Muscle Memory

By: Amanda Pendley

There is absent space in my chest where pain used to be 
And the muscle memory has not yet learned to let go

It has not yet been filled or replaced by a new substance 
There is no donated blood or honey to fill in the gap
No replacement for rot or a mold for something better to come along
It just remains vacant like an empty hotel room until the next murder mystery is set to take place
And it will already know the best ways to remove stains from the carpet and to hide the body in the bathtub 
and to rig the doorknob with a lock that can’t be picked 

This space is apprehensive and prepared 
Knowing much too well that our visitor will return like an abusive relationship
Take me back
Take me back
I’ll never leave you again I promise
Give me one more chance 

So, I take out the bleach
        And the rags tainted pink
                And the air freshener that smells like apple cinnamon 

And I forget what pain first felt like as quickly as I start again

I can feel my body adjusting even before it comes 
Like a prediction 
        Like a tradition
                Like a form of conditioning, 
of knowing how to define familiarity and how to depend on it 
as if it were life support even when it’s poison
How to crave it like a morphine drip, like a sign of salvation

When I was a training en pointe I got used to the company of unfamiliar feeling
Of adjusting to ache
Of allowing pain and tension into my body to stretch my tendons and elongate my limbs 
instead of pulling at them like a stubborn door handle
It was always an easing motion, like lowering myself into the bathtub
It made me trust, even if it hurt, even if it was coated in betrayal,
It was an act of practice
Practicing to make our bodies strong and full of dichotomy
Heavy yet weightless
Sharp yet fluid
With sloping arms and curving middles.
I never knew my body could feel like a storage vessel
For knowledge.
        For pain.
                For memory.

It is a well-known fact that the more you repeat an action, the easier it becomes 
That is where the phrase “practice makes perfect” comes from
And I thought that if I could channel every aspect of my life
        that was losing shape, 
                and falling apart, 
                        and becoming limp and helpless 
into my control over my body, it would make me feel like I was in control of my mind.

But when my pointe teacher wrote on the mirror the words “practice makes…” 
with her blunt black marker and instructed us to finish the phrase
It didn’t end with perfect
The answer was permanent
And she was right
I was molding myself into something I couldn’t undo.

The more you repeat an action, the easier it becomes
So unknowingly, I built, and I molded, and I sculpted myself to be a granite effigy: cemented and unable to move on.
I was used to the routine
So time and time again, 
I’d take out the bleach
        And the rags tainted pink
                And the air freshener that smells like apple cinnamon 
Asking me to take it back
To let it back in
I don’t know how to sever the tie without my statue of a body shattering completely.

She called this response muscle memory
How after doing something so many times, your body knows exactly how to align.

Spine straight
        Ribs in
                Relevé locked.

                                Blame yourself
                                        Get lost

Until it was automatic
She said, “You won’t even have to think about it. 
Your arms will be strong, your ankles crackling and reaching, 
your chest lifted, and your ribs tucked in as if holding your breath”

And I am holding my breath
Waiting for that all too familiar feeling
But also, waiting for a day when there won’t be blood rushing back into my system
but honey

A change in the familiar
A new tradition
Superhumanly sweet
The day when my muscles won’t remember
And my brain won’t be conditioned to wait for anything other than