Sometimes I crawl out of my skin.
It started happening when I was around nine years old. Over the years I’ve tried to understand why, and I’m sure at this point that there’s no scientific reason. It just hits me out of nowhere. In a crowded bus, in the middle of a classroom, in my car. My operating system acts normally, but then all of a sudden a destructive virus decomposes and destroys all of my carefully programmed files and folders. It’s like a layer of sandpaper forms in between my muscles and skin and, no matter where I look or which way I turn, the feeling creeps over me as ivy does on an old wall.
I debated telling people about it. Thought about making plans to start some sort of Skin-crawlers Anonymous club… but each time I’d begin my confession I could see the catharsis covering their own eyes. It felt like sitting on a see-saw. As soon as I’d pour a little bit of myself out, my partner would bounce back and pour a little back on me. Both of us so weak, I wasn’t sure what was holding us together in the first place.
Over the years, I became a magnet for other skin crawlers. I fell in love with them, became their best friends, followed them around like hungry dogs. I was an addict. Addicted to sorrow, addicted to pitying myself for my self-appointed affliction. It gave me power, it gave me a false sense of strength. In a world filled with skin-crawlers, no one could be better than me.
Sometimes people would surprise me for a second here or there. I would be with a boy and might catch him staring at me. I would look into his eyes, hoping that he could see behind the skin and into what I wanted to be seen in myself. But time and time again, the look of conquest and glory glimmered and glowed within the dilated pupils, appearing as another symptom for skin-crawlers. A need for validation.
I started to emulate the cold and unfeeling. Pretend that I didn’t need my skin. That it was just some shield against the cold and rain, and that life was about coming to the conclusion that love and happiness are just another drug to get through the day. This helped the crawling. It stopped it in it’s tracks, but it made the world gray and complacent. Like the scream that fails to arise in your nightmare, or the vacant taste of butter when your mom makes you cinnamon buns but your nose is stuffy.
The quick fix to the skin crawling was the blaming. I blamed it on my parents, on my friends, on boys, on society. They were all part of the environment that taped my fingers to the wall as soon as I reached for something beautiful. They were all part of the mediocre force that rolled into one being working to keep me small. Working to prove some fraudulent theory made up of superficial premises.
So when I met Ally, I didn’t know how to take it.
I used to read obsessively about the flappers. Girls in the Roaring 20’s that cut their hair into bobs, put on short skirts and donned red lipstick. I was always particularly interested in their eyes, how they shone with danger and recklessness.
Ally’s eyes held the daring hesitancy of a girl gathering her hair into that fatal last ponytail. You knew by the way she looked at you, that her skin had never crawled. Her voice quivers and questions, not because she needs answers but because she knows you need a safety net.
In a world of skin-crawlers, everyone falls in love with her. But the allure is that she doesn’t notice. Not because she thinks less of herself, but because she doesn’t realize how extraordinary she is. When I first met her, I wanted to believe that it wasn’t real. I wanted to find some flaw, some moment of weakness. I wanted to see her crack. Be fake, be mean.
I had lived in a world of disappointment for so long that I had built a life around it. To find someone who couldn’t disappoint me, would have ruined it all. As time continued, my fears proved to be true.
Ally cradled me with her soft voice and her fearless hands and forced me to see a world through her eyes. A world where strength doesn’t come from bringing others down, but from falling underneath the world’s footsteps and embracing its ankles. In the moments when I wanted to crawl back into my shell and revel in my sandpaper world, she dragged me out and became my second skin. The skin that had been called fat, ugly, too dark, too flawed fell away, and became a shell. Behind it was the love that she forced me to accept and made me believe I deserved.
The problem for people like Ally is that she’s too good for us skin-crawlers, but she’d never admit it. She gives and gives her precious skin away, until she’s a grinning skeleton waiting to tear off her bones. I see that weight moisten her eyes sometimes, when she looks down at us all and wishes that someone would pull up at the hand she silently reaches out.
I keep coming back even when I know her mind is dried out and she almost can’t take it anymore. Sometimes I feel like we’re killing her, but I know that we’re all too selfish to stop.
I imagine that had DaVinci met her, she would have been the Mona Lisa. Or had she been on the road, she would’ve been Elton’s “Tiny Dancer”.
For these reason, I’ll keep hiding her underneath my skin.