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Why Chronic Illness Makes Me Wish I Could 'Return My Body' to Target

I want a refund. I want a company to blame. I want my problems to be solved with the ease of trekking to Target, standing in a long-ass line, listening to stay at home moms complaining about the dangers of toys with hidden hazards, and fighting the urge to buy those deliberately placed candy bars. The type of transaction where I approach the register with a fire in my eyes and a Hershey bar in hand and say, “You made a huge mistake selling me a defective product!” Except the product is my body, and the cashier in the red polo is not responsible for my pain.

But I have this dream — an alternate reality where the boy in the red polo is, in fact, responsible for my customer satisfaction. And in this dream I have manners. So instead of yelling like a mom with a severely angled bob and bad highlights, I’ll walk up to the register and say, “Hi. How are you today? I was wondering if I could return my body, please.” And I’ll pick at my cuticles as the cashier watches my face flush with red. It’ll be embarrassing to make such a request in the middle of the body positivity movement, but I’ll do it anyway. The employee’s face will twist into a bewildered, puzzled expression. Then, he’ll attempt to entertain my request for the sake of Target and my own pride, but he’ll ultimately fail to resist the call of logic.

“So, you’ve waited 21 years to return this product?”

“Well, yes. I’ve had it since birth, but I assumed it came with a lifetime warranty.”

“When did the problems start?”

“Around five years ago.”

“Five years ago? And you waited until now?”

“Yes.”

We’ve all neglected to return something before. Your estranged grandmother sends you a hideous sweater for Christmas, and you say you’re going to exchange it for cash. But it sits on that chair in your room for months and months, almost becoming an essential piece of the decor. Then one day, after many days of saying that you’ll get rid of it soon, you suddenly can’t stand to look at it anymore. You remember that you are living with this ugly thing, and the restlessness of time compels you to send it away.

That’s how chronic pain works. You live with it and function with it and ignore it, until the days you remember it’s an ugly thing. You are suddenly faced with the reality that your insides are the equivalent of a dumpster fire, and through the pain you find yourself dreaming about returning your body to an establishment such as Target.

It’s a beautiful dream, really. Think about it. Laying your body to rest surrounded by scented candles, quirky mugs, those Threshold plush blankets, Chrissy Teigen’s home cookware collection, back to school supplies, Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations depending on the time of year — now that’s what I call self respect. You might even grab a Starbucks coffee on the way out, since they seem to be popping up in those new and improved Targets all over the nation.

But that raises the question of what you would drink it with. What mouth, what hands, what stomach? If I return my body, I’ll have no other choice but to exist as a soul. No flesh. Just an aura. Just a girl who doesn’t want to die, however morbid this dream may seem. I’m simply imagining a way I can live in a world without continuous, unnecessary, random physical pain. Pain that makes me want to demand to see the manager, whether it be God, Fate, the Inner-Workings of the Universe, Nada, and fall on my knees while I cry “why?” over and over again.

So although I’d love to float in a bodiless state of elysium while still on earth, I’m not sure what I would have to live for if that was the case. Our bodies give us the best things: good food, watercolor sunsets, fresh nighttime air, songs that speak to the soul, electric physical connections. Without a body I couldn’t do cartwheels in the strangest of places. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t cry. There is no feeling without the body. There is no feeling without the brain. But do souls think? Do they feel emotions? Will my brain come with me if I leave my body behind? If I were to become a soul I would want to be conscious, but I wouldn’t want my brain to come with me. My head throbs constantly.

And we’re back to the drawing board again.

What if I switched bodies? What if Target had bodies available for exchange? What if I could take my thoughts hop out of this defective flesh prison, and move into the next one? Sure, I would still feel pain, but not nearly as much.

Can I say that? Everyone feels pain, and pain is subjective. But theoretically, if I took up residence in a body of someone claiming to be in pain — discomfort even — would I feel it too? Have I been desensitized to the pain of living? Or am I grossly oblivious to the maximum level of pain humans can experience? Who knows? I’d probably end up wanting to return my body to Target again.

