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I was eight years old the first time I saw a dead body.
You see, my Mom, she loved to read.
Scanning the shelves of her special collection,
I gingerly chose one whose title read:
Our Bodies, Our Selves.
Having been an appreciative owner of a body and a self of my very own for eight whole years, I became filled with eager, innocent curiosity.
I plopped down on a brown plaid beanbag;
my child self propped the bulky book up on my mosquito bite riddled knees,
proceeded to flip through it, my unsullied eyes inspected:
All sorts of them!
Tight, perky, upright pairs,
standing at attention like dutiful soldiers, ready at the word to serve.
Uneven, mismatched ones, 
Cockeyed nipples pointing this way and that, like a comic book character’s eyes, after having been bumped on the head.
My imagination saw stars surrounding them, twittering birds flying circles over them.
Giggling, my fledgling hands subconsciously moved to my chest, drawing up blueprints of of what my own breasts might look like, 
with the wistful hope only a child can possess.
I flipped further, with wide eyes, settled on a page with illustrations of vaginas – bushy and mysterious. 
Sweeping through the following pages, naive fingers following text and my electrified voice whispering:
uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix,
My tongue tasting these new words, tumbling off my lips with fascinated tremors.
I placed my hand on my lower abdomen,
mapping anatomical outlines.
My dehydrated mind greedily soaked up this information,
like the arid, cracked earth of the desert floor during rains,
opening up hungrily and fervently.
“Thirst for knowledge!” the cliche crept to my mind; my eyes brightening as I realized it was happening to me! 
My fingers fanned out on the book and then traced lines onto my body.
The first seeds of concepts like gender identity, flowing from fingers to neural pathways in my brain.
I flipped pages again, so eager to satiate this blossoming desire for freshly unearthed information.

Then I saw it.

Brows furrowed, my newly activated mind searching for a category in which to place this image.
I stopped, lips parted, jaw gently gaped, scanning the image.
A hotel room.
I hadn’t been to many at this tender age, but enough to identify what I saw.
The cookie cutter painting on the wall, done by an art school dropout (or so Mom said).
The lamp atop the credenza, the same one so exactly replicated in each room.
I knew if I opened the drawer, there would be a hardbound Bible and that Gideon had placed it there, apparently while waiting for Rocky Raccoon to reload.
The nondescript bed with the typical scratchy polyester bed – only this bed wasn’t neatly made with straight jacket tight corners.
No, the covers were ripped awry, spilling onto the floor.
My eyes followed the path of them from the tustled bed to….
A woman in child’s pose on the carpeted floor, her arms lying limp beside her. 
Her face placed away from the camera, but I knew what it would look like:
Exhausted anguish, pain laced with desperation.
It took my nubile mind several moments to identify the puddle spread out beneath her.
A lot of it.
Quickly scanning the text for understanding, I unearthed another new discovery that day.
This woman’s body had started to make a baby, one she couldn’t carry.
This word, abortion, it had been illicit. Illegal. 
So this woman had persuaded a person, possibly posing as a doctor, to take away the formation of cells and substances which might eventually create a new life.
Something had gone horribly wrong.
And she was alone.

I was eight years old when I learned my body could betray me – 
spill pools of blood onto shaggy hotel carpet.
That those in charge wrote bills that became laws that became this woman’s blood covered corpse.
And that she wasn’t the only one.
I grasped that day the world wasn’t always safe and others couldn’t always be trusted to protect me, especially those in charge.
That my body,
my self,
Wasn’t really mine.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Allison Waterman

Allison Grace Waterman (she/her) is an avid reader, writer, and researcher who has been published many times, having her poetry, short stories, book reviews, essays and newspaper columns celebrated locally and nationwide. She participated in Silver City Slam and is a member of Silver City Poetry Bread. She is currently Grant County’s Poet Laureate, which she considers a great honor and pleasure. She holds a double major Bachelor's degree in English and History and is in the Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies program at WNMU, studying English and Political Science. She plans to pursue a PhD in English in Fall 2023. Allison is absolutely enamored with learning, expanding her base of knowledge, and being challenged both academically and intellectually. She is the On-Site Supervisor & Lead Tutor for WNMU’s Writing Center, helping students to find their voice and polish their writing skills. She loves to travel. She cherishes her three sons, Alexander, Dreux, and Max; her two brothers Toby and Jeffrey; and her Mom, Kaye. She finds immense and expansive joy in the everyday happenings of life, particularly in the mountains, rivers and hot springs of Southwest New Mexico, uncovering inspiration through walking, camping and meditating in the Gila National Forest.
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We respectfully acknowledge that the entirety of southwestern New Mexico is the traditional territory, since time immemorial, of the Chis-Nde, also known as the people of the Chiricahua Apache Nation. The Chiricahua Apache Nation is recognized as a sovereign Native Nation by the United States in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Friendship of 1 July 1852 (10 Stat. 979) (Treaty of Santa Fe ratified 23 March 1853 and proclaimed by President Franklin Pierce 25 March 1853).

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