The Body by Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

Awareness Campaign

The interior of the sanctuary is dark as I stand in my pew, head bowed. Plates of wafers and thimble-sized cups of grape juice pass between the rows. Synthesized music streams around the sanctuary. There’s no melody, just individual notes pulsing through speakers. Clothes rustle, hushed voices seek Jesus. An occasional cough breaks the silence.

The wafer is round and smooth in my hand. Resting in my cupped palm, it is paper-thin. Eyes closed, thoughts ping-pong through my brain. Landing on the rays of music emanating from the keyboard, my mind settles, focusing on the sacrament.

“Brothers and sisters, this is the body of Christ. Broken for you.” The pastor grips his podium before raising his eyes to the ceiling. “Eat the body, given for you.”

Salty texture enters my mouth. Tongue tingling, wet and hot, the wafer slides down my throat.

“This is the blood, shed for you. Wash your sins away by his blood.”

“Amen,” and, “Preach it, Brother,” echo around the sanctuary.

My lips part, anticipating the sweet trickle. Bringing the communion cup to my mouth, purple liquid kisses my taste buds. The juice lingers, sweet and tangy.

Cries lift above our heads. Around the room, the Spirit moves, issuing forth as guttural noises leap from mouths. A crescendo implodes, then panting, breathless, the Pentecostal congregation gazes towards the pastor.

A body is presented, and together, we devour. Only then are we complete, made so by divine flesh.

Stones dig into his feet. Blood and sweat mingle in rivulets down his face. Hunched, trudging uphill, the cross on his back pushes him down. Filed on either side of him, those he carries the cross for taunt, spitting on the ground, jeering and mocking. Each step takes him closer to crucifixion.

Did Christ imagine his body parceled out, centuries of believers consuming him?

The air is crisp as I walk down Fourth Street towards Grand. My white cane taps back-and-forth, notifying me of objects or the curb. Traffic grows louder as I approach Grand. Stopping, listening to traffic, I determine which street has the right-of-way and wait to cross.

“Here you go; I got you.” A male voice enters to my right, and a hand grabs my arm.

“Excuse me.” I swipe my arm away.

“I’ll help you cross the street.”

“I don’t need help, thank you.”

They grab my arm.

“Please don’t grab me again.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“I don’t need it,” I say as I cross the street.

The absence of footsteps tells me he’s likely watching me cross, in addition to the irritation I carry.

I am public property. Touching me is deemed appropriate because I’m disabled. And because I’m disabled, I should be grateful for this. I started losing my vision at twenty-two, and fifteen years later, now totally blind, I’m often viewed as a shadow, not enough substance to make me complete.

Touch to me is many things, but it is not permitted to just anyone. And yet, I must feel the hands of strangers on me constantly.

I’m considered a broken body. Consuming with hands, gripped, prodded, wrangled and dragged, I’m expected to submit.

My phone chimes, alerting me to the Uber outside. An iOS voice reads out the message.

“Mommy, the car’s here,” my son says.

“Yes, let’s grab our things. Get your bag; put your coat on. Come on, come on, we need to go.”

The air is crisp, a hint of wood smoke hangs in pockets as we step out the door. I lug a car seat and various items to the car idling in the driveway.

The driver steps out. “Do you know how to put that in?”

Rolling my eyes, I slide my hand along the side of the car until I find the handle. “Yep.”

Securing seat and child, I shut the door and walk around to the other side. The driver trots to my door before I can reach it.

“Here you go.”

As I squat to slide into the seat, he places a hand on my head, as though I’m being placed in a police car. My head whips away from his grasp like a viper.

“I’m okay. I got it.” I grip my purse in my lap, staring straight ahead.

I shy away from touch. Passion dwindles to cinders in certain hands. History teaches women to be docile, submissive, virginal. And yet, we are to attract, use beauty to allure. When disabled, we are relegated to the sidelines, expected to be grateful when our bodies are touched. This is my existence; seductive virgin, and yet, asexual invalid.

The youth pastor sticks two strips of Scotch tape together. “When you sleep with people outside of marriage, it’s like putting tape together. You can never pull apart. You become ruined for marriage.”

We teens gape wide-eyed around the room.

“If you’ve engaged in sexual behavior, you need to ask for forgiveness. Your sins need to be washed away. Only his body and blood can make you whole again.” A boyish grin spreads across the pastor’s thirty-something face. “When you’re married, there will be plenty of time for fun.”

