The jerk of the van wakes me up again. Just another bump or pothole on the long stretch of this dirt trail trying to pass for a road. The smell of metal and sweat and heat seeps up my nose again.
“Alright back there?” the driver calls. I swallow the odor down and nod.
“Not too long now.”
That’s what he said forty minutes ago. He’s been very kind to me during our ride together. It settled my jumping heart, and for at least an hour I began to think of him as a friend. Earlier we chatted idly about his son, his late wife, and his ailing brother. I told him a little about myself, too. My dad is a retired mechanic turned real estate agent. My mom is an occasional substitute teacher. I made it two years in community college for my associate’s degree and was hoping to get into a nice university out west after my procedure.
“Got a school in mind?” he’d asked.
“No…” I trailed off and he left it at that. I dozed off for the first time.
Now that I’m awake again I’m back to freaking out. My skin crawls and my tongue feels thick. I grow impatient with the silence and scattered daydreams dance freely in my mind. I close my eyes and lean my head back again, careful to avoid the ridge in the steel I’ve already bumped my head on a couple times. Memories dart behind my eyelids.
“I’ve just… always known something was wrong with my body.”
My therapist sat upright. “Can you explain that?”
I squirmed in the big chair. I had gone my whole life without admitting that simple fact―that I hate myself―up until that point. It should have been a liberating experience but suddenly I wanted to scurry away and hide. I wasn’t ready. I should have run out of the counseling center―no, I should never have come at all. I was fine, perfectly fine. This was a bad idea
My therapist jotted down some notes. I couldn’t help but admire her. She was almost stereotypically pretty, with fair hair and clear blue eyes. I wanted to see her during her downtime one day and have a cup of coffee with her. I felt her staring at me and prayed she sensed my discomfort. After a long, deathly silent pause she cleared her throat.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes!” A defeated sigh. No.”
She sighed and wrote something on her legal pad again. Had she grown impatient with me? I didn’t want that. I started babbling about my childhood and shopping trips with friends I had lost contact with and sports. I eyed her warily as she jotted down notes, her handwriting too small for me to read. My mouth grew dry as I spoke, spittle foaming in the corners of my lips. She cut me off in the middle of a story about a boat trip.
“Let’s go back to when you were little. I thought it was interesting that you mentioned an admiration for figurines.”
“O-oh,” I said, recalling the tidbit of information I’d brought up earlier. “Yeah. I loved that stuff when I was a child. I had a bunch of figurines and posters. No particular brands.”
“And what did you do with the figurines?”
“I just kept them. I was a li’l pack rat.” I laughed a little to myself. “There was something about them that just… I related to them more than people. They were quiet, and plastic and smooth.”
She hummed and took more notes. “Did you want to be a doll?”
I paused a moment, caught off guard. “I guess… in a way. I wanted to be silent like them. They sat on my shelf or in my bed. They didn’t have to worry about anything or feel anything. I wanted to be like that. Almost like a robot. I think that’s it. I had a lot of robots.”
I noticed her eyebrows twitch a bit and she dashed off another line of notes. Before I realized what I was saying I blurted out something else.
“I’ve hated my body so much. I don’t know what to do with it. It’s so fragile and soft and human.” My voice dropped to a whisper. “One time, when I was little, I tried to take my arm off with one of my dad’s work saws…he cut wood as a hobby for a while.”
That was the first time I had told that story out loud. There wasn’t much to it. I had a long piece of scrap metal that I had beaten into a very crude representation of a human arm. Not that it mattered to me; the less human, the better. My dad stopped me before I could do too much damage to myself. My parents never questioned it, just kept me as far away from the shed as they could. And they took my figurines away.
“Let’s go back to your body,” my therapist said when I was finished.
A feeling I’ve been aware of since childhood rushed over me. Something disgusting. All too aware of my mortal flesh and the jumble of feelings in my head. My breath hitched and I wrapped my arms around myself.
“It’s not me!” I yelled finally. My therapist was taken aback by the outburst but regained herself like a pro.
