June 23, 2013

New Underneath

I have a friend that used to like to take me to the mall...

...when going to the mall was my thing...

...before he had a girlfriend...

...when we were "not dating"...

...which is basically dating without the physical contact.

He used to like picking out clothes for me - the brighter the color the better, in every neon shade beyond the spectrum. He'd let me try them on as long as I wanted, as long as I showed him what they looked like.

But once, what he picked out for me was neither bright yellow nor turquoise nor hot pink nor electric green, but rather, a dark, gauzy number with a visible, skintone lining.

"I like this one," he said. "It's just like you: dark on the outside, and all pink on the inside."

That was me back in New York. I scoffed, because I liked to think of myself as black on the inside, too, but then life happened...

...rendering me raw and battered...

...turning me inside out...

...exposing my tender innards...

...making me pink (and, at times, red) on the outside.

I sometimes think that those charred, crusty shards of my shell got turned inwards and are buried somewhere deep inside of me, wedged between my internal organs, occasionally working their way out of my body through my skin, like wooden splinters sometimes do, or the fibers of toxins once inhaled or absorbed through repeated exposure. Then again, sometimes those things stay in there forever.

From a medical and scientific perspective, the regenerative powers of the human body give me hope. Once, when Edith had burned the palm of her hand on a hot pan handle, it blistered, then crusted over, in a scabby, callous-like cutaneous bandage. She thought her hand might be disfigured forever, anticipating the scarring that would surely come. And then, with only the gentle nudging from a fingernail, the callous peeled off, revealing a baby-new palm underneath. As though the burn had never happened. As though nothing had ever happened. Ever.

Is it possible that we are all new underneath, under all this life that we've lived, full of sunburns and freckles and pubic hair and scars and callouses and nail polish and the makeup I never wash off my lids and lashes?

When my legs peel off the dead layers of sun exposure, do they reject the outer rings of a tree, the skin of an onion, revealing something that was never outside in the first place? Or do they merely strip away that which has been burned, then toughened in defense?

It seems that the body naturally rejects these shells. Edith peeled off her old, burned palm to reveal a new one underneath. With fingers like forceps, I grasp a single layer of skin that has separated itself from my shins, and without a fight, my body lets it go. It doesn't need it anymore. It would rather not have it. It would rather not be reminded.

But Edith will probably grab another hot pot. I will probably forget sunblock, and my legs will get burned again.

But maybe not so badly next time.

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