Sunday, May 26, 2013

Breaking Skin

I’ve been breaking skin.  Since last week at work, when I slashed open my forearm, scraping it midway between elbow and wrist, against the chipped edge of the kitchen shelf. I was reaching for something.  I can’t remember what because the pain seared up my spine with such speed that everything in me gasped and I left the kitchen empty handed, mesmerized by my injury. The skin had folded back on itself and there was a smooth white layer of untouched flesh. I watched, troubled and intrigued, as the swollen island leisurely beaded with blood.

That was the first.

A day later, at home, I was opening a can of olives, the green Trader Joe’s can with the pop-tab-pull that always makes me think of sardines. While I’ve never actually opened a can of sardines those lids always seem safer than the wrinkled-ragged edge a can-opener leaves flappingly attached, a malicious and menacing magnet. Maybe it was the illusion of safety that caught me unsuspecting.  The sweat of my surprise flew up my body to my brain as frantically as green olives flooded the floor.

The olive episode involved only one Hello Kitty Band-Aid and the comfort of seeing red seep through Hello Kitty’s fair face. The slash on my forearm required two floral Cynthia Rowley Band-Aids, a generous daub of Neosporin and exceptionally careful placement.  Band-Aids are measurable, they offer precise evidence of damage done, and you can push on the pain periodically and chart the progress of your recovery.

The third. Smacking a bottle of Paul Mitchell against my palm, to coax the mockingly thick thickening conditioner, I was left with a half moon hack in my hand, a woeful foreboding, and a bruise on my foot where the unkind bottle landed.

I actually prefer bruises, even though they may ache more than a clean cut.  They communicate clearly, like a mood ring, and entail no additional attention. Bruises are merely colorful creatures that remind you to slow down and eventually move along leaving you unmarred. Breaking skin is a whole other animal.

The rest. Not warranting their own number, three scraped knuckles opening a pack of batteries, a scratch on the side of my face from my own car door, a ripped cuticle reaching into the glove compartment, a gash above my knee from yesterday’s hike, just a fallen branch that reached out and bit me. More blood, nothing all that dramatic, no tears. All of these, the numbered and not, just areas of flesh that, if accidently brushed against, might bring a minor flash of surprise.

So this morning, before I shower, I pull off all my Band-Aids. I feel the prickles as the adhesive takes some hair.  As I examine my wounds, I am pleased by the improvements. I call out to David because he is the best spectator. My forearm still looks like an island, but more like the Hawaiian Islands, raised and scabbed and healing.  The scratch on my face is barely there and the half moon has healthily hardened. I show him my knee and remember standing at the peak of Mount Islip less than twenty-four hours ago. I say to David, as I do every day after we’ve hiked, “Kerry would be blown away if he knew I was hiking, he would be crazy proud.”

I did not intend to inspect this wound as well.

The sting of hot water on broken skin is entirely bearable. 
The sting of brokenness, immeasurable, unseen, is less so.

Mount Islip, 8521'

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


From where I sit I can see just inside his shirt collar.

The pressed cotton corners graze his cleanly shaved chin when he tilts his head to read his newspaper.

I imagine the texture of newsprint against his fingers, and stop to notice mine. I see black ink on my fingers too and it makes me shiver.

Inside his collar I see a silver chain – not chain really, it’s one of those silver chords, made up of little balls of metal, like the kind you slip onto luggage handles and fasten by snapping one of the balls into a groove, a pinched piece of metal. 

How to describe this?


It’s the kind of chain you see on dog tags. Army.  Military tags, not pet dogs.
Well I guess pet dogs too.


I see the chain inside his shirt collar, against his smooth skin and I think of his flesh against the metal,

and then I think of flesh against metal all over the world,

and newsprint on fingers and shivers and collars tight around necks, shaved and unshaved,

and metal scraping and squeezed, dented and misshapen for any number of reasons, by any number of forces,

and blackened skin and fingertips,

all over the world. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


I’m sitting at a stoplight heading east on Wilshire. In my periphery I see a khaki clad twenty-something plugged into his iPod distinctly floating down the street. He’s a good five inches off the pavement, barely tethered to this plane, music coursing through his blood.

I know this guy. More precisely, I know the 16 year old kid he used to be. Gratefulness lifts the corners of my lips as a memory solidifies….

July 2006. I’m in Chicago texting David to get that wax stuff for my ears so I don't bust an eardrum. I’m afraid the concert will make my ears bleed and I’ll go deaf, because it can happen. He texts back "Saw line of teenagers form around 3." Oh. Teenagers will be there.

We decide to go late, skip the opening bands. I've taken three Aleve because I'm fending off a migraine and the Aragon has shitty sightlines and the Aragon has shitty acoustics and maybe I shouldn’t go.

Cars are crammed into any conceivable space so we park blocks away. My clothes stick to my skin in the muggy evening air. We round the corner onto Lawrence Avenue and walk past the Riviera. Ah, the Riv! ‘Remember the time when...” We start swapping stories and something shifts, muscle memory, we lengthen our stride.

The ballroom is body-to-body, air thick with expectancy. Bypassing the main floor, we head to higher ground, snaking our way, until we're house left balcony, with a pretty great view.

By the time the lights go out I can imagine being nowhere else.

Midway through the concert, I see him. A boy, with a tidy haircut, crazytall for his age, wearing a pure white T-shirt. He stands out in the rolling sea of bodies below. With hands pressed together, as if in prayer, his head sways side to side in disbelief. He is so much taller than those around him. Maybe that's why he stands out, but I don't think so. Somehow, he is just more. With a soulful desperation and a childlike awe, he is going to a deeper place, and it seems, being soothed and rocked beyond any of us.

At unpredictable moments he throws his hands straight up, hyper-extends his elbows and shoots his fingers toward the stage. When the lights skip across the crowd they rest on him an extra breath and he is illuminated. He doesn't quite jump when the crowd collectively jumps. He is separate from this organism, disconnected from mass, directly plugged-in.

Alternately, his hands slide down his face, clenched in fists or stopping to cup his jaw. He grabs the crown of his head, fingers catching in his hair, he pulls.

I can only look for so long, it’s too intimate. I’m stealing into his chest, absorbing something that isn’t mine. And besides, I'm not here to observe or stand aside. I'm here to pry open my ribs, let the lights linger on me, hyper-extending my own heart.

And then they play Hysteria.

And then I pull the wax from my ears.