Maybe it won’t work for you. Maybe you are too smart, or too cemented in your physicality. Or you’ve run your brain through more powerful substances than I have. But if you want to try to leave your body the way I did as a kid, here’s how:
First, stand in front of a mirror. Somewhere that feels blank and big, a little unfamiliar. Maybe your bathroom at night, with only bare traces of light, or a hanging mirror that you drag to a different corner.
Stare into your reflection’s eyes as they stare into yours. Now think about your name. You can say it in your head but saying it out loud, even in that kind of whisper where you barely move your lips and your teeth freeze, like you don’t want anyone, not even the reflection, to know you’re talking, is better. Repeat it until it becomes a funny-sounding word with no meaning, the way all words do, until you reach the end of that word’s tether to your consciousness, and realize that nothing, not even this word, means anything.
When I look at this body, it is made of missing pieces: dead hollows and grooves, pulsing reds, jagged edges like broken glass crowning a wall. I make my blood eager to well.
“Yeah there’s a name for that,” says someone, maybe a nursing assistant, in a videochat while skimming his DSM. “It’s a type of OCD called excoriation disorder.”
I’m only in this call to get my adderall and wellbutrin refilled after being out for two months. To stifle the brain’s noises. Beneath the desk I feel my hands’ unevenness and try to peel it even, but I rip too far. It’s a ritual that’s gone unbroken for as long as I can remember. The stab of reactive nerve pain in my belly telling me to stop is part of it too, the tattoo of being alive.
Later, Michael squeezes my rolling hips and groans, “You’re the hottest bitch I’ve ever seen.” I am insane with love. I lick his throat and will remember the taste of his sweat until I’m dead.
It’s one of the only things that puts me back in the body, since I fled from it by accident when I was six.
I don’t remember what made me do this. But I remember the instant I understood that the name Lauren Lavín meant nothing, Lauren Lavín’s face, nothing, Lauren Lavín’s long brown hair and scars up and down her limbs, nothing. My tongue tingled, then numbed. The face in the mirror dimmed and the bathroom dissolved.
I was nowhere and everywhere. Through a black field of nothing ran electric yellow and blue threads. The entirety of Lauren Lavín’s life raced ahead of her, a humming string of light that uncoiled in a razor-precise line, laughably microscopic compared to how big I was.
Whenever I take psychedelics I am unimpressed by the trip, and wonder if I did something irreparable to my developing brain in countless bathroom mirrors.
I did things that seemed to put me back in the body, too. Bit holes in the pads of fingers, gouged skin from ankles and knees. Scratched flesh until spots appeared and dug to find out what was under the spots. Burned patches away with big pink erasers. I was told to stop it. So far I haven’t been able to.
One of the earliest big violences I learned about was the Aztecs cutting hearts and blood from people as offerings for Huitzilopoctli. I drew crooked temples with brick-colored crayon streams down their steps. Beautiful black-haired priestesses and corpses.
A police chopper spits and sputters over the neighborhood for an hour and I can’t concentrate. Sometimes I think the best death would be to be eaten by a large animal. Like, fill yourself with lidocaine and heroin and let a puma kill you, live off you. If the body is a cage, I think there is still a difference between hating it because you wish it were a nicer cage, and hating it because you wish you weren’t trapped inside.
During our first big love affair, Michael said, “I like that you talk about your body and brain like they’re separate entities.”
“All the time. They must communicate about as well as two cans and some string.”
Although my dad was from Veracruz, where Cortez incinerated Spanish ships in his devotion to invasion, we went to Playa del Carmen, where one of my white mom’s uncles had owned a small hotel since it was a tiny fishing village. Then the town swelled with resort hotels, McDonald’s and TGIFriday’s. Great Uncle Bill prospered and let us stay there cheap.
My parents were divorced and I don’t know why my dad came. His distaste for the once-beautiful, now overrun tourist trap was thick like the humid air and I breathed it in. Darker-complexioned than my siblings, I crawled in my skin, perturbed by the way white people were waited on by Indians in Indian country.