However, in my dream, if a replacement body has been collecting dust in the Target storage room for years, I’m sure it hasn’t been ravaged by circumstance. It will be fine, for a while at least. I imagine it will have child-like resiliency and youthful healing abilities when I inhabit its empty space. And I’ll run miles and miles as soon as I make it my home. Over hills, dipping into valleys, leaping across puddles. I’ll run through all of the places I’ve longed to run over the years. And it will feel different. I know I’ll move slowly. These new muscles won’t connect to my brain entirely. It’s a classic transplant-rejection situation. The nerves and organs will be hesitant to respond to my brain, a foreign entity (am I bringing it with me? I want to retain my personality, but my head still hurts), but it’s not like the body I’m in now responds either. It’s combative. It fights my brain with more vivacity than a toddler throwing a tantrum in the frozen food aisle. So I don’t care what this new body feels like. As long as it can run, eat, sleep and exist like a normal person, I will revel in it and give Target the greatest online customer review of all time.

I guess it’s settled then. I want a new body. But I don’t want to look in the mirror and not recognize myself like in “Freaky Friday” or “Drop Dead Diva.” Does that even matter though? I’ve read “No Exit.” I understand that we can’t define ourselves by our exteriors. But if I know this, and claim to know it well, then why do I feel so connected to my appearance? I don’t consider myself vain (but does anybody?). I like to think that I’m a person who has found things to love about herself in the midst of the turbulence.

I can’t imagine looking in the mirror and not seeing my red hair, a color I have come to define as the shadow of sunlight passing through mahogany sunglasses. My eyes, green jetties around the edges, golden in the center. My pointed nose, with constellations of freckles dusting its bridge. Thin, pink lips that puppeteer the dimple on the left side of my face. Suntanned arms. The little mole on my stomach. Legs that have surprisingly retained their muscle after sporadic cycles of rest and activity. Even the scars stretching across my legs and arms. Even the random bruises and cuts dotting my pale, red tinted skin. The replacement bodies at Target wouldn’t give me nearly as much satisfaction. I have grown with this skin and I love it. The body positivity movement tells me to. I have taught myself to. But what I see in the mirror is not the problem.

I do not love my insides. I am not a proponent of the faulty blood flow, the sharp nerve pain, the unexplainable numbness, the ceaseless twitching, the rumbling of a constant headache and a brain that feels stuffed with cotton at the worst of times. I do not know how to love this. The body positivity movement does not tell me how to love this either. There is no map. There are no directions. There is not a set of rules to follow when your body turns on itself, or the environment turns on your body. Can you love it? Should you love it? I don’t think I’ll ever be content loving something that doesn’t love me back. And I don’t want to love it back. It shouldn’t be like this. It can’t be like this forever.

Target, please take it back.

Or, if you can’t do that, please give it a name. Define the disparities, I’m begging you.

I might be able to love it if the source of my pain had a name. A name gives way to explanation. A single word grants access to a built in community support network.

All I’m asking for is a name. A simple word that evokes the proper amount of concern, nonchalance and scientific understanding when spoken. A few letters that will keep all of my anger and confusion and pain contained in a tidy little box. I’ll even top it with the bow I bought from the birthday aisle.

“I’m asking for a refund, sir. Compensation for my struggles. Anything will do as long as it doesn’t have to stay like this.”

Silence.

He is not God.

Even God might not be God.

At this point in my transaction, I will throw down two dollars, take the Hershey bar, and begin to make my exit.

“I’ll be back in a few weeks with the same complaints.”

And for now, the chocolate bar will stand as the first of many actions I take to remind myself that this body can bring me joy. These efforts will hold me over until I can’t stand it anymore. Then they will hold me over again. And again. And again. Until finally, there is an exchange.

Image provided by the author.