Snickers erupt around the room. I glance around the room, watching my friends smirk. Then, I look at the pastor’s pretty, blonde wife on stage. She stands behind a keyboard. He swaggers over to her, sly grin front-and-center. His hug lingers, then he rubs her shoulders.

Her eyes avert, darting from object-to-object.

He kisses her lips before returning his attention to the crowd. “It’s time, brothers and sisters, we eat the bread of life to cleanse our souls.”

Expectations of appropriate pervade my mind. From infancy, I’ve been taught how to behave.

“Never let a boy touch you.”

“Always wear make-up and dress the way he likes so you’re appealing.”

“If you have sex, no one will want you. You will be ruined for true love.”

“Smile, talk about his interests. Act shy and docile.”

Mixed signals flare, searing my brain.

My body is not my own. It has never been my own. Belonging to everyone but myself. A history of flesh, raw, worn down.

Late summer heat sinks into our pores, invading our nostrils. Stars dot the sky as my friends and I leave play practice. We are performing an original play written by our high school theatre teacher. We huddle in a group, talking and laughing before dispersing to various cars. My friend, Tim, and I walk towards his car. Luke, the boy I’m crushing on, tags behind us.

“You ready?” Tim asks.

“Yes, sure you don’t mind?” I ask.

“Nope.”

“Leaving?” Luke asks.

“Yes, I’m tired.” Sleepy eyes turn towards him. I smile.

Tim and I lower into our seats. He slams his door, starting the engine. Luke lingers on my side, leaning against the open door.

Luke gazes away before looking back at me. “You okay?”

I scrunch my brows, smiling in confusion. “Yes, why? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just checking, I guess.” He shuts my door then leans against the open window.

“What’s up, man?” Tim asks.

“Nothing. No, nothing. See you tomorrow.” Luke frowns then steps back.

Tim revs the engine before peeling out. Pushing a button, my window rises. We talk about the play and school, chatting and giggling. My arm rests on the middle console.

In fluid motion, Tim laces his fingers through mine, conversation never lulling. I freeze.

He raises my hand, caressing it against his rough lips. Heart racing, I swallow. A moment later, he slides my finger into his mouth, sucking and licking. My blank eyes stare out the front window.

I’m fifteen, voice not yet strong enough to put this fucker in his place.

Turning off the interstate, passing residential neighborhoods, he pulls into a dark, empty park. He unclips his seatbelt; I close my eyes.

Leaning over, grasping my shoulders, his lips scrape against mine.

“Please stop,” I plead.

“I know how to treat women right,” he whispers. “All my girlfriends are satisfied.”

“Please…” My voice is barely there, trailing off. Salty liquid travels down my face.

His tongue forces my lips apart, like a worm burrowing through dirt. “I want to feel your body against mine.”

A muffled sob lodges in my throat.

Pushing me back, his hands grope my breasts. I go limp.

“Come on, you’re a pretty girl,” he breathes into my neck.

Deep inside, rage coils in magma. “No.” My voice shakes, still near silent.

His hand slithers up my shirt.

Rage shoots up, bursting. “NO!” Limp arms find strength, shoving him away.

He jumps back into his seat. Breathing hard, hand running through dark hair, he glances away.

Gulping, staccato air releasing, I bask in my rage. “Take me home.”

The engine roars, matching my anger.

A woman’s flesh is not her own. It’s to be devoured, savored with hulking bites and stinging licks.

I will tell my mother. She will tell me to inform our principal. The principal, a female, will instruct me to make my intentions clear when on a date. I will explain it was not a date but a ride home from a friend. She will shake her head, insisting girls must not flirt, sending mixed signals. Classmates will taunt, vicious banter of how I asked for it. Friends will question my story; my culpability. I will discover I’m not the first girl Tim has done this to. Luke will divulge he was concerned that night, worried something like this would happen. Nothing will ever be done to Tim as his parents are two of our private Christian school’s top donors. Eventually, nine months after Tim assaults me, I will walk out the doors one afternoon, never to return to this school.

And here I am, decades later, still fighting for my body, insisting I’m more than flesh and blood. Insisting I’m not a municipal creature. Where is the renewal for my spirit? When do I become a complete person?

I’m to parcel myself out, submitting to your charity, stifling me, so you feel good about yourself. As I live my life, engaging in the world, you pity me. Participating alongside you, demonstrating my vibrancy, you insist we are different. Diplomatic or enraged, my response does not matter. Only your feelings are to be considered.

Touch is sacred to me. An intimacy afforded to few. When strangers reach for me, I flinch.

