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I am immersed. My arms begin to spin around my torso. I kick away. It feels good to be surrounded by this body of water. It´s just me and this strange amorphous matter. I am lighter and lighter. I only notice a heart beating faster with every turn, until I am held back by thirst. I could drink all the water in this pool.
Inside, I feel my body forming a continuum with the environment. Water is the main component of the human body. We are hydrophilic beings. Our body is open and permeable, like the surface of the Earth. Each water molecule has existed for thousands and thousands of years. Long ago, this drop of viscous saliva rolling over your lipwas part of one of the first prokaryotic bacteria that helped transform the planet’s atmosphere; of a sea urchin that ceased to exist long before we appeared; of the downpour, rivers and oceans that continue to shape the landscapes we inhabit. And before that, this drop travelled through space on asteroids and comets. All the water on Earth is alien, it is the second most common molecule in the Universe. Our solar system is drowning in amniotic waters. Is the Milky Way like a stellar womb gestating new types of plural life?
Your existence rattles my image of the word “I”. Did I know what I meant when I said “I” before you? Am I really an independent and autonomous being as I have been told? Or am I more of an ecosystem that radically depends on everyone and everything around me?
Since you arrived, I have dissolved into a “we”. My body is now a collective. Our skin forms a multi-generational chain of legs, arms and hands with which to hold you, embrace you and feed you. How many bodies are needed to care for you?Who embodies a mother? We are a condensed symbiosis of flesh, multiplied by you. Our skin is increasingly translucent. The boundaries of our body dissolve.
The hive mind sends fresh arms to carry you. A pidgin language of signs and whispers has emerged. In order not to rouse you it uses grimaces and mimicking in the half-light. A sort of waggle dance conveying your status.
As you expand inside of me, my skin transforms and changes its colour in places. Skin darkens and veins become apparent, resembling the Nazca lines with their enigmatic traces in the soil. The linea fusca reaches across the belly like a watershed mark, a drainage divide between the past and the future.
You wriggle inside of me. My metabolism is changing. I retain and excrete more and more fluids, secreting hormones as my blood volume and temperature rise. My organs are moving like tectonic plates. My lungs, stomach and intestines keep shrinking and creeping upwards, my navel and belly explode as my bladder is compressed and pushed down. My whole body stratifies to make room for you. I lead a double life now. Is this body still mine? My center is no longer my center. My subjectivity has been disrupted by my own flesh. And yet, within me, we are two human animals undergoing transformations side by side, observing each other.
How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity?
What does it mean that my womb is producing a body with Y chromosomes, that my body can make a male body? Aren’t all bodies different? As you grow within me I feel that the differences between my body and yours become more and more diluted, that the differences between all bodies become more and more porous. What are the membranes that separate and differentiate us? When and where does a body cease to exist?
Where are the boundaries between my flesh and the flesh of the world? [MOU5] When the time comes, you will slip out of me and constitute your own body, that will be the difference.
I am that other voice. Before you ever heard your own, you knew the sound of mine causing vibrations in the amniotic fluid. Probably it was nothing more than a curiosity compared to the godlike tremor of your carrier´s vocal chords. Sometimes, I feel that whatever I may say could only be a muffled footnote to a digestive rumble or a sigh in the body that nourishes you. My most soothing song will always have a backdrop of 60 beats per minute from the heart providing your organs with a loud constant rush of blood. Are my words being drowned out by this cacophony? Am I the bartender at the nightclub, screaming, but barely audible? Do you recognise my voice?
At times there is nothing that can sooth you but latching onto the nipples, darkened for the sake of your temporary colour-blindness. How much easier it would be for you if my breasts could also produce milk? If my body could also nourish you? How much easier it would be for me. My womb envy has migrated upwards, following the drip from the lactating breasts.
Your arrival gave birth to a recurring nightmare: You lie on the changing table surprising yourself with the ability to blow spit bubbles to the sound of your own babbling. When I lift you up and squeeze you towards my chest, your skin and onesie slip through my fingers. Your Moro reflex grips me and rips my eyes open. The feeling of dissociation only gives way to gratefulness as I glean the outlines of your body in the darkness – still breathing.
Your gaze is crystal clear and deep like the ocean. I am afloat in the brilliance of your retinas. I could look at you for hours. Were my eyes ever as open to the world as yours, as full of trust? Your jerky movements and your voice generate a wordless, captivating and arrhythmic dialogue. You make up for the lack of a common vocabulary with an intense delivery. Your flailing arms and kicks emphasise the importance of your strongest demands. We go back and forth in a shared echolalia, agreeing that every vowel can contain infinite new meanings. Will I be able to understand and give you what you need, to what extent will language limit my connection with you?
As I carry you up and down the staircaseyou slowly give in to sleep. A faint ray of light from the bathroom passes over your face and reveals a nacreous substance in the corner of your eye. Your lacrimal glands have been stirred into action. I think about all the saline drops bound to follow and how there is no predestined number of tears in your body. I stare at the teardrop until it evaporates, contemplating how not only your urine and your excrement, but also your mucus and now this tear has been distilled from drops of breastmilk. My eyes are welling up. We communicate through your fluids.
You seem to be intonating under your breath. Drawn out hums blend with the rhythm of your tongue and cheeks slapping against the pacifier and my lullaby, which always turns into a wordless chant when you can no longer fight the weight of your eyelids. In the dark, the outlines of our bodies fuse again. The rocking motion takes me back to those first few days in the maternity ward. I remember thinking that the wave of oxytocin washing over me could only be likened to coming up on ecstasy. Whereas previously I had become part of a human swell, ebbing and flowing with the bass and the chemicals, now we are both being rocked into a trance, undulating and oscillating to the wails of women in labour and babies demanding more colostrum from their mothers´ breasts.
Feeding you generates this intimate bond between us. You stare at me and I stare back at you. My milk and your saliva re-entangle our bodies materially. Your fragility, your vulnerability, floods me. It infiltrates me like a virus that corrupts and hacks my system. You generate an echo that crosses and shakes every particle of my body. My brain is altered. I am infected by an infinite love. My cells are mutating, changing colour and shape. My whole being vibrates, my skin oozes. Can you love someone, who you have just met, so much? What does it mean that I feel so close to you, so responsible for your well-being and existence? Can this experience affect and transform the way I relate to the world? Can this feeling cover and submerge everything else?
I am immersed once more, moving forward in a gentle breaststroke that suddenly turns into a synchronised swim upon bumping into the other. We intertwine, forming a helix-shaped chain, copying and dividing, again and again. A four letter anagram turns into a four-dimensional crossword with infinite solutions, containing hints from the now extinct. We are shapeshifters. How many bodies will form from this one? From this body, to the next body, and the next. How many histories of flesh does it already contain? The linea fusca begins to wobble, serving as a seismograph for what is upon us. The double helix is unravelling, weaving a communal mesh. A superorganism forms.
This text contains ideas and references from Astrida Neimanis, Maggie Nelson, Adrienne Rich, Stella Sandford, Sara Ruddick, Sonia Fernández Pan, Nancy Tuana, Kazue Morisaki, Yayo Herrero, Mao Naka, Nicholas Smith, Tina Chanter, Mitchell Cowen Verter, Peter Kropotkin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Lévinas.
(*) This text was produced by Anaïs Senli in collaboration with her partner Eirik Sördal. It is part of the film Linea Fusca in which several members of her family participated. This is a translation and reworking of the original version, made in 2020. Linea Fusca explores her first months of motherhood during the pandemic, while delving into the realm of the speculative in an attempt to go beyond personal experience.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)