The younger I was, the more I investigated my body’s secrets. I explored each tiny place with curiosity: palms against soft, white skin, fingers poked in ears, bitten nails skating the dip of my throat. My body was not just familiar territory – it was my very own erratic, unkempt kingdom. Until puberty, I didn’t judge the merits or defects of the blood and bones that kept me alive, I only marvelled at its wonders. I’d sit on the stool in front of morning re-runs of Batman, peering down into the dark cavern of my nightie, breathing in its musty smells, touching the mole on my upper thigh, pulling at a new scab on my knee.
However, when I reached eleven or twelve, things changed. I swung from fascination to repulsion with my body, depending on my mood or what magazines I’d been reading. We were close like lovers - sometimes at peace, but often warring, confused, simmering, full of desires and woes. Still we remained allies against the outside world.
But as I grew older, we gradually parted company. And as others began to explore my body, I knew it less. Each nook, each tangle seemed less remarkable to me as others uncovered it. As lovers commented on its curiosities and miracles, I grew bored, forgetful. When I was nineteen, I got my belly button pierced. Perhaps that was the start of it. As seems the curse of pubescent girls, my teens had been wracked with bodily despair and an obsession with perfection – perfection that, naturally, I’d never achieve. I had longed to get a piercing since I was thirteen - as though somehow that would empower me, taking me out of teenage insecurity into something deeper, darker, more primal. Though it was years later, getting it done somehow felt like a rite of passage. In that Withington bedroom, lying there as my tattooed friend leaned over me in his black, sleeveless T-shirt, I had fainted, my belly button disappearing beneath a sheer bolt of silver. He screwed a tiny silver ball in at one end and I didn’t see my belly button again for another eighteen years.
When I was little I used to spend hours playing with my belly button – an ‘innie’ - small, round and perfect, serving as a secret hiding place for toast crumbs. When the piercing fell out in the bath a couple of months ago, I decided not to feed the silver bolt back through again. Despite the unsightly scar I liked seeing my belly button. It felt ‘natural’, whatever that means, and as though I was recovering some aspect of innocence – all fresh, pink and soft.
It’s unnerving to think that the umbilical cord attaching me to my mother was imbedded in this unassuming tissue. And that the cord no longer exists, as she no longer exists. Yet the hole remains, and surprisingly, for the first time in a long time, I can see it. It's a full moon lighting the way back to that place from which I emerged, where I once belonged, wrapped up in wet unconsciousness, blind, unaware of my skin as separate from hers. One red flesh, pulsing together.
I stick in my finger, pull the sides apart, and look inside. It’s still small, round and perfect. I wiggle the finger in that black eye, a warm aperture, a relic of an eternally lost hiding place. Can that cord continue, I wonder, or has it irrevocably snapped? Could I become a mother? Inside me, an unknown beating heart, some tiny pupil into which my body pumps all that I gorged on as a child, all that was given me by my own, unseen mother?