I am on a beach on an island in a world with a strange woman whose nipples are white. We’re talking white white, the kind of white that made me think, at first, that maybe she had slathered them with zinc oxide or that they had been badly burned and then peeled, whiter than real. That white. Of course this is not the point of my special place, but it is worth noting: the rest of her skin was tan and she lay down with all the nonchalance of a not-American at a topless beach, bending, skin folding, as if she were not her body, white nipples and all. Close by Bryan and I sat on our towels eating figs, playing gin rummy and staring. To this day we still talk about those nipples. Remember? How white they were? That white.
But that is not where I go when I get my blood pressure taken. No, I close my eyes and go somewhere maybe 5 minutes later. Take a deep breath in and walk to the water, Bryan and the girl and the playing cards behind me. Exhale and dive into the gentle waves, bright turquoise like the sound of a plane high in the sky. I smile, my eyes open and I can see everything; it’s hard but entirely possible to laugh underwater. Did you know? At night now I cannot breathe. My nose stuffed, the baby sits somewhere full inside my torso and my throat is warm with the pasta I ate days ago. I cannot breathe and so my chest tightens, grasps, 140/90 and rising. When I blow my nose my nipples leak, the way they are supposed to but still I feel somehow broken.
Which reminds me—of Avent bottles and watery eyes—that one time in grad school I wrote a paper about Philoctetes, the Greek warrior who is bitten on the foot by a snake during the Trojan War. Although he is an expert bowman, the wound festers, suppurates, emitting a smell so horrible that he is left alone on the island of Lemnos to die. The story is ok, I suppose, if you like Greek tales, but what I remember is that my professor wrote in red pen large on my paper: SUPPURATES IS NOT A WORD and I felt defeated. But it is. Was then and still is. Suppurates: to fester, draw, to ooze. Once again back on an island in Greece where I close my eyes and dive in as if I, too, am not my body oozing from nipples not white but there. Just go to my special place, go to my special place, two more months and then some I hold my breath that I cannot breathe and smile.