Church members kneel at the altar. The pastor paces back-and-forth, periodically laying a hand on the top of a head bent in prayer. Lights are dim, creating shadows towards the back. Soft music trips about the room.

“All those hurt and broken, come forward. Let him make you complete.” The pastor continues pacing as his words drip from his mouth.

My eyes shift around the room, watching hazy movements of people shuffle down the aisles. The room is even dimmer in my diminishing vision, leaving an Impressionist glaze to everything I see.

“Jesus made blind men see and lame men walk. He wants to make you whole.”

Sniffles spot the room, hands brushing away tears. A woman at the altar rocks back-and-forth on her heels, quiet moans mingling with streams of tears. A young mother holds her son in her lap, tears wetting his hair. An older member ambles forward, pushing a walker; his progress slow. Another member reaches for his elbow as the old man falls into a kneel.

“Oh, dear lord, make these believers whole again. Let the sacrifice of your body and blood wash them anew, no longer broken.”

Furrowing my brow, I fiddle with my fingers.

“Do you want to go forward?” my mother asks.

“No.”

“Do you want us to just pray for you right here?”

“No.” I grip the pew in front of me.

“Heal your believers as you healed the blind man and lame man.”

I roll my eyes.

Everyone wants to fix me; fix those of us not shiny and brand new. We are told to pray for healing and to accept the prayers of the perfect to restore our incomplete bodies.

Do you ever consider we are not broken? Do you ever consider we feel whole and complete? Do you ever consider we don’t want your prayers?

Snow crunches as I step out my front door. Cold air freezes my nostrils. A car idles in the driveway.

“What side do you have the baby on?” I ask.

“Passenger side,” my husband Ross says. “Do you want the front?”

“No, I’ll go around.” I continue around to the back of the car.

“Oh, you’re on the driver’s side,” the driver says.

“Yes, I know.”

“Let me get you.” He scurries to my side, grabbing me at the elbow.

I pull my arm away. “I got it, thanks.”

“Let me help you.” He reaches for my arm again.

“No,” I say, sliding into the back seat.

“Do I need to do the buckle?”

“I’m a big girl, thanks.” I slam the car door.

Ross finishes buckling the baby and gets into the front seat.

“You folks going to mobility services over here?” The driver rolls into a stop.

“Um, nope. The address is in the app. We are going to Radio Talking Book to do an interview,” I say.

“Oh.” He backs up, looking for the correct building.

As the brakes squeal, I hold the door handle, ready to jump out.

“Wait a minute here; wait for me,” the driver says.

I hop out before he can open my door. Despite this, he still attempts grabbing my arm. I pull away, quickening my step.

“I have the baby.” Reaching for my son, I nestle him against my chest.

Ross grabs our canes from the car, handing me mine. We begin to walk towards the door.

“Let me help you.” The driver hurries in front of us.

“We’re okay,” Ross says.

“The ramp is over there.”

“Not necessary,” Ross says.

The driver continues pace with us.

The door creaks open. “Now, the door is opening,” the driver says.

“Really, that’s what that is?” I say under my breath.

Ross walks through, and I follow. The driver places a hand on my back. I stiffen. He proceeds to push me forward.

“Don’t touch me,” I say. My teeth are gritted.

“I’m just trying to help.”

“We will ask for help if we need it.” I walk inside, letting the door swing shut.

Christ suffered; I do not. Flesh tears slowly from the nails piercing his wrists. At each heaving breath, wounds rip deeper. Blood trickles out of his side. The chanting continues, mocking tones greedy for the scene before them. Doleful eyes roll towards heaven. “Why have you forsaken me?”

We hung him from a cross to redeem us. We tore wounds into his body just to save us. Now, we gorge on him to keep us from the furnace of hell. He asked why God forsook him, but it was for our greed he was abandoned on the cross, his body to feed the multitudes.

Revulsion settles in my gut as I sit at home. Four walls protecting me from the groping advances of the world. A layer of grime coats my mind, my soul, my body every time I leave the house. Encountering most people is tiresome, making me crave home.

But I’ve always been viewed as an object to touch. It’s nothing new; just the reasons have changed.

My sister and I part, going about our respective shopping. We each push a cart in front of us. Only nineteen, but I whip out my coupons, checking which ones I plan to use. Walking past aisles, I glance at the directories and back to my list. Rounding a corner, I notice a store employee walking towards me. I stop in the middle, looking at the shelves. Bottles of flavored water, beer, and packages of soda sit on the shelves. I check labels, choosing flavors of water I like.

