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Blackberries

“Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle…which is to say I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight.” — Ross Gay

They were everywhere, falling—leaping—into my hand. Purple bruises of perfection. They bled onto me, stained me. I gave them my whole body.

My bruised body. My stained body. My sensitive body. My gastrointestinally distressed body. My recurrent yeast infected, chronic fatigued body. My tired body.

My tired body.

Eight years prior, doctors had diagnosed me with the vague and largely unhelpful label of “IBS.” Gynecologists asked if had I had tried wearing cotton underwear? In other words, there was nothing they could do. As my twenties went on, the disorders worsened, but the doctors just handed me a new prescription, mumbled about less tomatoes, and gestured towards the door.

In the summer of 2021, the discomfort roared its ugly head with a newfound ferocity. Possibly from stress, heartbreak, parasites, bad water, or some combination of it all, my body shut down almost completely.

Here’s the strange truth about chronic illness: if you’re forced to think about your body enough, it starts to feel less and less like your body. If there’s enough discomfort, enough mysterious dis- ease, enough days spent in bed, crouched over, exhausted by the very act of anything, enough moments where the only thing you can think of is your body—you actually start to exit your body. It seems, the only way.

But that summer, I didn’t want to exit my body. I was tired of the numbing that followed. I was tired of hating the only body I had. A wise friend asked me, if you can’t escape your body, then how can you get more fully into it? Surrender, the pain replied. And so, that summer, I moved to the only place I knew how to surrender—the ocean.

I spent hours floating, feeling nothing, becoming nothing, becoming blue. I watched the ospreys float and dive, float and dive, the swallows dip and turn, dip and turn. I merged my body with the larger body, the Earth body. I tried to blend my borders of skin with sea and salt and sand, and found no barrier between us at all. Without meaning to, I suddenly felt that other bodily language begin to speak again. Not discomfort. Not pain. That other bodily song I had almost forgot existed: pleasure.

I found it, first, in the blackberries. I had grown up visiting this spit of ocean in central Rhode Island, and yet never knew. Never knew until right then, that the meadows were full of fruit. I yelped watching their white flowers burst and fall, their stomachs swell blue then purple then black. The goldfinches surrounded me, rejoicing. The bees drank and drank. In a sea of nothing, suddenly there was everything. I filled my mouth, gulped up that sweetness like water in the desert. Such pleasure! Such sour, bursting delight.
I was high. I was addicted. I tethered myself to this fleeting feeling, to this newfound delight. I searched for more and there—each day, another. Let me tell you, let me share. Let me be a blackberry patch in the height of summer, giving, giving, giving my body to yours—

The iridescent green, blue, black back of a tree swallow tilted towards late sun; The smell of oak trees warming; The crash of an osprey against the surf—Headfirst, they dive. Head-fucking-first; Hermit crabs, hundreds, swarming my toes; My mother wrapping her arms around my waist as I cooked dinner—thank you, baby; A deer snorting; The smell of crushed tansy in my palm; A carolina wren alarm clock; Everything, everything, tasting of sea—

There are some things that only the chronically ill know, because they must. The first is pain, how to attend to it and how to ignore it. The second is pleasure, how to feel it and then how to enjoy it. And the third, as a result of the above, abundant gratitude. For when a body works, even if for just one single moment, it is like the world has begun again. Nothing is certain. No moment of pleasure ever destined to last, and so I learned, that summer, how to revel in delight.

However brief. However small. However lovely.

1 thought on “Blackberries”

  1. Wow, I really love your writing style, especially with that jump and rush of memories regarding the hermit crabs, the mother grabbing the waist, and just about the rest of the vibrant imagery. I’ll be thinking about this piece for a while!

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