I was always afraid of bones. I knew what skeletons looked like and I knew where bones were meant to be, I just didn’t quite realise that I had any. The only time I’d seen the shape of a skeleton was when I glimpsed it at the back of a biology classroom, standing partially hunched forwards, its jaw hanging and its teeth naked in an uneasy smile. It wasn’t difficult to look at, that way. They weren’t real bones. It was an ornament to move and measure and observe. Its plastic existence was far away from my own.
When I first saw the bones that belonged to me I was scared. First my knee caps, that had always been somewhat visible and rounded, had become sharpened into squares that jarred into the strip beneath my skin whenever I tried to climb the stairs. Then it was the bloated column of my backbone that people could feel when they wrapped their arms around me. Every time, I would recoil like their touch had intruded on a part of my interior assembly that was never supposed to be visible. I took off my clothes and looked in a mirror, blinking at my body which was only a skeletal statue, not wanting to believe something like this moved inside me. Hip bones reached out like two white palms. My jaw was so angled I felt like I could detach it from my head and there would be no flesh to tear. Every part of me was chiselled away, filled with hollow concaves that hurt to press.
Another face lay beneath my own. I wondered who it was. Why it had decided to come and say hello.
This morning, it is two years later. I took a shower, and slid my hands over my shoulders. It was the same action I had done twice before, running my hands across my shoulders towards my forearm and back again, feeling the smooth, unstoppable slope of flesh underneath the water.
It had been my shoulders I had missed the most when I became a skeleton, oddly. I’d never looked at my shoulders before. They were just things I had, things I slipped t-shirts over, things I scratched, rubbed, pinched. I didn’t realise I could lose them until I rubbed my hand across them one day and felt none of the cushiony skin that I was certain had always been there. Instead there was only bone, protruding proudly from its nook of non-existence. I fingered the crook where the end of my clavicle had forced its way out. My shoulder had eroded from a neat slope to a cliff drop, and it was taking every other part of me down with it. For so long this bone had been invisible, now there it was. It was so ugly to touch that I almost vomited. I grabbed a cardigan and wrapped it tightly around my arms, wondering if I would ever keep them or if they were destined to be chipped away too.
This morning I remembered the first time I was brave enough to touch them again. I remember feeling its curve, smooth like the stroke of a paintbrush. My hand went all the way down my arm and I clutched onto my own fingers, squeezed them. I couldn’t stop feeling my own skin, the fullness of it, the softness of it. The flesh that for so long had dropped from my body every time I took a step was coming back. I was returning.
Today, I try to understand my relationship with bones. I stand in the mirror and wonder where they have disappeared to, perhaps somewhere underneath the soft cushioning that now knocks into tables and squashes against chairs. At times, I wonder maybe if by discovering myself I am destroying someone else I could’ve been. I will never know.
The only thing I know is that I have fallen in love with my shoulders. My shoulders that ache from tension as I hunch over computer screens, that slave over tote bags full of paperbacks, that I now let get kissed by the sun in clothes I’m not scared to wear. They hurt me, but the tremble that crept its way down my body when they came back was nothing I will feel from someone else ever again. No-one will ever know why their outline is so important to me. No-one’s touch will ever compare. I can never have a lover so full of joy for my being as much as I was able to fall in love with this little part of myself.
I try and recreate this passion but it never works. I try to extend it to other things, but it is a sensation I cannot replicate. All I know is that I want everybody to feel like this. Even for a day. Even for an hour. About one tiny part of themselves. I want love like this to be everywhere because too many people don’t know it exists. Too many people think they need to rise from ashes, bloom like a flower, strip themselves from their old skin until they have achieved a mythic-like metamorphosis. But you can achieve love how you are and as you are. I wish I could know this myself.
It’s okay to love the touch of your skin, watch it brighten in the sunlight.