I sit cross-legged with Nate on the grass in the field behind my house, under the 4 p.m. clouds that are slowly covering the sun. I am in a pair of blue shorts, way above my knees so that three-quarters of my thighs are out, and a white bandage top that only covers my boob area.
“You’ve changed,” she says, looking my way, and pushes my dreadlocks out of my face.
I sigh, and let the rays of sun fall on my face. I know why she says I have changed; she cannot see traces of you in me. But I don’t say it. I want to hear what words she will use to describe this change she says she sees. This change that has brought her more than four hundred kilometres to me. This change that has brought her to me, two years since we last saw each other. This change that has her speaking in hushed tones, as if she is afraid I have finally found my voice. That I am dwelling in my power, and is afraid I might crush her.
I wait, and wait, and wait, but her words remain stuck in her throat. Only that her eyes wander to my bare things, the bare skin of my stomach, my arms, and her eyes linger a little too long on my bare skin.
I tell her I feel most alive when my skin shows. I didn’t know how much power my skin held, until one time HH looked at me and said, “You have such a beautiful body, I don’t know why you keep drowning it in these huge clothes.” Then, on the first day I wore a slightly revealing crop top, HH looked at me in awe and said, “I hope you stay like this, forever.”
I do not tell Nate about the hours I spent in bed crying that night, realizing how much I had not seen myself for years. How I had forgotten to let my skin out, and walk with this bareness out in the sun. I do not tell her how the weight of this knowledge showed me that it was not only my skin I had been hiding, but also all the storms that used to rage within me.
I do not tell tell Nate how I feel lighter nowadays, even in spirit, as if getting rid of the heavy clothes also stripped me of shame, guilt, and fear that used to live within me. That my spirit is calmer, stronger, at more peace, every time I let my skin out. That happiness finds a new dwelling place within me with every inch of my skin that directly meets the sun’s rays.
But I tell her how all this veiling started, a couple of years ago, with you. With you first making subtle comments about my body. My arms are not fleshy enough. Sometimes I look like a man. Why are my knees like that? Is that all the thighs I have? My God, is that your whole chest? Why does my neck shake a lot? Why are my fingers like this? Why, why, why, until my reflection in the mirror started to bring me to tears. Until I broke every mirror in my house, and I began hating any form of light that would make people see me. Until I started covering everything of me that had skin.
I tell Nate how, slowly, the shame and covering moved from physical to emotional. So that your questions changed to Why are you this loud? Why do you laugh like that? Do you have to have an opinion about everything? Why do you speak to all those people? You cannot do those things you say you can; stop being unrealistic. It is not that you know much, you just don’t know when to not talk. This is not a job you have; it is not something you speak about loudly.
I tell Nate how you always followed each of these statements with a chuckle, first, then a sarcastic laughter, before rubbing my back and saying, “Don’t be mad; the truth hurts sometimes.”
So that with time, I began covering my spirit in shame. I shrank within myself. I let go of the power of my tongue. I stopped listening to my intuition. My voice, and laughter, sounded too ugly in my ears, so I stopped speaking and laughing. I covered myself in darkness, so much that I became accustomed to it. That my heart and soul knew nothing that was happy, or calm, or sweet, or powerful.
I tell Nate how I didn’t know how far these wounds had cut. That I didn’t know it was abnormal living this life as if I was walking under shadows, until that afternoon in HH’s living room when he unknowingly opened my eyes. How his words lifted the veil off my head, the lid off my eyes, and opened the windows of my heart and soul. That I didn’t how the taste of freedom, and power, and love, until HH looked at me and said, “I have never seen a body as beautiful as yours.”
I am crying by the time I finish speaking, because even I cannot believe that I stayed under your shadow for that long. That I allowed myself to believe everything you said to and about me. That I wallowed in self pity and shrank myself, just because you said so. I cannot believe all those years, I had so much power within me, but didn’t know how to harness it.
I am crying because I know you saw the power in me way before I did, and you did all you could to make sure I didn’t see it.
I am crying because Nate tried to tell me, but either I was too afraid of the uncertainty, or I was too deep in the murky waters.
“I am glad you see it now,” she says as I bring my knees to my chest, and bury my face in my palms.
HH calls just as the setting sun’s orange bathes my skin, and Nate chuckles a soft “what a cute face!"