The End of Bodies

Every time a body ends, a Polly Pocket is born again.

Image: Mindsay Mohan

I don’t know what it’s like to watch someone die suddenly. I can only speak to watching them die slowly. Except it isn’t slowly. It is something else. Time shatters. Skies swallow them. Multiple skies. There is a soundtrack. There is a light show. Different for every death and every loved one left behind. And then there is just you. A miniature version of you that is quietly on fire. You are Polly Pocket. You are Polly Pocket standing in the middle of a tiny, hollow forest fire. This should horrify and anger you, Polly. You live in Death’s pocket. There’s a bed, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a forest fire. It all matches. It’s all bright pink because you are a girl. It’s blue if you’re a boy. Which isn’t fair. None of it is fair. I’m sorry Peter Pocket, I wish we could change colors. I’m sorry Peter, you think you can scream but you can’t. You can’t even talk really. So the fire eats you, like it eats me. It eats me like the cancer ate the bodies of my loved ones. Slowly and then enough. Enough.

Complicated grief “they” call it. “They” equals, “Who the fuck are you?”

I love making my therapist laugh. Oops.

She thinks I deserve physical contact. “Hey, leave the jokes to me, Lady!” I zing, but it’s very charming, very charm-zing, “Have you ever read Plotinus?”

Before she can answer, time is up. Okay, I’ll just tuck this therapy receipt into my dead dad’s fanny-pack that I am currently wearing and be on my way.

I only read like a page of Plotinus’ stuff but get this, he was a philosopher who was ashamed of having a body. And right now that just feels so right. Should I date him? The answer is nope. Plotinus was ashamed of having a body because he thought his spirit was too amazing to be contained in a body. I shouldn’t date him because if we were at the food court in the Topanga Mall in 2003 and that John Mayer “Bigger Than My Body” song started playing, he’d be like, “This is me! This is ME!” and I would be mortified in front of the staff and everyone in line at Sbarro. Again. Once is enough, Plotinus. Sbarro me the pain, I’ve Sbarro’d enough.

Plotinus, you and I share the same shame but we are so different. You are like John Mayer and I am not a dick.

I’ve had body shame. Of course I have. As a teenager I was awful to my body. I starved it and binged it and let idiot boys violate it. Even when I got a little better, I still complained about my hot bod for all of my twenties. But I have stumbled upon a new kind of body shame. A deeper shame. I’m ashamed of having a body because it ends. It’s so embarrassing. Your body will end. Yours and mine. I saw it happen to someone I loved so much. Twice. In two years. Back to back. I saw my dad’s body end. I watched it end. Yellow, gaunt, swollen, then gone. Wrapped in a white shroud, carried down my sister’s steps, his feet sticking out of the sheet on the stretcher. They bumped his head on the gate. My sister and I saw it happen. We wanted to tell him that they bumped his head on the gate, but there we were, stuck in the very first moment of never being able to tell him anything.

His body ended at sixty-two. Samantha’s body ended at thirty-seven. My friend. She was beautiful. Striking. She had bones and breasts and liters of blood and then like an epic and shitty magic trick, all of those things disappeared. I watched cancer suck her teeth and then drown her. I watched cancer eat my father’s eyes. I heard him breathe a few hundred cancerous, morphine death sighs and then poof, gone. Watch your head on the gate, Dad. Why didn’t you say, “Ow”? Why didn’t you move your head? Why didn’t you lift your head up and say, “Hey watch the gate, will ya fellas?” to the funeral parlor guys? Oh. Oh. Right.

My dad died in March of 2015. Samantha even helped me grieve. She had lost her father at age fifteen. She was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in November of 2015. She never smoked. She ran half-marathons. She almost didn’t tell me when she was diagnosed, to protect me from more cancer. I’m lucky she told me because hearts are not really for protecting, they are for getting obliterated. She died October of 2016. But timelines don’t even matter. Grief is like time-travel, except it sucks. Think Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure meets The Diary of Anne Frank. You visit the dead where the drinks have little umbrellas but no taste. You meet them in the Bermuda Triangle — three separate, swirling worlds — their illness, their death, and their life before those two inexcusable mistakes.

Being died on isn’t easy. It’s much worse to be very ill and then die. Duh. I know they had to do the impossible thing. They had to suffer beyond words and squeeze in their last laughs and cast their eternal love spells and sum up their life experience or not sum it up at all and then they had to vanish. But I had to watch, helpless. I have specifics if you want them. I have hundreds of specifics if you want them. They live in me. In my plastic stomach. My formica head. My heart that is bloated with pain. I had to watch them die, slowly. Until it was sudden. Until it was final. And now I just have to be here. I mean I’m lucky to be here but goddamn.