My mom took us to the part of the beach where Europeans and Americans were topless and sometimes bottomless, so she could tan her enormous breasts. She poked my arm and nodded at a sunbather to her left, saying, “Look, it’s a pirate’s dream: a sunken chest.” I flattened myself facedown into the sand and didn’t know yet that hers were mostly silicone.
I was eleven and could stay out til midnight, sneak beers, smell the ocean the way it was supposed to be, not like the ear-stinging beaches in NorCal. I found my dad and he pushed a big silver peso coin into my palm. Its pearl-bright surface was engraved with a woman in pieces whose name I couldn’t make out, it was so tiny.
“‘Coyolxauhqui,’” he read.
I liked her tits. They were pointy drained balloons, nipples pulling them down away from her severed arms and toward her severed legs.
“You just put naked dead people on money?” I asked, elated.
“Is more like a novelty,” he said in his second language. “The government is always making new kinds of pesos and retiring old ones. Is not worth as much as it says.”
All her parts were arrayed in what looked like a beautiful dance. In her tumbling head, her mouth was thrown open as if in ecstasy.
A lot of the out of body experiences were not intentional. Sexual assault peppered the timeline and I escaped the body for the black endless place again while a man in a garage hit Lauren Lavín in the face, fucking her as she shoved her puke-covered bra out of her dewy field of vision. But I was very much in the body when I became pregnant from a fun party hookup a few years later.
The instinctive first response to seeing the result on the pregnancy test was, “Shit I gotta get an abortion now.” Even when my mom pleaded with me to keep it, batting away my excuses like “You don’t even have a placenta yet, any drinking or smoking you’ve done hasn’t affected it” and “a baby would be so good for the family right now,” nothing flickered in my judgment.
I had detected it early, and wasn’t allowed to abort for at least four more weeks. I wanted it gone immediately. But with a guaranteed end to the experience, it became weirdly easy to feel it fully, to leave it to the body and discover how that made the body feel.
I was glowing, overflowing with life, and it felt good, absolutely all over. I was scary hot. At a wedding I fucked this guy in a stranger’s truckbed even though he was with someone who he married later. Each revolution of my bicycle wheels across flat city streets was doing something. When I closed my eyes I felt it, like a small cluster of fireflies.
So it made sense when, amid all my gratitude and certainty, it hurt as much as it did to be spread on my back naked from the pussy down, with the old woman shoving cold metal deep inside me. I was as ecstatic to not be a mother as I was to know that I could be. For maybe the first time I felt something like balanced, truly neutral, even as some girl cried quietly behind a curtain waiting for her drugs to kick in.
Google says there are 9,463.53 drops of water in a pint. A clumsy series of calculations leads me to conclude that I’ve shed 52,195 drops, or roughly 5 and a half pints of blood. It’s somehow more and less than I thought. In the moment it is such a small thing.
I picture the pints and a half of blood on the desk in front of me and wonder if it would feel better to have dedicated that amount to something as a sacrifice. Or even to know the reason it’s there, outside of me, in the first place. It can feel like a habit, a personality flaw, a bad coping strategy, a symptom of my obsession with imperfections, perceived or otherwise. But seeing the patterns is no trouble at all for an obsessor. Breaking them is.
As a girl in the mirror if I wasn’t speaking my brain out of my body then I ached with playdough fantasies where I pinched and pulled parts of my body, peeled chunks from my thighs, belly, arms, and stacked them where I thought people wanted them.
As an adult the fantasy has moved to the brain, where I scrape away the parts that make me grind my teeth to different time signatures all night until my neck seizes and my jaws crack. The offending tissue is rolled up and flicked into a corner, the remaining dents squished together and rubbed smooth.
I salt and accept a doctor’s advice to take NAC for the excoriating. It’s not at the usual grocery store where they started locking up ice cream and fish, but they have it at the Co-Op where Michael was a cashier before we met. Maybe it helps. Other parts of the body are easily hidden but I struggle to leave my hands alone.
