Sunday, 12 August 2012

25. The colour fades slowly

I am standing in the changing room of a lingerie boutique. The wallpaper is pearl grey and finely striped, with the sheen of satin. The floorboards are stripped, polished wood, covered with a red silk rug. There's a small window with four panes of glass and in the corner under it is a chaise-longue upholstered in gold and red. It is so clean, so well thought out, so rich the way the grey and the red and gold and the brown of the wood speak to each other. My uncared-for feet are red and purple and white on the beautiful carpet. I shouldn't be here.

But I can't help relaxing, feeling the softness of the silk strands against my ugly toes.

I look at myself in the mirror. I don't go with the room.

It's pretty hard to see yourself as a whole. I meet other people and see them as whole people, but when I look in the mirror I see my nose, my lips. My breasts, my eyes. But not how they go together, not me, the me that other people see. Every time I come close to seeing my body as a whole, the image fractures and splits into fragments.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? My own brown eyes. For years, I spent a considerable amount of energy blotting my memory of Matthew out of existence, to the extent where I did not consciously remember him at all. But one cannot live indefinitely in a state of denial. Just holding back Matthew was exhausting. It was so hard to repress him that I had no energy to do anything else. Eventually, as was inevitable, he got out.

I remember when I was 27, and first starting to sidle around the edges of acknowledging a memory I couldn't bear, there was a day when I couldn't meet my own eyes in the mirror. When I looked in the mirror they terrified me. They were the luminous, pitiless eyes of a wolf.

Three days later I remembered. Or rather, I allowed myself to consciously accept the reality of Matthew and everything that went with him.

I have had considerably better days.

When I was 30 I had the words Left 4 Dead tattooed on my left upper arm. I had it done in a graffiti font, one of the wildstyle fonts, so it looks good but is hard to read unless you concentrate. The outline is black and the letters are filled in blood red at the top. The colour fades slowly, disappearing completely halfway down the words.

(The tattooist was delicately tiny, her long bubblegum-pink hair tied back. Her eyes were full of concentration as the needle bit in, stinging hotly. Her arms were covered with ink, dragons made of flowers and women melting into flame. Her lip was pierced with a silver ring)

What else do I see when I look in the mirror? I see my plump rolls of  fat, the spider veins on my thighs. The grey hair at my temples. I see the white lines of scars on my right forearm, the marks of a self-harmer. That's one habit I have under control, at least. I haven't cut myself for years.

I see the glint of the steel ring through my right nipple. I see the fluff of hair at my crotch, which I carefully shave into a square once a week although I'm not sure why or who for. I see my fingernails painted cobalt blue. But I can't see myself.

What else do I see when I look in the mirror? I see that this pretty, frivolous pistachio-green bra, with its cream polkadots and its foamy lace, doesn't suit me. It looks grotesque next to my tattoo, my scars, my scared angry eyes. It's meant for someone else.

I take it off and thread it carefully back on to its wood hanger. I dress. I run my hands through my hair. I think how strange it is that we wrap ourselves in all these pieces of cloth and assume that somehow means we aren't essentially naked.

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