Dear Z: Skin, Skin

Dear Z,

I had fisheye lens as a kid. Anything in front of me, directly in the center, I could see with no problems. Anything outside this field was skewed. Whenever anyone walked into my bad spots, I’d have a hard time seeing them, stretched out thin like plastic wrap. Then there were times when I just slightly turned my head, and they would fall into my bad spots. I couldn’t tell you when one happened versus the other.

I said yes to a lot of people without knowing what exactly I had agreed to. Much to my embarrassment, I said yes, when I so desperately wanted to say, “No, JUST no.”

My dad ingrained a few phrases in me when I was a kid, all precluded with the word “no”.

No, you don’t need candy. No, you can’t sleep over there. You already know my answer. I thought the last one was clever.

My friends’ perception of him was a no-fun parent.

My dad admonished my brother and I nearly every Friday night. My dad’s partners were Bacardi and Coke. Dad never had the bottled next to him when he drank. It’s a weird thing to remember, but then maybe it’s not. Mom had hers secured in her hand like it was another appendage.

My brother and I could not avoid the stories that concluded with the phrase “on the other side of the coin,” a coin, no less, that had more sides to it than a polygon. There were so many conclusions and after thoughts. It would be pretty if two sides only existed in those stories and fables.

My dad’s stories rang with lessons. Having fun was considered dangerous, that the opportunities to have fun lead to something worse. My dad used my mom as an example. I didn’t know what he meant. My family’s definition of having fun was an enigma to me. I seriously started to question the idea of fun, and if it was possible to have fun without going “overboard,” as my dad phrased it.

I got a late start on sleepovers, which I started to do roughly in the 3rd or 4th grade.  Jordan, whose dad owned a house in the country, was a hotspot. We would ride horses and four-wheelers, swim in her pool, and cook up some curly fries with ice cream on the side.

We made camp on her roof under a canvas of stars, which seemed like the perfect stage to unload secrets or other existential thoughts. When this happened, I felt like someone was unfolding a part of me, disrupting the design schematic of a paper airplane. I was being remade into what I actually was, skin. I tried like hell to fight it.

To me, I didn’t have time to be a person (who does?), not 100% of the time anyway. I had to function. Everything I had read about being human resulted in hospitalization or death. Like I said, I didn’t have time for either of those.

But I also liked being unfolded,  but I thought I couldn’t be a semi-folded/unfolded person. Under the stars though, I was okay being a crinkled piece of paper, even if it was only for a couple of hours.

Then the fun my dad spoke of had finally arrived by middle school. I saw fun in Audra’s boobs, Jordan’s cleavage, in women’s exposed midriffs, spaghetti straps, designer panties, lipstick, and painted nails. Skin was everywhere, and I missed the boat. The transition was painful.

My body was not a Body. It felt like only my head fit right. My ass was the center of discussion; it was a pimple I wanted to pop. I had no boobs to speak of, and it was the first time I was not happy about receiving the letter A. When I was home, I crawled under the covers. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

Jordan’s cure for this was changing the way I looked, or at least, how I presented myself. I jumped on board, and we banded together to fix the problem.

“It’s a cute shirt! It looks good on you,” she said to me, which didn’t allay any of my doubts. In case you’re wondering, this shirt was a sleeveless, blue and dark tie-dye shirt, which buoyed around my belly. I’d be mortified to wear it today.

I packed the shirt into my backpack, set it next to my bed, and lied awake staring at the ceiling. The shirt sounded like a beating heart. When morning came, I vomited at least twice.

I kept the shirt in my bag and threw a jacket over me. The placebo effect kicked in right away, and I started to feel less worried about the day. I showed up to school, not wearing my life-altering shirt. Jordan frowned and bullied me into the girl’s bathroom.

“Put it on,” she said, her eyes pointed.

I wanted to say “no,” but the word always seemed to be paired with purpose and reason. My only reason? I just didn’t want to wear it. It also felt like I hadn’t practiced saying the word enough. My skin burned like my bones were forming an allergic reaction to my skin.

Skin, skin, skin, skin, skin!!!

I would have traded bodies with anyone that day.

“Come on, hurry up,” she urged. The stalls looked darker to me like the insides of a mouth. No one crawled into a mouth willingly, I thought.

I told her I had changed my mind, which elicited an eye roll from her dolled-up face. That look robbed me.

I stepped into the stalls and changed into the shirt. I wore my jacket over it most of the day, and Jordan would chronically tell me to take it off. I shook my head, and she would eventually give up. It was a start.



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