Christine Pountney: Coming Apart

Pountney considers her life through blood and fire @ Brick. In this grasping, materialistic day and age, I’ve been thinking about what it means to hold on to things, and what it means to lose them. I’ve been thinking about all these boxes of printed matter I have on the back porch—old manuscripts, the few journals I’ve kept. I want to put the whole load in the car, drive it to the country, find a secluded dirt road, drag it into the woods, douse it with lighter fuel, and burn it. The smoke, as I imagine it, would be dark grey. I’d stand there, watching all that mental wrangling rise up into the air, and feel liberated—I think. In this scenario, a red cardinal always hops out of the dark grass near my feet to take off and disappear top left. But what does it mean to make something disappear?

Recently my Pap smear had come back irregular. I’d had a biopsy and was now scheduled to have the face of my cervix seared off with an electrified wire loop, in what is medically referred to as a LEEP procedure. My husband drove me to the clinic after we’d dropped our son off at preschool, and read The New Yorker while I ate a toasted bagel and started to feel nervous.

The waiting room was hushed, and then I heard my name. There was the usual cavernous moment of solitude, sitting on the edge of the exam table, naked from the waist down, a stiff napkin of paper across my lap, as I waited for the doctor. She swung into the operating room in a friendly and reassuring manner, and I slid down and put my feet in the stirrups, the metal cushioned by two oven mitts. Was the symbolism of this, I wondered, ironic, tender, or depressing? The cool, silver tire jack of her speculum made my vagina gape, and my cervix, like a Cyclops (normally kept behind closed doors, hidden from view because, frankly, it can be unpredictable), felt its astonished, lone eyeball go dry in the bright light and the stale air.

The doctor’s assistant unpeeled and stuck to my thigh a large adhesive electrode—like one of those anti-shoplifting stickers you sometimes find between the pages of a book. This was to ground me, so that neither I nor the doctor would get an electrical shock. Then there was the localized freezing by injection. A deeply subcutaneous impression, like someone was working on my brain, that other brain, the one between my legs, pricking nerveless yet super-sensitive tissue; intrusive but hard to locate, a soft rubber Q-tip pushed high into the head through the nose. It reminded me of giving birth. The anaesthetic is mixed with a chemical to increase the speed of absorption. It might make your heart race, the doctor had said. Might, I thought, as I suddenly went breathless, disoriented. I was rushing naked through the shocking dampness of a forest before dawn, cold air and wet branches slapping my face and arms.

Image: Betsy Walton at

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