I was barely a person, but I was. It hurt to run. It stung my muscles and my lungs. Organs bounced behind the flesh. My lungs ached to be rooted into another body. Snot and saliva spilled out of me every time I ran. I was salty skin and flailing limbs. I was a clumsy concoction of hormonal fluctuations and nerves. My attempt at inhaling air was a battle of pace and inability to understand what my body really wanted.
She rolls over. Summery skin soft and dark against the curved line of shirt sliding beneath sheets. Before morning pulls me under lushdelicious, I push my mouth against her shoulder, wrap an arm and drape a leg.
“Morning,” she mumbles. Her skin shimmers warm in the morning light.
“You glow,” I sigh, and go under.
When I open my eyes who knows how long later, the dog has weaseled his way onto the bed, curled between us. At the low rumble of thunder, he gives a convulsive quiver and tucks his nose beneath his back leg. I scratch his ears and Kabob untucks and gives me a grateful look. Before he tucks back in, I notice a bright smudge, glowing on the bridge of his nose. I rub my eyes and lean forward, spreading the thin fur on his snout with my fingers, like I’m looking for ticks. Where the fur separates, the glow follows.
When I read that women carry the microchimera of the fetuses they conceive, and also, of every man whose sperm has been inside them, I blister with rage. Is there nowhere in my body that has not been colonized? Do male microchimera get credit for every logical thought I have, for every time I’ve built a piece of IKEA furniture correctly, for my ambition? Have infinite particles of maleness made me what I am, just as they always claimed?
“Breathe,” you whisper. Holding me.
The first breath is convulsive, just a reflex, and when it comes, it’s flour and molasses in Granny’s porcelain bowl, stirring. I clutch and reach.
“Breathe,” you insist, and remove your mask, to show me how.
The second breath is my own, the sound of rainwater in a drainpipe. I raise myself against your arm and lean, and when you reach under my ribs and pull me up against your chest, brine pours from my mouth. I heave, coughing and spitting, but the taste is not bitter. I want it back.