Fibromyalgia has turned my body into a battlefield. Taps poke. Caresses chafe. And it gets worse as the day progresses. The more I use my legs, feet, arms, and hands, the harder the poking and chafing. Once I make it home, I surrender my brain to the TV. Only its mind-numbing effect distances me from the pain.
My partner often joins me in my mind-numbing endeavor. He’ll sit to the left of me on the couch. After the TV has sufficiently dulled our minds, or at least mine, he’ll slip his hand under my shirt, dress, or sleepshirt. It doesn’t matter which as long as he makes it to my belly. There he’ll glide his fingers back and forth across my belly’s expanse. Back and forth as long as I’ll let him.
My belly has grown over the course of the pandemic, but it actually started to before. Two of my brain’s medications cause weight gain by keeping me from feeling full when eating. Also, I have been menopausal for at least two years and have, as a result, lost two and a half inches in height without losing any weight. Add to that the pandemic, which has eliminated my only form of exercise (walking to and from bus stops), and my belly now sags. It even folds over on itself at my right hip. When I shower, I have to lift it up in order to clean whatever is wedged underneath.
I can’t tolerate my partner’s belly exploring indefinitely. My need to hide its girth will eventually overtake his need to touch it. I’ll push his fingers away, gently. He’ll wait and advance his fingers across my belly, again. Then I’ll wait and force him to retreat, again. Over and over until I articulate my demand: no more belly.
A year ago, he went too far.
His fingers made it all the way across my tummy to my right hip. Once he arrived, he wedged them in between the two layers of belly rolled on top of one another. It didn’t feel gentle to me. It felt more like he’d crossed over a battle line and shoved in a flag.
“How can you do that?” I barked. “Do you want me to feel fat?”
He turned away, eyes down. “It’s the only place I can touch you that doesn’t hurt.”
Now I turned away, eyes also down. He was right. My fibromyalgia refuses to let him touch me most anywhere else for any duration. Too much pain. But my belly, my big, fat belly defies it. There my partner can touch me freely, easily, even absentmindedly. It stimulates no pain. Only my shame can stop him.
So I’m trying to surrender my belly to his fingers, to celebrate its fibromyalgia-lessness. I’m not always able to do so, but at least now I know what my belly is: freedom from pain, locus of love.