For the past few weeks I’ve been learning a new language. And though I’ve made determined efforts to slip the verb conjugations, like tiny love-notes, into my brain’s snug folds, it’s only the idioms I instinctively remember.
The language is Mexican Spanish, a non-indigenous but well-traveled tongue. If it were a real tongue I think it would be forked: it is macho and maternal, guttery and godly. Spanish reaches heights of politeness that English could only dream of, and yet is fed by a spring of deep, pure crudeness.
I’ve been finding that with Spanish, as in the study of most languages, one of the first things you learn is how to ask for things. (Next, in Mexico, comes asking people to work for you, but that’s another story.) Shopping is primal: how do you say what you need? And what a teacher will unfailingly use as an early grammar lesson is the Potential Egg Incident — in which you wander innocently into the corner store and ask if they have eggs. No! Shudder. You must ask if there are eggs, lest you wish to inquire whether the shopkeeper has balls. Or if it’s a woman, eggs in her ovaries.
So, living in Mexico, the idea of eggs has become loaded for me, intriguingly risqué. Should I even think about huevos when I pass someone in the street? Interestingly, it’s while here that I’ve begun thinking about my own eggs, which is the reason for this piece. Not long ago I had my first vaginal ultrasound, at a gynecologist’s office in a Mexican hospital, to find out why I hadn’t been bleeding. The event felt virtual, detached – but happened to be quite intimate, obviously. It was the first movie I had ever seen of myself and what I saw in it were, yes, eggs. On the screen they appeared as pebbles, or dark pennies in a surveilled coin purse. The subtitles were OVARIO DERECHO and OVARIO IZQUIERDA. The eggs were called cysts.
I realized pretty quickly that this experience was full of metaphor. Blood, eggs, shedding, not shedding: what does it all mean for me? I became curious about those little fluid-filled sacs up there, unfallen eggs, clinging despondently to my ovaries. I immediately sensed that these cysts were like tears, but unshed ones. Could grieving actually be seen as a kind of creation, a kind of birth? I saw the opportunity for an old great fear to arise within my body, about my body – and I also saw the chance to investigate new symbols, which are so particular to me yet thoroughly universal. I decided to incorporate the study of my body into the study of a place, and this freed me to be merely curious about what was happening.
I tried to really think about my ovaries – which of course I’d never seen before, or in fact ever thought much about. They began to appear to me as nests, in two crooks of one tree, with eggs but no mother. I began to collect twigs, on my walks through Parque Benito Juarez. I thought about the birds, as in great swoops they gather their materials. They start with the rougher sticks and brush, and build inward, gradually seeking the finest, most delicate strands. Back and forth, up and down. I had never thought about how long it takes to build a nest. Nor had I thought about the intricate nurturing that leads to the result of the monthly blood, the weaving and building and surging that finally leads to the bursting open of a cyst, which in turn releases an egg.
I became increasingly aware of what I was drawn to – the things that in my daily life longed to be handled, or bought. I came home from the mercado one afternoon with avocados and pomegranates, grown by campesino women who live near my town. The tight cellular masses of the granada, and the slippery stone that waits at the heart of the aguacate, like the clapper of a bell. It wasn’t until I had set them on my table, absently, that I realized how heavily symbolic are these fruits, how ripe with energy and idea. They bloom inside. They wait.
I even took solace in verbs. One of the first things that got me really excited about Spanish was the word esperar. To hope, and also to wait. For all its rich patterning of description and idiom, its Arabic and Aztec blood, the Spanish of Mexico uses only one verb for both. I love this: it seems to hint at a great cultural patience, a subtle decision not to force the specifics of one’s personal intention upon the vaster intention of the world. You wish, you wait. These are passive actions; they don’t demand. Usually by the time something has happened – anything! – it seems like a good thing, what was intended.
Living in Mexico has taught me, I think, not to demand of my body. To be kind to my mind, which grazes slowly on a new language, new names. To bring my attention down to the bowl of my belly, and to trust what I see there. During the writing of this piece, which spanned weeks, I finally began to bleed – voluminously. And it really felt as if there were volumes in there, inside me, pages blooming and being freed.