My dear friend Beth, who blogs at Cassandra Pages, was giving me a terrific standing massage, as I leaned back against the refrigerator; opening up my ribs, releasing ages-old tension. She came to the bottom of my sternum and paused uncertainly.
"Oh, that's the xiphoid process," I told her. "That tab of bone at the bottom of the breastbone? It's kind of fragile, and I must have broken mine at some point without knowing it. So it points off to the right instead of straight down." I think that when I was fatter, the constant pressure of my belly against it weakened it, and it just snapped at some point, to get out of the way.
Beth probed it delicately, and I became aware that there were two tabs of bone, one much longer than the other. It was actually a wishbone. I'd made chicken carcass soup the day before, and I recognized the structure at once. It's for stiffening the wings against each other in flight, specific to birds: how odd that I should have such an atavistic bone formation in my body, and never have noticed it!
She pulled gently, and the whole thing came loose. With a rush, even more came loose, and I felt a great weight drop down through the central channel of my body. "God, thank you so much!" I said. "That's wonderful!"
I'm a little confused about what happened next. Beth was gone, and I was holding my spine. It looked very like a larger version of the chicken necks in my soup, dark red, with it's double-curve, little bits of cartilege and muscle dangling from it, about three feet long and surprisingly light. I'd always been under the impression that the spine was a necessary part of the body. One more story that had been palmed off on me. I was fine, I was walking around fine, feeling light and lithe. Who needs a spine?
But then I worried a bit. Maybe it really was necessary? Perhaps I should get it put back in before it dried out. So I went to the emergency room of the hospital down the street, still holding my spine. "Could you put this back in?" I said to the nurse.
"I'm busy," she snapped. You'll get your turn. Sit down and wait."
I waited but I got impatient. I went up and spoke to her again, but she wouldn't answer me. Finally, exasperated, I reached out and snapped a finger against her forehead.
"That wasn't very nice," she said.
"It's not very nice not to have a spine!" I retorted. The thing was drying out: I was really worried now about whether they'd be able to get it back in.
There was a thud and a jingling crash, a whine of machinery. What on earth were they doing back there? But I recognized the sound. It was the sound of the recycling truck. I opened my eyes. Light was coming through the skylight. Where had I put my spine? Why were there recyclers in the emergency room?
The morning sky was quiet and white, crisscrossed with bare maple twigs.
I lay there a long time, looking at the sky.