Invertebrate

Invertebrate
by Bayan Atari

The cybercrime investigators responded to my parents’ emergency call right before midnight on March 20th, 2060. They found my comatose body (still hooked to the computer that swallowed up my conscious mind) and snapped the photographs which would soon be leaked onto all the most popular image boards.

Expert analyses of my blogs and journals ruled out any suspicion of foul play, instead painting the portrait of a girl who evanesced into cyberspace of her own accord. News websites dubbed my online disappearance a “cyber suicide;” social media set itself alight with theories of how I might have managed to dissolve into the information highway. I still float through these discussions often, hidden amongst the cloud of lookalike avatars constructed by trolls and wannabes.

I couldn’t want my body back, not even if i tried to. That body is unavailable, now it is hooked not to my computer, but to hospital machines (that describe my brain activity as barely a whisper, whereas it was an anxious cacophony in the past), and my heart beat (which now thumps a languid rhythm when it was once a boxer fighting against my breastbone).

Watching through screens with my cyberized cyber-eyes, I have watched my once-devout mother’s faith fade into intermittence. One weak, her mouth is a fountain of frenzied du’aa; the next, she seals her lips taut and talks to no one, not even to god. Meanwhile, my formerly-agnostic father kneels to Allah five times a day. His final sujood is always punctuated by weeping.

I cannot weep with him; you need eyes to cry. I realize now that my cyber-soul is numb; I realize now that I carried so much emotion in my limbs, my throat, my belly, my chest. To feel sick to my stomach, I would need organs; to feel a chill trickle down my spine, I would need bones. I have none. I am a digital invertebrate, a deep web jellyfish.

Every chat group and discussion board asks at least once:

“Why would she do this?”

My avatar – assumed by everyone in the cyber-room to be a fake – walked into one of these discussions and took a seat. Pretending I am not myself, that I am indeed a copy of a copy, I replied:

“Maybe she uploaded herself to the cloud and never came back because she hated her real body too much to live in it.”

A poorly-constructed avatar responded:

“Why would she hate her body THAT MUCH, though?”

And I replied:

“Because it was her body. The body of someone she hates. Bodies aren’t just a collection of structures; in our society, a body is objectified as a message, and the media gives us the language with which to interpret the message. Maybe, she thought her body showed her weakness, so she tried to make herself look like one of the powerful, successful women on TV. They’re all thin, so maybe she went on a diet. They have clear white skin, so maybe she covered her face in chemicals. Maybe when that didn’t work, she decided that if she couldn’t get her body to send the right message, she would rather not send a message at all. Maybe she wanted to be the avatar she constructed, not her physical self.”

The entire chat room paused for a moment. Then, from the sidelines, an avatar that looked just like mine shouted:

“DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT A GIRL SMART ENOUGH TO FIND A WAY TO UPLOAD HER CONSCIOUS INTO THE INTERNET WOULD BE STUPID ENOUGH TO BE FOOLED BY POP CULTURE BEAUTY STANDARDS?”

I promptly left the chatroom.

When I’m not watching my parents through screens, I’m wading through the archive of body parts I spent too much of my corporeal life compiling: pictures of stilt-like thighs cut off of runway models; a file full of spidery clavicles extracted from screenshots of television waifs; a few hundred chest bones lifted from women who have been on no-carb diets for too long. Each one sent a message: Power. Respectability. Control.

I was never fooled by beauty. When I fashioned my frankenstein’s monster of an avatar out of these stolen bones, I was not trying to make her attractive. In the gap between her thighs, I captured the de-sexed capacity for control that the magazines told me I couldn’t have without a slender body. If “pop culture beauty standards” did anything for me, they gave me the language to express my self-loathing. My body was a rebel, a wild animal that needed to be tamed, that betrayed me with breakouts and stretchmarks.


 

Exactly one year has passed since I was found comatose on the ground. Today, my body gave up. I flatlined on a hospital bed. My mother prays for a daughter whose soul she assumes is in heaven, but I am still here, watching her through electronic devices.

Now, as I watch my funeral through a screen, I realize: I never fixed my eyes. A million images of willowy arms and twig legs and clear skin went into the avatar I carved out of pixel flesh, but not once did I think to find a pair of eyes that would look at my own image as more than just an ugly shell. Not once did I think to look, really look, at the body I left behind. That acne, those stretch marks, that stubborn belly fat – I never saw that those were pieces of me, not until now that I see myself in a coffin.

I should be sad, but to  feel sick to my stomach, I would need organs; to feel a chill trickle down my spine, I would need bones. I have none. I am a digital invertebrate, a deep web jellyfish.

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