The man steps into my line of sight, grasps my breast, squeezes, smiles, and says, “Nice.”

He saunters off as I stand in shock. A bottle of water in my hand, my arm half-way to the basket.

Head cocked, knuckles tight on the cart, I move like a robot through the store, sure my expression is blank. My mind is static, buzzing stuffed in my ears.

Reaching customer service, I ask for a manager. I wait, back ramrod straight, staring into my shopping basket.

“Hello, can I help you?”

“Uh, yes. Ah, um, an employee just groped me.”

She blinks, stares at me, glances around then turns her eyes back towards mine. “Come with me, please.”

I’m ushered into a back room, and my sister is paged. I explain what happened to the manager.

“Do you want us to call the police?”

“Yes, please. Can I have some water?”

As she hands me a cup of water, my sister, Brook, storms into the room.

“Is everything okay? Are you okay? What’s going on?” Brook asks.

I repeat my story to her.

“That shit. Have the cops been called?”

“Yes.”

When the police arrive, I have to repeat my story again on top of writing a police report. The employee in question is called back to work since he’s just clocked out for the day. Astonishingly, he agrees to return.

The stark, blank paper in front of me taunts. Resolution strengthens me as I grip the pen and begin to write. There was not enough evidence to prosecute him, but three weeks later, I discover the store fired him.

This body has learned to be resilient, washing off each piece of me man-handled. Female, disabled, it doesn’t matter; the need to touch me is ever present.

To most disabled people, touch forced on us is loathsome and vile. We are not public property, waiting for assistance. We are living our lives as whole, unbroken people. Pieces of us are not for consumption, making you feel good, absolving you from deep fear of the unknown.

Difference and diversity are touted about, terms seeking equality and inclusion. Allies are to listen and follow the lead of those breaking the glass ceiling. Except disability is rarely included in the definition of diversity. And when it is, we are usually told how to conduct ourselves; how we should live, which usually ends up with us having charity forced on us. Expectations determine everything for disabled people, and, more often than not, expectations are low.

My flesh does not need to be made new; my blood does not need to be sanitized. God created me same as you. He allowed me to become blind because I’m just as perfect in his eyes.

These are the touches I embrace; I crave. These touches renew me, providing solace, refuge, home.

Fingers graze my torso, lips dropping delicate kisses down my abdomen. My hands weave through Ross’s hair. I run light fingertips up-and-down his muscled back. The world halts as we linger between senses.

My one-year-old’s chubby hands pat my face. Maw open wide, Duncan leans in, giving me a drooling kiss. Wiping my mouth, he laughs and leans in for another kiss. We giggle at each other, cuddling.

Waiting on the front stoop, I hear the bus squeak to a stop. The doors clang open, and Declan, my five-year-old, leaps off the last step, sneakers hitting the pavement.

“Mommy!” His backpack thwaps against his back as he runs up the drive.

“I missed you.” His arms wrap around my waist in a bear hug. He shimmies up me until I help him up into my arms. Legs twining around my body, arms tangled about my neck, he kisses my cheek.

My family lines the church pew. Our Christmas attire rustles and swishes as we make small movements. My son’s ankle bells jingle as he hops from foot-to-foot. The bells help Ross and me indicate where he is. Candle smoke hovers in the air. My belly is full of life, soon to be my second son, Duncan. Ross rubs my back as Declan stands on the pew behind us, trying to hang off of Ross’s arm.

“Maybe take his bells off,” my mother whispers.

“It’s fine,” I say. “Stand still.” I grab Declan’s waist, giving him an Eskimo kiss.

“We’ll watch him,” Mom says.

“I know. So will we.”

“There’s Papa,” Declan shouts.

My dad and other members move onto the sanctuary platform, finding mics and instruments. A slow, steady beat rises.

The pastor begins to intone, calling the faithful to prepare for the body and blood of Christ.

My hand rests on my belly as I hum a melody to the strain of music.

“Let him wash you anew, making you whole. His sacrifice was given to make us pure, unblemished,” the pastor says.

I hear communion plates tink as they are passed about.

“Here, do you want communion?” my mother asks.

“No.”

I gather Declan and Ross to my side, arms entwined, hands cupping backs. Squeezing each of them, I close my eyes and lift my voice in song.

Meet the Contributor
author bridgit, her husband and two kidsBridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star.

Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Breath and Shadow, and Emerging Nebraska Writers. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

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