I was born April 2. A very pink baby with a full head of black hair. My birthday suit pudged with the rolls of newborn fat. Mom loves to tell the story of Dad wanting to finish watching the basketball game when she declared the start of labor. I, wrapped so tight inside my mom’s skin, wrote a story of myself on her body through stretch marks. When they finally arrived at the hospital, I declared my still well-maintained obstinance and delayed my arrival 72 hours longer. I wrote myself more permanently on her fair skin through cesarean scars. She would always tell me I was her kid because she had the scars to prove it. And I don’t mind her telling me so because that is the story of my entrance into this world—where my own skin enters the world.
My skin fascinates me in that it remains an organ I can watch generate and regenerate while it holds onto its unique branding. I have a birthmark that looks like a spaceship hovering over my belly button and another mark that shades my right palm. Age keeps bringing this skin life-marks—a scar on my hip from the childhood dog dragging me down a path in a failed squirrel-chase, a reddening across my cheeks as symptoms of my disease, small scars populating my abdomen from various procedures, a couple of tattoos that make my mother cringe. This skin—so complicated and delicate.
Every three months, the nurse hands me a form that asks if anything has changed. Skin, hair, nails. A detailed inventory of remission, stagnation, or progression. Every visit I check the small boxes. I wonder how much they can tell the doctor about my skin. The categories area always as follows:
My knees show a well-played childhood. Look carefully enough you will see the scar from when I wiped out on my bike the first time I tried to ride it on two wheels. It was right before church. Mom was peeved. But it was worth it to prove to Adam, the boy at school who always found something to pick on me about, that I too could be “cool.” And by cool I mean—because these are first grade standards—that girls can get dirty and not care. Then he almost puked when I ripped off the bandage. Totally worth it.
While I no longer freak out the Adams of my life with impressive wounds, I have been known to panic a doctor or two with my lack of circulation trick. This trick usually involves me sitting, doing nothing, and one of my legs turn a dark purple. I admit this trick is most enjoyable with doctors with whom I’ve had little or no previous contact. To bring it back I just wait. It's not really a trick.
“Headache,” Ms. Conaway read the spelling word, “as in I hope today Katelyn does not get a headache. Headache.”
I was already beginning to feel the tingle on the right side of my face that for most of elementary school became my primary predictor of an ensuing migraine. Now, I was the third-grade spelling lesson. I burrowed my face into my paper scratching out the letters. I got it wrong. Because, despite my ability to define the experience, my spelling remained terrible. If only this had been a lesson in comprehension.
The rash used to be small—only on one cheek. And you could only see it when I was out in the sun. But now it always sits subtly on the edge of my skin, bridging my nose and making a home on the other side of my face. In a world of glossy magazine covers and the Sephora black-hole, it's hard not to feel mildly to wildly self-conscious about it. So, I buy expensive products to calm, cover, and protect. And like that no one knows—sometimes not even me—that the mark of my illness is right there all along.
I didn’t hold hands with a boy until I was in college. Mostly for two reasons. First, most of the boys around where I grew up couldn’t keep up (read I was awkward and they were little shits). Second, no one could touch my arms or hands for almost two years without my involuntary tears of agony. My arms felt wrapped in thick tendons. It was hard to know how seriously to take this. But when mom sat down next to me, accidentally brushing up against my hands, resulting in my screams, she saw my hands were bright, almost flaming, red. She could feel the residual heat of my skin burning. The pain spread from my hands to other parts of my body. I lived in a vice made of skin. After three weeks in the hospital I was able to be a normalish kid again (My sister tells me normal should be saved for other people). I could hold books. I could stand outside in the midst of wind. I could hold some little shit’s hand.
Little scars have begun to congregate on this skin—a little biopsy there, a little surgery here. I no longer find them impressive, but I do still hope tropes about “men with scars being sexy” can be applied to women. And more than that I hope that they keep me appreciative of all the wear this skin must endure for everything it holds bellow.
Skin. I regret challenging myself to think about this skin, to photograph this skin. Mostly because this has been hard, and I feel like I failed. But also because skin is not just skin. My skin. Pink, sometimes red, sometimes purple. While holding this body and all its complexities, this skin engages the world—sometimes without my awareness. Without my awareness, my skin is seen, and looked at, and thought about, and commented on. And sometimes I am made privy of those comments.
Like when I walk down the street…
Or sit with a friend…
Or sit by myself…
Or ride the bus…
Because it’s not enough that my skin has to do the miraculous work of gift wrapping all these organs. It’s not enough that this delicate skin has to be an organ unto itself and stay living. This skin, this delicate skin, no thinner than a few millimeters deep, must find itself continuously looked upon. Continuously commented upon. Continuously not entirely its own. And I wish I could give my skin the gift of skin.