Jessica Wimmer “Sweet Baby Lamb”
Today I told my wife I hate her body. I was sitting at the table finishing off the cornbread, my back to her, and I just threw the words out there to her. “It’s old and ugly,” I said to her, “like you went and dried up.” I pushed my plate away and turned around to her, expecting her to be looking at me like a sad deer. I expected to have killed her. I expected she’d be lying there on the floor, dying. Instead, she stood at the sink and kept drying off her dishes. “Didn’t you hear me, woman?” I said. “Your body, it ain’t like it used to be when we were young. It’s old and ugly now,” I told her again, “wrinkled and worn out.” I watched her eyes and mouth for a reaction. I watched a long time, but she didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at me. What she did was put the clean plate in its cabinet and walk just as calm as ever into the bedroom. I didn’t follow her.
I didn’t follow her because that bedroom is probably where I hate her body the most. I ain’t even talking about you-know-what ‘cause that’s been so long I can’t remember. The bedroom is where I hate it the worst because that’s where I started hating it. Thirty-seven years ago she was in that bed when she had our first son. That bed is where she had all our kids, all six of them, each one stretching and sagging her body more than the one before it. I watched them rip her body there in that bed, and then I watched them pull and poke at it ever since. I watched the fat add on and her smile wear off. Watched her hair turn gray and her skin harden up. I know her veins and wrinkles better than she does because I have to look at them all day, every day. Forty-one years we’ve been married, and for forty-one years I’ve been watching that body get uglier and uglier, and today I just had to tell her that I hate it.
I knew I’d have to tell her why, so I spent all morning thinking about it. I hate that body because it’s always so warm and soft, even though it looks cold and hard. I hate it because it don’t even flinch anymore when the sausage grease pops out of the pan and lands right on it. I hate it because of those scars on the hands from falling in the gravel the nights she carried all my weight into the house after I got too drunk. I hate it because the knees pop when she gets up from scrubbing the floor. I hate it because of the times it let me into it when it didn’t want me. I hate it because I used to call it my sweet baby lamb, but now that name doesn’t fit. I hate it because of that mark she don’t even remember anymore over her right eye from when I hit her too hard back in the days when I was no good. I hate it because when she was lying there in that bed having those babies her body was so alive, and it screamed a kind of scream that told me she saw God, and that she knew things I could never know, and that made me feel small. I hate the way it brushes snow off my shoulders and bends down to untie my boots without me asking. I hate it because it’s stronger than mine. I hate it because it will never die, because it’s too beautiful. I hate that it does not melt into me anymore.
I figured she’d be in there crying so I got up from the table and poked my head in the door. I didn’t hear any crying; she was just lying on her side looking out the window. I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell she was tired. You could just feel it. I wanted to say things to her, love things; I just didn’t know what to say exactly.
I walked over to the bed and took the spot next to her. I pressed my body up close to my wife and put my arm around her, my hand on her round stomach. I smelled her. I saw a freckle behind her ear I’d never seen. She rolled over and looked at me. She took my face in her hand and said, “I love my body. And I love your body. And I will kiss it and hold it in the next life as I have done in this one.” She didn’t blink. Her face did not weaken. She just hung there on my cross, and I cried.
“I didn’t mean it,” I said.
“I know,” she said.