Before Coyolxauhqui was ripped apart, her mother Coatlicue got knocked up miraculously. A ball of hummingbird feathers fell into her dress while she was sweeping a temple. Symbolically, the implication is that an anonymous soldier did the knocking. I read somewhere that it was a similar thing with Mary and Jesus.
Coatlicue wears a skirt made of serpents. In the famous statue of her, heavily fanged snakes coil out of her neck to form a grinning two-mouthed monster-god-head. She wears a necklace of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Her breasts are flaccid, drooping, from nursing her many children. These more personally preferred of my ancestors understood fertility and death to be holy and unseperate.
When she discovered her mother’s pregnancy, firstborn daughter Coyolxauhqui was furious. I’m not sure why she felt that way, but I think I kind of get it. I’m a firstborn, too. She rallied her four hundred brothers, the Centzon Huitznahua, to attack and kill Coatlicue. But the baby bastard Huitzilopoctli leapt fully-grown and armed for battle from his mother’s womb to slaughter his siblings. He started with his oldest sister, Coyolxauhqui, who had led the matricidal charge.
Huitzilopoctli lopped off her head and threw the body down a gorge where it broke and fell and broke and fell.
I apologize to the nail tech for my hands.
“I never get manicures but I’m getting married tomorrow.”
A ripple passes over her face and she suggests a lighter shade than the shimmering pink I panic-grabbed off the wall.
We’re about to get married and I figure that means I should get a manicure. But since my hands are the easiest source of blood, I’ve only had two before.
She says, “This will look more natural.”
There isn’t enough length on these ridged seashell nails for her to even try cutting them. Even the quicks have been scraped away and the soft fingertips bubble out. I say “Sorry” over and over and try not to stare at the perfect, groomed women having their feet massaged by women who they glance at over phones, to inspect their work.
Through layers of plastic and warm paraffin wax, she rubs my hands, tells me to put coconut oil on them every night. I want to, but I don’t.
On the trip where I got the Coyolxauhqui coin, Great Uncle Bill got blitzed at dinner and looked at my mom with eyes that I knew already by then were not for younger family.
“You’re a slut,” he said to her, and grinned across the table. “You’re a puppy slut from Hell.”
The knuckles in my small brown hands were white around a knife. I wished for obsidian. He didn’t notice, already on to the next thing which was his passionate idea for saving the world.
“It’s overpopulated. You see it here. You can run over a man in the street and no one cares, bang, instantly a dozen babies to replace him.”
My dad wasn’t there. I tried to catch my mom’s eye, like, your uncle is talking about us.
“What we really need is a serious virus. Something to, bang, take out 90% of the population. Then we get our own island.”
Oh, he thinks he’s talking about us, I realized, looking at my blonde mom and her relatives, but, bang, he’s talking about them.
How come whenever someone has tried to look at or capture me it feels like having parts of the body stolen and put back warped?
Well, it doesn’t, not every time. Not with Michael. Something comes back to me changed after I meet him and I like the slow spread of unfurling bloom that results, that continues.
Michael doesn’t think it’s right to compare the quiet ritual of self-mutilation to an offering, or to martyrdom, or even to self-flagellation, which might be the closest analog now that I think of it. Like any other impulse, it is merely an extension of the ego part of the body that didn’t exist before and won’t exist after.
I leave the things that are of the body to the body. In a way I like that marriage is mostly about ownership, and property.
“I want to belong to you in every way,” I tell Michael. “Even on paper.”
Please have this body while it lasts.
Every other letter or so hurts to type. I keep stopping to wipe my hands inside the pockets of my jeans. The swollen shiny red skin where cuticles should be is perpetually ringed in vibrant blood.
“Stop it,” he says, and closes a big hand over mine.
I gush with gratitude for him. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have someone care about me this much. As soon as his back is turned, I find another jagged edge that needs me to bleed it smooth.