I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim back. As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my ears.
I am I am I am.
Behind the coffin and the flowers and the face of the minister and the faces of the mourners, I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.
There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
My hands smell of warm tar. I want to go back to the house and up to the bathroom and scrub and scrub, with the harsh soap and the pumice, to get every trace of this smell off my skin. The smell makes me feel sick.
But also I am hungry. This is monstrous, but nevertheless it’s true. Death makes me hungry. Maybe it’s because I’ve been emptied or maybe it’s the body’s way of seeing to it that I remain alive, continue to repeat its bedrock prayer: I am, I am. I am, still.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
I searched the internet to read articles about Plath’s influence on Atwood, particularly this specific idea–the prayer of our heart and our bodies, the prayer of being alive as “I am, I am, I am.”
I haven’t found anything.
There is simply no way these specific words were a coincidence, though. Plath is too well-known, this phrase her battle cry. Atwood is too smart, her words too carefully chosen.
This was one woman nodding to another, through the pages of important literature.
I once ran into a girl at Kinkos with an “I am I am I am” tattoo and it took all I had not to propose best friendship. I own an “I am I am I am” necklace. The phrase hangs in my bathroom.
These particular six words mean a lot to me and so, in the dark hours of the night as I finished The Handmaid’s Tale and read this paragraph I gasped.
I am alive.
Just like Plath and Atwood, like Esther and Offred.
I am I am I am.
And to that I add a new word,