Out-of-Body Experience

We lived next to a hospital. I looked out

the window, treating it like a TV screen.



I was the show, and the blades of grass: millions of men watching me

peek through the blinds after I heard sirens. My feet were hot.



The floor was lava. The games I played involved pain

when I didn’t know the secret on how to fall asleep—How fast



could I pick a scab? How many hairs could I remove

from my scalp? What it would be like if I tore off



a tuft of my teddy bear’s fur, shoved it up my right nostril,

and dug it out with one finger? Past my bedtime in the winter,



his hair got stuck. I walked to my parents’ locked door—

a drawbridge sealing in questions like what were you thinking



and what got into you. Answer: some method to calm me down.

I knocked near the hinges that squeaked, twisted the knob—



my code of language trying to convey urgency.

Mom let me in, looking confused. And so was I—



a stalemate of shyness, which is what

a parent and child eventually must break apart;



the one too terrified to ask, one too ashamed to ask for help.

I confessed that I couldn’t stop myself. Mom gave me a new word:



obsession: it’s like a windup toy that doesn’t stop

making that buzzing noise; an over-and-over stress:



a bad guy we couldn’t catch. Dad woke up and they led me

to their bathroom I wasn’t allowed in. Mom couldn’t bear to look,



so Dad became the surgeon. He used a nasal aspirator, which left me

more congested. My tears were no longer of shame, but now



  fear and pain. Dad got out a long pair of scissors, the blades

like knives, like fingers, and he held my head down on the rug



in front of the toilet bowl. He said scalpel and Mom handed him

a nose-hair trimmer after the scissors couldn’t reach. I can still feel



the cold steel, buzzing and snipping, nothing working. Parenting,

I learned, is trial and error. And failure. They said, son,



just blow your nose. But using Kleenex was a skill to me

at that time, like tying my shoes or swimming in a pool—



I was no good. I started hyperventilating

louder than the furnace clicking on, a familiar sound



that helped me sleep. We went to the ER: a waiting room

full of dead ferns, out-of-circulation magazines,



and hurt people hurt by hurt people, my mother recalls.

They quickly called for us to enter one of the curtained-off rooms.



An intern came, heard our story, left,

and came back with a skinny pair of tweezers



the size of two spoons stacked on top of one another.

Up my nostril it went, and he pulled out a six-inch-long hairball.



A child can hide so much in secret,

accumulating blockages that restrict breathing,



the mass of the problem shocking their parent. This wouldn’t be

the last time I, embarrassed, held something



for long enough to put me in a doctor’s care right before it was

too late. For ten years I held an orb in my abdomen



only visible to who sought it out—me, my lover, and the doctor

and his two interns, staring at my naked body.



When I told my mother, she was furious

my pediatrician didn’t notice in the past, feeling like she failed.



And that made me feel guilty—the neediness of my body

resulting in another medical bill, another worry



for my mother, who had to drive down to Chicago for my surgery.

The procedure took half an hour, but it felt like I was asleep



for three days. And for three days, we stayed in a hotel

as I recovered, swapping out ice packs on my stomach,



trying to describe the feeling. It was exactly like what it was—

like a cherry tomato was taken out of my belly before it turned cancerous.



And the stitches weren’t healing. Mom also used to have scars

on her midsection. From the C-section when she



had me. I asked her how it felt and she replied

relief. I was born three months early,



she said. I was glad we both made it out

alive. Parenting: deriving from the Latin parēns:



to bring forth.



Or: to go first.

Chris Crowder is from Flint, Michigan and earned his MFA at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. A poetry editor for the Adroit Journal, his poetry appears or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Witness, Jellyfish Review, Zone 3, and the Poetry Foundation’s VS podcast.