Wednesday
Feb082012

Navel

Lucas Mann




My navel isn't very deep. That isn't to say that it's an outie. It is undeniably concave. There is some depth, that's what I'm trying to say. Sometimes I like to think of my navel as a whirlpool, magnetic and infinite. There is a centripetal current to the skin inside my navel. It stretches around, pulled in to the centermost point of my body. Sometimes, I stick my pinky in there when I haven't cut my nails in a while and I tickle that farthest back point of my navel. It makes my earlobes hurt and it tickles my throat and it makes me feel like I have to pee. My navel is a trigger.

 

My navel is a man's now. Sometimes, I run my finger over the coat of soft black hair that rims my navel and it makes me think of the whole epic expanse of my life, which is not long or remarkable but feels very significant to me. After all, my navel was once bare and now it is hairy. I have developed. When I was something close to a baby but old enough to remember, my father would lay me across his lap, my navel up, winking at the sky. He would raise one hand, his left, and he would personify it as mischievous. He would hold up his right hand as my protector.

 

"Leave the boy alone," his right hand would say.

"Make me," his left hand would say in a falsetto.

 

There would be a tussle over my navel. My navel would jiggle in fear and anticipation. The left hand always won and the fingers dug into my navel like a squirrel after a misplaced acorn. I closed my eyes and shrieked and laughed until I heard my spit gurgle. My father stopped when I thought something would go wrong.  I opened my eyes and felt relief. My navel remembers those moments fondly. I think what I'm trying to get at is innocence. The couch that my father used to do that on is gone because a realtor suggested that it had an unpleasant odor and made her job more difficult. I mourn that couch. I hate losing things.

 

I used to hate my navel because it marked the tip of the orb that was my torso. Hard, cool boys poked at my navel and demanded that I squeal like the Pillsbury Doughboy in response. I complied. Also, at summer camp, one very small but defiantly confident boy often circled his bony fingers around my stomach and created what he called a flesh doughnut, with my navel as the hole. Perhaps it is obvious to say, but such highlighting of my navel and the blubber around it made me feel inadequate. Sometimes all I can do is feel for myself, for my navel, for those times when I was small and alone, when nobody would stop. God, that hurt so much. Like all over my body hurt - my sinuses, my nipples, my penis, my navel, all of them throbbing.

 

Once I ate a fluffernutter sandwich and told my mother across the table that I would never be happy again. I was out of breath because I sucked in my stomach as I spoke. That's what I always did when I said things that felt important. So my navel was pinched then and my eyes were pinched because I was crying and did not want to be.

 

I don't like to be touched by other people, still. I like to touch and tousle and tickle, but I wriggle away from hands that aren't my own. There is a woman who loves me. When she reaches for me, sometimes I shrink. I draw myself in as though by a string attached to my navel. I curl up on the bed like fried shrimp. I think about things that matter to me, like the way my father used to tickle until I couldn't breathe, like the whole inadequacy thing. Sometimes I wake up first in the mornings and I stand in front of the mirror and try to pull my navel apart. I imagine how satisfying a rip would sound and then I imagine a zipper forming and my body becoming a gym bag full of blood and organs. I want to pull myself apart from the middle and dig until I find something because I know there must be something significant in there in the ooze, hidden behind my liver, a pure memory, a real, hard pain that explains things.