I’ve recently begun to think of my skin, the largest of organs, as a container filled up with all kinds of interesting stuff. Malleable, simultaneously strong and fragile—a proper tear in a vulnerable place and the breath goes out of my body, escapes my container, in final exit.
I think about all the places it changes; how skin moves and gives way around the bones in interesting turns, changing from shades of pale to pink to light beige, opening and expanding in the places that bend.
There are entire stores dedicated to containers. One aptly named—the Container Store. There are also entire buildings dedicated to storing things not suitable for goodwill or the homeless—vinyl albums, old coffee-makers or those ceramic Christmas trees that take the tiny plastic lights. Neither storage mechanisms are as versatile as the skin I live in. Mine is alive. Mystical things happens on the inside—heartbeats, digestion, memories, cells that fight disease… perhaps one day, an original thought. One can hope.
I routinely puncture my skin. Three times a week to be exact, I inject a peptide that is supposed to prevent my disease from worsening. If I count, I’ve taken 2,413 shots since 2008. It is unpleasant but quick, nothing like a long visit with an insufferable family member from the wrong political party. Others use needles to experience euphoria through tiny holes. Others intentionally cut their skin leaving trails of hieroglyphics up and down their arms. And so the skin becomes like a story only the outer cover—back and front—is also the gilded inside pages.
My skin is a political statement. I was born a political statement and completely unaware, which by the way, is part of the statement. It is a privileged skin. Most days I do not consider it. Herein lies the privilege of it. White privilege. I do not consider my container—it is of little consequence to me. That is a privilege.
To clothe or not to clothe? That is not pragmatic. For God’s sake it is 32F. We must wear clothes and it has nothing to do with eating forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. It has everything to do with the weather outside.
No matter the weather, I must cover my container, my sack, my skin. Thank you, Adam and Eve.
We blend more now, in 2019, than we did in 1970. Shades of a container that defies definition. I like that. There is no box to check on a government form; we are unsure how to categorize it. Mixed is what some call half of one thing and half of something else. But, it is a whole other color and I think we can do better with the naming convention. Mixed is what batter is before you bake it. Then, it is a cake.
I think about these things when I think about President Obama. He is a cake.
Our containers are messengers that never lie, that always tell the truth. Look here. Purple, black, greenish-yellow hues, red—like graffiti sprayed on to the walls of an inner-city building. Violence was here. I hate you. You are no good. Or skin that has been stretched over the middle of my body leaving shiny silvery lines—someone grew here, temporary shelter, bikinis are no longer okay, make love to me…eyes shut please.
My sister-in-law was an EMT once upon a time. The worst thing she ever saw was a woman burned over 90% of her body. Also, it was the worst thing she’d ever smelled. Burnt skin and hair. It was a house fire (I remember seeing it on the news—that there’d been a fire. But I never pay much attention to the fire stories. I don’t know why.) When the ambulance got there, the woman was seated in a rocker on the front porch. Black flesh falling from her limbs in places, clinging to bone in others. I think this was my fault. I think I started the fire. Those were her last words. I think of this woman every time I burn myself baking. A tiny spot of skin no larger than a pea and it burns like hell. I cannot imagine burning to death in a fire. It is near the top of my list of ways I do not want to die. I don’t want to drown, either—my skin shriveled and gray because they had to drag the lake bottom for days. I don’t want to be stabbed or shot. I want nothing to do with my skin—I want death to happen on the inside, suddenly. I am thinking heart attack. Maybe a single, sudden pain. But my skin won’t feel a thing.
The worst thing I ever smelled was skin, too. I was working in outpatient services and the elevator door opened and sucked in all the air and exhaled a noxious smell—a patient who, on her big toe, had a place the size of a dime, rotted. The stench filled an entire hospital lobby. I cannot remember ever having smelled anything worse than gangrene.
Smell is very closely tied to our memory. The smell of a favorite casserole or cologne can bring a loved one back from dementia. I read that we have more genes dedicated to our sense of smell than anything else we do. I think the word smell, when used as a noun has bad connotations, while the word aroma or scent mostly has good connotations. Gangrene is not an aroma or scent; it is a smell.
Skin is a translator. Translates it is summer, the wind is blowing, it is wet or dry, soft or hard, smooth or rough, sharp or blunt. Skin speaks a million languages and translates them in to a singular word for consideration.
In the end, my skin will fall loose and my skeleton will dance around inside it like some kooky Halloween trick. What does this mean? Why, evolution? It is more than missing collagen or missing adipose tissue. It is more than a house for brittle bones and cells gone rogue—genes that forgot their way, lost their instructions written down in a double-helix. I like to think it is a reflection, now, of our thoughts. Thoughts that come now in pieces, no longer fluid and often unavailable. There one minute, gone the next. The sack is breaking down, coming apart on its way to translucence if I make if far enough. My thoughts I no longer care enough to keep inside. And this lack of concern spills out without sanction or ceremony, but also without the promise of a response.
Our container continues to the bitter end having reinvented itself over and over.
Shellie Richards writes fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry and has completed two novels. Her work has appeared in the Cream City Review, Oatmeal Magazine, Literary Juice, Bartleby Snopes (Winner, story of the month), and The Chaffey Review (creative nonfiction), among others. She has an M.A. in English (writing emphasis, Belmont University) and teaches science writing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN where she lives with her husband, kids and three scruffy dogs.