Dark and callused hands that devoured.
Sometimes you think of him now, still, but only ever in butterfly moments; flitting images that don’t stay, twitchy and restless breaths in recollection.
//There are things I wish I could say to you, born out of the knots in my body that you twisted, zip tied between my legs. I don’t think you know what you’ve done, what your hands have built in me (doubtless others, too). There are castles, a city of glass and carbon fibre cased in stone. I can still feel the calluses on your hands, imprints of a city you’ve built, toxins penetrating the body of my youth, nevermore.
My body began to feel like a shell. The memory of [[him,]] butterfly and not, exists in the pockets of My body, muscle spasms and bone aches that reach from the inside out. I wonder, still. How many cities have you built?//You remember his long, bristled arm connected to a weak and sloping shoulder. You might have been able to break it, rip the joint from its socket, curl the tendon backwards and upwards, out.
You remember ever clearly that bulbous belly over those black-grey swim shorts, hipline visible above the waistband. His face, though, that you only remember in clouds; a mouth, thin and parted, through wispy fog; hazel eyes, sunken into a rough face, the texture of a coarse bouldering cliff.
You remember sitting on the edge of a lake, reservoir, some body of water ending in endless marsh. A place you didn’t know, a place that didn’t know her. Its language escaped your tongue, a gutted kind of nowhere lost entirely on your pocketed body.
The dirt beneath you was hardpacked and warm. Tall grass growing formed an oval around you, razor pieces that gloated their gentle motion, deadened in that golden heat. The environment overwhelmed you, shrouded you smoothly, thick black water caving around the edges of your vision. You ignored him, ignored his touch, ignored it all, or tried to. It didn’t work. Your own voice echoed, weak in your ears.
//Your hand is on my leg. Your hand is on my leg. Your hand is on my hip.//
A gap grew in the space above your ribcage, a vacuum opening slowly, deliberately. A kernel that crowns along the seam where silver bones meet. His body beside you carved a hole in you, a cavity within the chest that ached, a chasm.
Crater, fissure, ravine. Cavity, cleft, void. Crevasse, abyss. Hole. Caldera.
Caldera; in Spanish, a cauldron, a mouth, a pit.
You felt it burrowing downward, outward. Gaping, gasping. The thing would engulf you, swallow you, wrap around the pieces of your body, digest. It would digest you, whole. You wanted to pry his hands from your body. You wanted to bend his wrist backward, listen for the snap. You wanted to push his eyes away from you. You felt them boring into your body, a leer that reached through your back, down into your chest.
The vacuum, hole, that space that wrested open between the halves of your ribcage. The beating in your chest grew outward, expanding between your shoulders, downward into the pit of your stomach, convulsing, gulping, choking through the abdomen.
//Let me go, I want to go. [[Go.]] Leave me. Alone, I want to be alone. Not here, never here. Let me go, from here.//
You wanted to be swallowed whole. To be devoured, by yourself or by the earth, by the water, that endless marsh.
//Swallow me whole.//The drive back to the house was hollow, you remember.
It felt like you had been swallowed, made unwhole.
The swollen bumps in the road pulled the car down into the dirt, only to spit it back out, again, again, again, againagainagain;
you no longer knew yourself;
you became a child’s body, mangled;
you were both alive and not, unsure.
The music in the car had shrunk, another sense taken from you, one more feeling in a body swollen in heat that had been evaporated, [[dissipated.]]In summer, flamingos come out. Swelled bodies, pink, plumed.
Store fronts, swimming pools, beach umbrellas, yard toys, garden stalks;
it's reminiscent, portent, small griefs that surge, bloat, that build.
The thought appeared once, of tattooing one onto your body,
keen flesh, a reminiscence that might end in a neglection, a loss.
You never did; it never did.
[[Do you wish you had dropped the map?]]You remember a moment, imagining the act of drowning him.
His body, floundering.
Submerged in the thick marsh, weeds growing around his ears, out of his nose, flowing from his parched mouth, that fat and straight line through his face.
You pictured it gargling the muddy water of the marsh, grey-brown guzzling in and out of his mouth. You saw yourself rolling his heavy body through the tall grass, watching him sink down through the swampy water, through the underwater moss and herbs, underwater trees, seedlings. His swollen stomach full of lead. Dragging him down, toward the base of the swamp. You imagine it, picture it, see it.
A fruition of the mind, it almost swallows you. Empties you.
You don’t move. Your body stays still, under his palms, his mouth, his nose, pressed against your neck.
You remembers wishing, never doing.
You don’t drown him.
You don’t touch him; he touches you.
Your body remained static, hands in place, unmoving.
You don’t roll his body into the marsh, don’t hold his head beneath the murky water, don’t watch the lichen underwater crawl inside his mouth, through his nose.
You don’t do anything; your body lies in waiting.
You can’t move.
There’s something heavy weighing your body down to the ground, holding you captive against the hard yellow dirt.