“It’s… I don’t feel like it’s mine sometimes. I don’t want it. I don’t feel right in it.”
“How often have you thought that you might feel better in another body?”
I blinked some of my tears away and rubbed my eyes. “Well… sometimes. Often. Yes. A long time. I think that’s why I was trying to cut my arm off. I would love a new body. I want to be a new me. You know how there’s talk now about new technology to upload our consciousness into external hard drives and stuff?” I sighed a little and my therapist nodded. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“But you would still have the same feelings,” she said, frowning a little. “Would you be okay with that?”
“I think so.” I was feeling the philosophical air of our conversation now. No one had ever talked about this with me before and I felt a mixture of joy and fear. “I would be okay if I could escape this body, because I think that would take away a lot of the feelings of self-hate. It… it would be easier to deal with. I’m so desperate.”
She nodded and handed me a box of tissues. I took them gratefully.
“So, tell me more about why you’re here.”
I began attending college the previous summer. Nothing too stressful, just taking basic general education courses. Things I probably learned in high school anyway. I lived in an apartment close to campus with one of my high school friends, Jade.
Jade wasn’t her real name. Actually, I’ve long since forgotten her real name and I’m sure she has too. Jade was a fellow body mod enthusiast and had hollowed her cheeks and palms out and filled them in with exposed magnetic implants. But her nickname came from her skin, which she had been steadily injecting with a (most likely illegal) dye to make it a pale green. Me, I just had what was often described as “an awful lot of piercings” on my face and genitals. Jade called me “Bear Trap” sometimes.
Aside from our love of body mods, we had zero in common. Jade was way more extroverted than I was and completely at ease with herself. Her mods were conversation starters; I used mine to disguise my growing discomfort with myself.
She introduced me to some of her friends so I would have more people to talk to. Talking was hardly the only thing we did. Our nights were full of dance parties and sex aided by capsules and injections that brought on fantastic new realities.
After a few months I noticed my new friends drawing away from me. No more invites, no more calls. I finally asked Jade about it one night as we stood in the kitchen, eating donuts at midnight.
“Well…” she started, toying with her dyed black hair. “Laney said you’re too aggressive when you’re high.”
“Oh yeah? I hadn’t noticed.”
She laughed. “You wouldn’t. You change―you talk deeper, you fight with everyone, you… I dunno. You fuck weird, too, like you’re trying to do two things at once. Boy and girl stuff.”
“Stuff,” I said wryly.
Sex always left me in an intense state. Sex was strange for me. I never understood what I was supposed to do. Sex ed isn’t helpful if you’re confused to begin with. The way my body acted and looked disturbed me and I was usually left huddled up in a corner in a vulnerable state after the act was done. My partners probably just assumed it was drugs.
I cleaned up and started going back to class. I hadn’t missed much but now I was preoccupied by these new revelations about myself. I got more mods on my torso to cover up. I had huge piercings and even a few raw chunks of steel until I looked like one of those primitive 1950s-style robots. As happy as that made me, the fact that they were temporary and prone to ugly infections made me feel worse in the long run.
A few weeks into the Spring semester I met V―, a girl from my Stats class. She was my first after I quit pill-popping. It was a disaster.
It was meant to be a one-nighter, a simple fuck and run. From the get-go it was wrong―I wouldn’t let her touch me, and in turn I couldn’t touch her. I couldn’t mold my body into the shape I needed to function. At some point I vented my anger on her, screaming and shoving her into a closet while I went on a destruction spree, breaking mirrors and hurting myself. I’m not sure how she escaped but it took a few hours before I realized I was alone.
Connected to my room was our dingy, too-small shower. Naked and bruised, I crawled from my room to the shower. I lay there in the stall under a hot stream of water for who knows how long, with my wrists and shins slashed with one of Jade’s razors.
I remember staring down at the deep cuts. I had to know what was under there. It had to be more than just bone and sinew: something deeper. The real me under all that flesh and tissue. As I fell in and out of consciousness I heard the door unlock, then screams at some point. When I woke up, I was politely told I should seek counseling.
