A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain (A Memoir) by Christina Crosby
Reviewing this deeply personal account of life after impairment, Sophie Partridge finds some things with which she can identify and others which trouble her more.
As a Born (a disabled person with a full-on congenital impairment), I’m often nervous approaching something written by `an Acquired’! Will it be a testament of endless woe to their marvellous life before the disabling moment of evil enchantment? Once Upon a Time becomes a more than Grimm Fairy-tale, cloaked in triumph over tragedy, ending with a usually somewhat desperate `happy’ resolution.
Christina Crosby, a middle-class academic, Feminist, Lesbian, herself acknowledges that much biographical writing on disabled lives, takes this form; she declares this book is not that and indeed it isn’t.. except when it is!
There is a nod to the Social Model and access within the first few pages, alongside disability rights and activism: “Political action is the only effective response to systematic injustice” and she comments on how a disabled man responded to the memoir with “just get on with it”! It feels as though this is her way of doing just that. Unsentimental in tone (though the word ‘love’ is used often) and brutally blunt with a whole chapter devoted to bowel function, Christina reveals desire, in all its forms, runs deep and her apparent want here is to tell it like it is.
The second chapter, The Event as It Was Told to Me, feels like the obligatory `how I acquired my impairment’ chapter (she was left quadriplegic from a bicycle accident) and from here on, she tells of her life become un-heimlich (un-homely) – where the familiar becomes not so and is, in fact, a place of distress – “the fear of fear”. Hence in the chapter The Horror The Horror… her body is pushed to the extremes of endurance.
Christina’s brother was also quadriplegic through MS; she describes this twinning of experience as the looking glass from other side, commenting on the human body’s fragility so suddenly brought to the fore. She mourns the loss of her very physical life but acknowledges different forms of grieving and I found myself wondering what if you’ve never felt those `pleasures’ to begin with?!
Christina points up the financial support needed to be disabled and the reliance we have on another body to do what we can no longer do (or have never done) for ourselves. That other body that `does’ for us, whether physical, in the form of another person, or mechanical, such as with a wheelchair.
Her brother, a practising Christian, relished the freedom of a power-chair fundraised for him, likening this gift to Jesus miraculously healing a ‘lame man’. She quotes him as saying “I believe in the importance of asking” and the pleasure of giving for others when providing assistance. Yet this other body providing such assistance is ultimately disconnected from our own, resulting in split selves. Your body emerges through the perception of others as different from yourself. In her rehabilitation, she learns of proprioception – the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space. If those limbs don’t move how is a place within space found?
She says, “Only through writing have I arrived at the life I now lead, the body I now am.”
The loneliness of pain is evident but does this in fact reinforce our humanity? If we do not feel pain – are we then other? Pain is not associated with everyday life but with an altered state yet it is always somehow, there within. There is genuine suffering here akin to torture but who is the perpetrator? Christina says the pain comes from her subconscious…
There are lighter moments, of course, and a whole chapter devoted to the dogs who have shared her life. I did smile at her differentiating between people’s shit and dogs poop! Christina’s life and indeed this memoir are full of contrasts; those between Butch and Femme Lesbians, between disabled and non-disabled people. The word ‘cripple’ is only used once and I wasn’t sure if it was within an Owning the Language context, when discussing individual achievement `despite’ disability. She bluntly states, “I no longer have a gender. Rather, I have a wheelchair.” Her Christian Brethren upbringing has a bearing on her adult life and her want for life itself is evident throughout. She says, “I can learn not to want” but it feels this would somehow be her final undoing, if that were ever accomplished. Many pages are given to cycling, drinking, sex and a very physical pre-disabled life; yet the end passage felt rewardingly familiar being the act of page-turning that signifies to Christina that she “has her life back”…