I catch sight of myself in a mirror on a Sunday morning, with dark circles under my eyes and my hair a mess of untamed waves. My naked face, with its freckles, crow feet and laugh lines, doesn’t look at all like I remember it — I’ve got fine hairs on my cheeks and when I smile, my eyes crinkle. There’s a scar and three skin tags on my neck.
When I brush my teeth, the two lines between my brows furrow. When I wash my hands I notice that they are as strong and square as ever, but the veins are more prominent and the skin is looser.
Naked in front of the mirror, I am sundark, timescarred and agesoft. I am a woman of Skin and Soul. Skin/soul. Skinsoul.
I am a dichotomy of memory and being. I am the sharp collar bones, long rows of ribs, and jutting hips of my youth. I am also the full breasts, protruding belly and thick thighs of womanhood.
I am nineteen on the inside, nearing fifty on the outside, and most days I don’t feel a minute over 25 except in experience.
It’s a sweet trick my soul plays: A sleight of years, a vanishing decade or two or three. You will go on, my soul says to me, feeling young and often innocent. You will keep dreaming the biggest of dreams and believing in the most fantastic things, because you are my child and you will always be younger than me.
Skin, though, refuses the heady smoke of the soul and faces the mirror head-on. It wants to be recognized for its long history of accommodation. For the many times it has been stretched around the twin swells of pain and joy, and been pushed to its limits by circumstance and choice. For the thousands of hopes and burdens it has carried — the stillborn dreams it has grieved and the living ones it has nurtured — for all that it has raised up, clung to, chased after, let go of and run away from, skin wants to be acknowledged. For all the joys it has housed, the secrets and fantasies it has harbored, and all the loved ones it has sheltered like a protective mother, skin wants to be honored.
Skin says remember. These age marks and accidental scars, these generous arms, thick hips and wide feet have lived through the experiences that helped create soul.
Skin carries the handprints of rage and violence as well as the fingerprints of tenderness and affection. It is layered in sensate memories of love and cruelty, vulnerability and passion, beautiful wants, desperate needs, and thousands of human-to-human connections.
Skin has been warmed by lovers who have been accepting of its faults — who found solace in its uneven planes, tender breasts and soft belly — who have kissed the calloused palms that caressed their faces, rested their heads on the slopes of weary shoulders, or settled into the open arms that held them while they slept.
Skin has offered up comfort to children, friends, and even strangers. It has been a sanctuary and a blessing and, on occasion, a prison and a curse. It’s been shunned, starved and humbled. Sought out, desired and lusted after. It’s been burnt, cut, scraped — but it’s also been healed, bathed and cherished. It has forgiven everything but time and forgotten nothing except, on occasion, its own limits.
The soul and skin together hold all the stories of the human world — stories, that if laid out feeling by feeling, touch by touch, word by word, could fill the bookshelves of heaven and hell and all the spaces in-between.
The skin-soul of the heart has been filled up and deflated so many times that it’s become a thing of lightness, a blood red cloud hanging in a colorful sunset to be lit or cooled as it pleases, shifting as it needs to either bask in the waning sun or seek refuge behind the mountains.
I am not the woman I ever imagined I’d be, but now that I’m here, face to face with a mirror on a Sunday morning, feeling both old and young, wise and naïve, experienced and innocent, I think this must have been the plan all along. To be not too much of one thing or the other — to neither fly too high or be grounded too long, but to give equal time to both body and spirit. To dream as well as to do. To learn to live skinsoul instead of skin/soul.