[[Would you like to drop the map?]]//There was another woman staying in the house, in a room upstairs; a European woman in her thirties. She was tall, slim, olive-skinned. Her hair was cropped, dirty blonde or brown. Her body was narrow, long, thin, I remember. Her incandescent eyes were hazel, more green than brown. I remember her sharply; a ghost floating behind two eyes, compressed body, stony and white; translucent. I wonder still why this is my story, instead of hers. I wonder constantly, but light shone on her, looking after her, projecting her probably into a life that I wish to be beautiful and free. I hope that light shines on her still.//
You think about her still; a shadow, ghosting.
//There’s a vague memory of another family there too, but I can’t remember them. Two parents, maybe two boys, too. They aren’t so sharp; their faces, bodies, eyes, mouths never impressed upon my memory, I guess. But they were there, they must have been. I feel it, the presence of others, within and around my story. I wish I could remember them. Another part of that winter, another presence, something beautiful maybe. But the family, the image, circumvents my [[memory]] entirely.//Houses held hollow, for years, still now, even now.
Tiled floors, dark rooms, wicker chairs, flat patios.
A house is a house is a house, until it isn't.
The Blacksburg house is home, but parts of it began to dissipate, disappear, evaporat; parts of it were lost.
You recall, in that house, your brother's high school graduation. [[Moments]] of grief wrapped in origami flowers, between cards of a deck, in the folds of sweet, tensile mumbles.He was 53 years old. Older than your parents, but only by a few years.
Long hair, chestnut and blonde, dry and brittle. You don’t want to remember his name, but you do. Clinton — his name was — or is — Clinton. There were years when you couldn’t remember his name. It had slipped from the front of your mind; didn’t rest on the tip of your tongue anymore, bristling against the inner curve of your lips. It became buried and stayed that way for years, a disjointed memory.
There was a celebration at home after your brother’s high school graduation. It was brought back to the surface; a buried thing rising from a soft bed of soil in the pit of your belly, unwatered, near forgotten.
Your brother opened a gift from an aunt and uncle: a crisp pack of cards and a handbook for magic tricks. His love of magic started that Christmas, in Mexico, four and a half years before. “This is like the deck I had in Mexico,” he had said. “I practiced them on Clinton.” The name pricked your skin like ice; your body stiffened, straightened, flattened against the side of the living room coffee table; statuesque, you shrank; felt your body begin to crumble a little, caving inward. An aunt saw you, smiled, mouthed, //Are you okay, honey?// You nodded. Your aunt twitched, unconvinced. //Are you sure?// You nodded again. Continued disbelief, your aunt shook her head, looked away; looked back again, soft eyes pouting. //I know you too well, honey. Do you want to talk?// Another shake of the head, crowned smile, a glance away and back again. A gentle nod from the aunt, and the conversation dropped, a stone down a well.
The name stayed in your mind. A spirit that breathes, heavy and wanting.
//Clinton. His name was Clinton.//
[[Would you like to drop the map?]](restart:) -> [[open the map]]The car stopped on the edge of what felt like a rural highway.
A marsh spun outward to the horizon on the right, touching the soft edge of the molten summer sky. It was some kind of animal reservation, I think. There was a wide-eyed lake surrounded by dry dirt, tall grass; far out in the water there was a vast flock of flamingoes. He sat down in the grass on a patch of dry dirt, and I sat down beside him (what else could I do?)
He got close to me. Closer, closer. And closer. He moved to hold my hand again. He was touching my leg. I felt my body shift, twitch. A weight dropped down through my stomach, hot, burning.
I felt my body bolted in place on the ground there; something physical in my body that became suddenly aware of what was going to happen. What was going to happen.
He got closer to me. He told me to relax. He asked if this was the first time I'd ever done this. //Done this.// This, whatever this is, it isn’t normal. People don’t do this. Sex. That’s what he means, what he wants, what he intends.
A motion in my mind sent my body into something like survival mode, I guess. I don’t know any other name for it, I don’t know what to call it or how to place it. It took my body over, sweeping upward from my legs into my stomach into my throat up into my mouth, beating. Heartbeat on the tongue. I told him that I needed to go back to the house to check on my brother.
“He’s been alone for a few hours now. I have to go back.”
I was lucky—lucky, lucky, lucky—he listened. We got back in the car.
He tried to talk to me, still. His hand, on my leg. My knee. My arm, then.
“Are you a virgin?” The word carved a hole in my cheek, point on the tongue.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
I said to him anything I thought I needed to say, anything I could say. Anything, anything.
The car felt hot and too small. I felt my body shrinking inward on itself, squeezing my insides together. When we reached the house, I went to check on my brother. I hadn’t lied — I wanted him to think so, at least. My brother was fine; alive, unknowing.
I locked myself in the bathroom inside the bedroom until my parents came back. Breathing, uneven. Texts to my best friend ($0.25 per text, $0.50 per minute, all the way from Mexico). Listening, desperately. Tapping. Toes pressed against the glass shower door. Bare feet. My shorts felt too small, ankles swollen. I don’t remember it all. The memories are disjointed now, disconnected. I want to remember fresh the way that everything unfolded. I remember the date, though. January 4, 2015.
