At first, I read and tried to write how the mother octopus is so dedicated to her newborn children that she will stay with them as long as needed until they can survive on their own, neglecting herself past starvation, past wasting, and she will eat her own arms in what I want to tell you is a reason to believe in something, but what I want to say now is that this might be apocryphal, that this altruistic autophagy may actually be attributed to disease, to infection, and I still want to believe, and I want to say that even if the octopus takes in of herself because she is sick, maybe believing something about motherhood or sacrifice or the way the body betrays is something I can use to move forward, or I think how this anecdote might relate to my own mother and holding in my memory both the image of her throwing knives at my father in an episode of bipolar rage over nothing and the image of her crying on the phone because in the future I will visit home and have to leave her again, and I’m not the same boy I was who let my parents know as a teenager that everything was not okay, that I was hanging out with a drug dealer—a man who I met when he, after learning from his friend that her boyfriend had been hitting her, went up to this boyfriend while he was drinking from a drinking fountain at my high school and he smashed this boyfriend’s head into the porcelain and I remember, I do, a crack webbing in the white sheen, and blood—who also pushed his fingers into the hole in him trying to find the ghosts there, and that when I hung out with him I did not drink or do ecstasy, but that we stayed up all night and skipped classes because we both knew what it meant to hope life exists on another planet because then we might feel less alone, but I am here with this same hole and I think back to telling them, I don’t want to feel like this, and my father, John Wayne coffee mug in front of him, would say, you just have to try harder, and though this is a leap in the narrative, a turn, I will say what I might have said in that moment, had I not been fifteen and wasting, would have called back to the octopus: I would have said, I have been trying so hard can’t you see, and I might have held out my arms in a show that I was not yet ready for sacrifice, and here in the essay is where I might leave things rather than saying something more object-focused about loneliness or how I never got to say goodbye to the twin who drove me to school, the pastor’s rebellious daughter, and would often stop to buy drugs on the way and how she drove too fast down that empty highway in the too-icy January light and how I wonder about the remaining twin, if she ever drives too fast down desolate roads and thinks about the piling up of the last twenty years, and if she presses the gas almost too far for too long, if she tries to relate that moment, that feeling, by telling a story about mothers, about perhaps if only she had been the mother their mother could not be, the road might not have iced over and we would not speak of wreckage, and again I’m thinking instead of my father and that coffee mug and I want to say something to him about how ninety-one people involved in the making of the disastrous Genghis Khan film, The Conqueror, were diagnosed with various cancers as the movie was shot downwind of a nuclear testing site in Nevada, but my father is not a man to find significance in these things, and I know that mug rests still in that cupboard, and we will never speak of the way infection is not only an invasion of the body but is the body reminding itself of its story, and we will never speak of fallout, and we will never speak of eating away these limbs in order to be cured.

Justin Lawrence Daugherty is the author of You Are Alive, forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms (2018). He recently finished a doctorate in creative writing from Georgia State University.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore