Living on after great pain.
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Touch your ear. Go ahead. Reach up there and give it a tug. Either ear, it doesn’t matter, just grab and pull. The point is that when you want to tug your ear, scratch an itch, chew your nails, or wiggle your toes, you can, without much effort. And once you’ve read A Body, Undone by Christina Crosby, you’ll appreciate that ability even more.
For most of her first 50 years on earth, Christina Crosby was strong, confident, and determined. She played hard, excelled at sports, was passionate about her professorship at Wesleyan University, and was planning life with her partner, Janet.
And then everything changed: nearly a month after her 50th birthday, Crosby’s speedy, custom-fit bicycle caught a branch in its front wheel and stopped abruptly, bucking her off to the pavement. She took the full brunt of the accident on her chin, which broke her neck. Weeks later, she woke up in ICU, a quadriplegic.
When she was growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, Crosby and her older brother were raised to know that neither was better than the other. Because Jeff was a year older, Crosby says she often fantasized that they were twins; indeed, they tussled and competed as though they were.
But then, as a relatively young man, Jeff was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was eventually wheelchair-bound. Her old dreams and the irony of the situation didn’t escape Crosby’s notice.
With the help of her lover, assorted friends, and paid caregivers, Crosby began to learn to live differently. She could no longer ride a bike or motorcycle, walk, take the stairs, or use a pen or bathroom by herself. Getting showered took two extra people and 10 steps. Her sex life adapted, but her bowels did not. And though it’s been more than a decade since the accident, Crosby admits that she still has fears: she’s afraid of grief, of making peace with her situation. Afraid that there will come a time when she will no longer want to live.
On many levels, A Body, Undone is a surprise. Readers will almost immediately notice that author Christina Crosby is matter-of-factly blunt. Just as you’ll learn that modesty is nearly impossible when relying on caregiver help for the most basic bodily functions, you’ll also learn that—at least for Crosby—that easy attitude extends to sharing her reality. That’s not at all a bad thing; it’s just a surprise, especially when it comes to bathrooms, bedrooms, and profanity.
The second, most welcome surprise is that there’s a good amount of warmth in this book, despite its sometimes-wince-inducing subject matter. It’s filled with friends and family, and memories of them, which seems a nice distraction from the shocking details of Crosby’s accident and its aftermath.
This is a powerful book that asks its readers to think about many things. It’s not an easy read, but it’s not one you’ll easily be able to tear yourself away from, either. A Body, Undone won’t just touch your heart—it’ll tug at your mind, too.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.