Titty-deep

I’m sitting in room 141 of a hospice facility in Nashville, watching my grandmother nap. Under the blankets she seems like a baby bird — tiny and curled up, frail. She’s always been a thin woman; now she’s shrunk so much that I am literally the size of four of her. She’s not actively dying, not really, but she’s in hospice care because they expect her to live less than six months.

She is too weak to move her arms; when the Visiting Pets lady comes with her Pomeranian, we place her hand on the dog’s soft back. We spoon small bites of her lunch into her mouth, like feeding a tidy, cooperative baby. She’s not really present in her body; she says she’s hungry when she’s just finished breakfast, she knows her back is uncomfortable but can’t tell if it’s soreness or itching. Inside her body, she’s still herself, but her speech is slow and quiet and her memory is untrustworthy.

I’m thinking about this state of being present in one’s body, of really inhabiting oneself, the space one takes up — of letting oneself be fully physical, unabashedly experiencing corporeal life. My grandmother has lost this option now, as her body slows toward death, but I’m not sure she ever took it when she could. She has spent her life fearfully, seeing potential for danger in everything — waiting to befall herself or her children. She parented this way, tethered to safety, afraid of camping trips, cars, always within arm’s reach; fearful for her grandchildren, too. — One summer during a family vacation my grandmother took my brothers and me to a swimming area at a lake, and forbade us from going any further out than “titty-deep” — as strong swimmers from summers of lessons, we were resentful, but she wasn’t willing to risk our going deeper. After I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, she warned me about how many accidents could be caused by oncoming traffic drifting into my lane; she closed every phone call and every letter with, “Be sure to stay away from that center line.”

So I’m thinking about this reluctance to completely invest oneself physically, this wading titty-deep into life and no farther; examining myself. Do I do this? Not from fear of injury, but from fear of fully committing a body I’m not entirely comfortable in? I know I do; I’m still afraid of this body, of how much space it inhabits, exhibits. At home in my bathroom mirror I’m confident, self-possessed; but put me on a sofa with my thin parents, aunt and uncle, cousins, and I feel like an obscene thing.  I avoid certain chairs so no one sees how tight the arms are against my sides; I’m suddenly aware of my body’s curves, of how certain positions make the waistband of my jeans push visibly into my flesh. I realize how much my purple hair, my vivid nail polish and eyeliner, how much they make me visible; and I struggle to reclaim the boldness I felt when I chose to showcase my personality on my body — now I want to shrink into myself, curl up as small as possible.

But I see my grandmother propped in her hospital bed, a baby bird. And I remember how much joy there is in this flesh, this body-ness. I push myself back into the far edges of this body I’m wearing, all the soft wobbles and curves of it. I will plunge headfirst into physical me-ness; I will not stop at titty-deep.

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3 thoughts on “Titty-deep

    1. Oh, Abi! This is so beautifully written. How tender a time of lessons you are having at your grandmother’s bedside. You are boldly observing and pondering and she is, in her tininess, reminding you that life is so much more than what we see. It is the experiences, lack thereof, and the impact they have on one’s life. You are not trapped in a body, or even a situation as long as your spirit is in the Lord. You are free indeed! ( You know you are!) If your grandmother is in the Lord, then she also is free and is there with you. She may not be able to respond as you would like, or as she would like, but you share a presence at the Lord’s feet and that is humblinly glorious!

  1. And, ironically, titty-deep is still over twice the depth at which one can be jerked to their death by an undertow.

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