I don’t remember much about what happened after that. I was stuck in that house for days still, with him. And my family. When my family came back later that afternoon, my mom found me in the bedroom. I told her — well, sort of, kind of, not really, I guess — about what happened, with him. I hardly remember her reaction.
I guess it doesn’t matter.
[[Would you like to drop the map?]] //I have to write what happened. They want a record, I guess. Maybe I do too.
The way I remember it is strictly in fact. I think it was probably the second or third day that we were staying at the Airbnb in that town. Progreso. My parents and my older brother wanted to go sightseeing (the [[Mayan ruins,]]) but I chose to stay back at the house with my younger brother. Not that long after the rest of my family left for the day, the man at the house asked me if I wanted to see the town. I assumed that he was just being friendly and offering to give a tour of his town, this beautiful island, like any Airbnb host would. Right?
I was only sixteen, and I was stupid, stupid, stupid. I was so stupid. I didn't want to go anywhere. I especially didn’t want to go anywhere with a person, a man, that I didn't know, someone who I’d have to make conversation with — but I've never really been able to say no to people. I think it's funny now, that in that moment before it all, all I could think about was having to make conversation. How trivial.
I figured the man’s offer extended to my younger brother too, so I asked him if he wanted to come, but he wanted to stay at the house. He didn’t feel like going out. He wanted to stay in and play his Nintendo DS.
So I went with him by myself. Immediately I remember feeling trapped, even then, so soon, before all of it.
I think a lot about what might've happened if my brother had decided to come with me instead of staying at that house, but it doesn't really matter much.
It isn't his fault.
Not in the grand scheme of things. I think what happened would've happened somehow anyways, [[regardless]] of what my brother did.//You left in his black sedan and started driving around the small town.
It was a long strip of land, laid against the beauteous line of the ocean.
Before you had gone far, he stopped at a convenience store to buy a beer. He offered to buy you a soda, which you said you didn't want, but he bought it anyway. Back in the car, he started to hold your hand. Thumb over the knuckles, bumps forming up and down your arms. Something sour filled your throat, your mouth.
You wanted it to end. You didn’t know what to do. You let it happen.
He stopped again at a thin stretch of beach somewhere in the main part of the town (you think). You sat beside him on this cement wall sort of thing, and he kept holding your hand, still. He asked if you wanted to swim. You told him that you weren’t wearing a swimsuit.
He was surprised; “I told you to wear a swimsuit before we left!”
A sharp shudder broke at the base of your stomach.
A red light pulsed in your mouth, a warning.
He gave it up quickly; you still wonder why.
[[Would you like to drop the map?]](restart:) -> [[open the map]](restart:) -> [[open/close]] This place reminds you of the Jersey Shore; out in Long Branch, Little Silver, the boardwalk of your childhood.
//Neuroscientists have suggested that this close physical connection between the regions of the brain linked to memory, emotion, and our sense of smell may explain why our brain learns to associate smells with certain emotional memories.//
//Researchers hypothesized that the exceptional ability that smells have to trigger memories — known as “the Proust effect” — is due to how close the olfactory processing system is to the memory hub in the brain.//
//Odors take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.//
What memories will remain in your limbic system, when you leave?
What will you remember?
[[Do you wish you had opened the map?]]
//* The reader is strongly encouraged to explore and experience the work prior to reading the Artist Statement.//
This work, completed in Twine, pulls from personal experience, the experiences of others, and a general outlook on the feminine experience with sexual assault, sexual violence, and relative nonautonomy as it relates to femininity. There is a strong women’s and gender studies focus employed in this work that exerts itself not through theory, but through learned and lived experience of the feminine body, mind, and soul as a central category of inquiry.
The original piece, titled “Body Map,” was written in February of 2020 as a work of creative nonfiction. Over time, it has diversified into many forms and mediums, but this is the first time that this piece has ever been translated into a digital, dynamic work. The implementation of this piece into interactive fiction allows for an element of choice, of agency, and of autonomy in this piece, all of which plays a significant role in the experience of sexual assault in any form. The reader may explore the illustrated experience through a separate lens that allows them an ounce more of freedom, and therefore a means by which the subject’s experience can be journeyed through in a unique fashion.
Going into this project, I was entirely unsure of what it might become. I have never engaged in the creation of electronic or digital fiction in any capacity, so the use of Twine was quite daunting to me. I chose Twine - and by extension interactive/hypertext fiction - because of the element of choice that it provides to the story and its narrative. As this project began to take shape and make itself distinct, I felt myself particularly drawn to the notion of the choice between opening the map and dropping/ignoring it. These options, throughout the piece at various intersections, provide the piece a unique element of choice that expresses both the presence of choice and the lack thereof; though these choices exist, and the reader is able to possess those small ounces of autonomy and agency in those moments, does the story –and the experience of sexual assault in general—allow for any choice at all? Does it not end in the same way each time? The only way to find out is to delve into the narrative and explore its body, its track, and comprehend the experience for oneself.