“And here I am,” I told my therapist, wrapping up my story. My therapist nodded and sat back in her chair.
“So you’ve had these feelings since childhood,” she asked, although it wasn’t really a question.
“Yes. Got even worse in high school, then… that. I had never exploded like that before, and I’m scared I’ll do it again if something doesn’t change.”
“Alright. Since this is our second-to-last of the twelve weekly sessions, I’m obligated to explain this process again. You understand that you go through these therapy sessions in order to see if you qualify to―”
“I know. Then you refer me to a clinic, right?”
“That’s correct. From my notes on you, your behavior has been consistent and meets our criteria. I have to ask you again: are you prepared for this? Once you begin the process…”
“I don’t want to go back,” I said. “Ever.”
She smiled warmly and nodded.
It was December when I finally told my parents.
They stared at me silently, flabbergasted. Then they glanced at each other, trying to pick words from each other’s brains. Finally, mom looked back to me.
“You’re… getting surgery?” Stray hair strands fell into her eye. “But what’s wrong with you?”
I sighed. I made up my mind months ago but how could I put the elegance of my decision into words for them? Could they ever understand―no. Could they at least respect me?
“My body… it’s… it’s just,” the words slurred together so quickly. I clutched my shoulders and found the conviction to speak. “For a long time I’ve felt very wrong. I can’t… explain it but―”
“If you can’t explain it,” my dad yelled, “then how do you know there’s anything wrong?”
I burst into tears, then stood abruptly and stormed out of the room. I wouldn’t be brave enough to face them for another week. That time, they just sat on the couch in resigned silence.
I grew depressed as my surgery date drew nearer. I was so ready and not ready all at once. I didn’t want to be stuck there with my parents, but I knew I had no place to go. After my suicide attempt, Jade cut off all contact with me and I hadn’t seen her in nearly a year. Maybe it was for the best.
Then, the day arrived.
The jerk of the van wakes me up again.
“We’re here,” the driver announces. He opens the door for me and I get out, stretch my legs and shake away the grogginess. I look up at the big hospital and its intimidating windows and steel all reflect a different person in each pane. He guides me to the sliding doors and it suddenly hits me that I’m alone. Completely alone. My parents begrudgingly agreed to pick me up, but not to see me off. My knees buckle a bit and I nearly collapse.
“Okay?” the driver asks. I nod and my tongue flaps in my dry mouth.
I suck in a deep breath and check myself in. I meet my doctor to go over procedure one more time. It all blurs in my head. The next thing I know they’re telling me to count backwards from one hundred… ninety nine… ninety eight…
Sometimes during the surgery I periodically wake up. I can’t feel my legs. I glance down and realize I don’t have them anymore, or a torso.
I wake up. I don’t know how long I’ve been out. The doctor assured me the new procedures go so quickly now that I could recover within a day. I feel much heavier than before. When I try to move my legs, they make a little whirring noise before they get started. I’m delighted to hear it. The high-quality synthetic flesh looks and feels real, and lets me feel outside stimuli, but just beneath it the skeleton is now steel, my connective tissue replace by wires.
I touch my face; naturally, they had to leave that alone, and I didn’t have a problem with that. I still like the look of my face. They said they can give me a functioning interchangeable genital “set” as we discussed―to make things a little more human―but I honestly doubt I will take them.
They keep me in the hospital for a few more days, tests to make sure I’m functioning. Tell me how to take care of myself, and order me physical therapy so I can learn how to move and walk on my own again. Until then, I’ll be hovercraft-bound for a bit.
On the fourth day, my parents come pick me up. Maybe it’s the sun, or maybe it’s my new optics, but everything looks considerably brighter than the last time I saw them. Dad is even smiling. I’m rolled out to their SUV and helped inside, by mom and dad personally. When we’re all in, she turns to me and caresses my cheek.
“Welcome home, dear,” she says.
Maybe they’re ready to accept their new chrome offspring. It won’t be an easy road, but at least a road is there now.