By Melanie Monceros
25 years before
I have been medically monitored since conception; the internal ivory of my skeleton inscribed with legacies of languish before my first ventilator-assisted breath. Unexpected and born too early, I arrived during a snowstorm and ever since it has always snowed on my birthday.
I arrived under duress, after distress flooded my mothers veins and panic pumped into my own, joined as we were, at the time. My belly button was the first scar she would leave me with; and, like the others that would follow I’ve learned to grow around and into it.
22 years before
(3 ¾ years-old)
My first introduction to illness came early and the memories are sparse, faint, and corrupted by almost three decades of familial storytelling. Shortly after I was out of the woods of my early-years epidemics, my mother would become lost in a barbed thicket of her own. I don’t know now what it is like to grow up with a mom, but at that age, she was the heat from the sun in the day and the moon lighting up my dreams at night.
The thing about toddlers is that they can be pretty adaptable to changes they can understand. And they can understand a lot if given the chance.
So, when my mother stopped being able to lift me up, I found my own ways into her arms.
When she transitioned into a wheelchair, I learned to relish the joy rides my dad would take us on along the path behind our house. Curled against my mother’s body, I was mesmerized by the spinning wheels and her spilling laughter that fell gently on my tiny shoulders like warm spring rain.
When she stopped coming home, the hospital became a field trip where I got to see my favourite person on the other end.
When she never came home; and all around, the heads attached to the legs towering over me began weeping; and when their tears dried up and took my mother’s name with them – I learned to do the same and let the words ‘mom’ ‘mama’ ‘mommy’ evaporate from my vocabulary.
12 years before (13 years-old)
I had my first ultrasound when I was 13 years-old. It was to investigate the acute back pain I had been struggling with for a while. By that point I had already had cat scans, bone scans, and radioactive dye injected into my pubescent bloodstream. Nothing had yet revealed the source of all of the headaches, foot, and back pain that had become regular company in my young life. That year though, the ache grew and began radiating. I learned the language of pain description. Burning. Throbbing. Tearing. Breath. Taking.
Like the other tests, the ultrasound revealed very little in the way of an answer. I remember waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the results. Pestering my father to see if the doctor’s office had called him at work. By then, my mother had been long dead, but I was secretly processing the new knowledge that what killed her could be hereditary. As I would come to learn, the doctor does not call with the results unless something turns up that warrants their concern and effort. So when I was finally told there was nothing there except a benign cyst and prescribed extra strength Tylenol for the pain, I accepted the explanation and learned to stop talking about it.
4 years before (21 years-old)
Prior to the operation, the surgeon showed me two different sketches of my face in profile. He said I could pick “which face I wanted to wake up with” and I pointed to the one most similar to the one going under the knife.
I awoke to the members of my small family gathered, looking worried, and a bit horrified. My father was unable look at me for long, for a while because the swelling in my face was so severe that my skin had expanded beyond its capacity and begun to tear at the corners.
As I healed and reintegrated into my life I was hit with the startling reality that I was no longer recognizable as myself. The shape of my face was so changed that people I knew well, had worked or gone to school with, did a double take when they saw me if I was able to get their attention in the first place. A funny thing happens when the reflection known as “myself” becomes distorted. I started to spiral and question integral elements of my identity because I could no longer reconcile who I was with who I saw.
The most common refrain from my granny and aunties during my life to that point was how much I looked like my mother. At 15 or 16, when I first cut my hair down to the micro-fro resembling a style my mom had worn, my elder aunt Hazel swore she saw my mom walk into the room before realizing it was me.
Eventually the swelling softened, bruising faded, and my bones fused back together. Yet still, I didn’t look ‘right’. I tried lots of things to heal my distorted vision – haircuts and bod mods and a new “city look”. It didn’t work. And, too late, I realized that I’d worn that face as an echo, a mirror into who or what she could have been, and now it was gone.
1 year before (24 years-old)
Before The Pain
There was cycling across the city in all temperatures and conditions.
There was walking through London’s cobbled and uneven streets.
There were 8-hour hikes through Cretan caves.
There was acrobatic, adventurous, wild-abandoned fucking.
Before The Pain
There were travel plans.
Thumbtacks on wall maps
and Circus dreams.
There has never been
‘before the pain’.
There was before admitting it.
There was before allowing it.
There was before recognizing it.
There was before feeling it.
There was before feeling anything.
There was before being anything.
But even then there was pain.
melannie monoceros is a poet and artist exploring polysensory production through text/ile and performance. They live and work on the traditional land of the Haudenosaunee, Petun, Anishinabe, Mississaugas of New Credit, and Huron Wendat peoples commonly known as Toronto, ON. They have read and performed at the Mayworks Festival Toronto, ON (2015) and at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Toronto, ON (2016). monoceros was honored with the Sharon Wolfe Artist in Residence (2014) and was a VONA fellow (2014). They have since been awarded grants from the Canada, Ontario, and Toronto Arts Councils in 2016. melannie has presented at York University for the Working toward Disability Justice Symposium and the National Arts Centre for The Summit on Deaf and Disability Arts. They have been a guest lecturer at Concordia University, Ontario College of Art and Design, and Ryerson University. melannie’s writing has appeared in Make/Shift magazine and When Language Runs Dry. Their first solo exhibition, Point of Origin received critical acclaim at the Tangled Art Gallery, Toronto, ON in 2016. Currently melannie is working on a series titled “a n c e s t o r a d i o”