The amount of grief that’s coursed through my body is too much. Death. Divorce. Death. Death. If you acquire too many losses in a short period of time, are you just a loser now? Probably yeah. I don’t have cancer but cancer has gutted me and made me pretty much feral and deranged. Very subtly. Thanks, cancer, you’re a shitbag. For two years cancer has made me say I’m fine because I’m not the one with cancer. Also, in a total dick reverse move, cancer-grief has even made me accidentally torture a cancer patient/survivor with my suffocating, desperate love. The subtext of all of my mistakes: PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME PLEASE DON’T DIE. Cool! Way to go, Me! Way to ADD some bullshit to a cancer patient’s plate.

Speaking of plates, did you know grief can destroy many parts of you? Did you know that the complications of grief can be delayed? That when a major death occurs, you are often just in shock for the first year? So when everyone forgets about your loss, that’s when it starts to pummel you the hardest? My appetite and digestion are fucked. It’s exhausting. My insides aren’t working right. My insides seize up. Like they used to do when my dad would burst into my room yelling at me. I’d try to fit under my bed. I’d try to get small. Now I can. Now that I am Polly Pocket. When you are Polly Pocket you can disappear a little. You can move the furniture around in Death’s pocket. You can gaze out at the pink flames as you sip your pink lava tea. People will let you disappear if you fight for that. They’re busy. Or more loyal to your ex. Or not thinking about you. Or if they do, if they reach out, you should probably stay home and tend to this fire, Polly.

An unfortunate side effect of trying to become invisible is that you don’t become invisible. It’s very troubling. You can disappear but people can still see you. And boy do they see you. When your body has changed significantly, people often talk about it to your face. I lost 20 pounds from grief. Just grief. No cool healthy diet/exercise thing. Loss of appetite. Trauma-related nausea. Severe constipation with a side of bleeding asshole. HOT. I’m 5 foot 2 inches. I was 128 pounds, now I’m 108 pounds. People notice.

People love it! “Divorce looks great on you.” “You’re in such great shape!” “What are you doing, you look amazing.” “You’re a babe now.” “So good for on-camera work.”

People hate it! “Don’t lose any more weight, you’re too thin.” “Oh my god, I didn’t even recognize you.” “You’re so tiny.” “You look like a young Willem Dafoe.” (Okay, I added the last one.)

I have never felt more exposed. More embarrassed. More at a loss for words. I have to wear my trauma in public. I have to take it with me on stage to my comedy shows. I had to take it to my grandma’s funeral, my dad’s mom. The funeral he skipped because he was too dead to attend. He died March 12th, 2015, she died on September 11th, 2016 (hilarious move to piggy-back onto a national tragedy, Grandma.). But timelines don’t even matter. Think Back to the Future meets Nell meets Weekend At Bernie’s.

“No, Polly Pocket doesn’t have sex. Hello, that’s gross and she’s busy with fire containment. And Plotinus shouldn’t get to have sex. Neither should John Mayer.”

Therapy is going okay. If I wear a hat to therapy does she write that down?

“Listen, it is much safer to stay Polly Pocket at this point. She is plastic and has no vital organs. She has a headband. There is no vagina, I checked.”

Therapist is dying to know if I’ll ever turn into a real human woman that allows herself to be touched. A cliff-hanger? What an exciting essay.

(Stroking my plastic chin) Will I remain Polly Pocket, who is traumatized and all tucked in for bed in Death’s refrigerated pocket? Or am I far too human for that? Am I so idiotically, unabashedly human that I will let someone I want kiss my neck as a form of rebellion? Will I give Death the side-eye while the sexy neck stuff is happening and say, “I know you’re watching, you sick fuck, and I don’t care. I’m getting my neck kissed tonight, so you can fuck right off!”?

If you make out, Death is watching. If you have some version of good sex, Death is for sure watching. Just watching and jerking off. His bony hand cracking his bony little dick wishing he could switch places for once to see how it feels. To feel how it feels to be lit up. He’s seen a light bulb, is that what it’s like? No, Death, you charcoal turd, we don’t get to know what you feel like so you don’t get to know what we feel like. I see you Death, pathetically, vacantly Dark Master-bating to our pumping blood, our capillaries, our oxygen, our eye color, the tips of our fingers, our raw, rare, mundane, extraordinary, ugly, hairy, chiseled, flabby bodies glistening with sweat and shame and magic. Bodies that are decaying at different paces but absolutely decaying. Decaying and living. Death is jerking off to the defiant side of our mortality he can never touch. The part that lives. What a fucking creep. But kind of relatable, yeah?

Fiona Landers is a writer, actor and singer. She and her sister, Lily Landers, wrote a collection of essays about the loss of their father called ‘A Series of Bungee Cords.’ Fiona writes and performs musical and sketch comedy regularly at the UCB Theatre Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter: @fionasings4u.