You feel your skin on you, separate. Your skin, an inheritance. Your skin, worn over your bones like papier-mâché. Worn out from self-abuse, overuse, overexposure. Worn out in public, over and over again. Your skin, a hand-me-down coat you have long grown out of. Snug around your lungs, coming apart at the seams.

You touch at your back and neck, longing for a zipper. Some sort of grinding-teeth mechanism interlaced together, able to be unzipped, slipped off and discarded like so many articles of clothing you sometimes find by the wayside of a swimming pool or half-buried at the beach. Soaking wet, balled up, then forgotten. Or maybe stripped of its itchy suffocating material, kicked aside and at last, liberated.

You desperately want to do this with your skincoat, if only you could reach the damned zipper…

You are sitting on the edge of a swimming pool at an apartment complex. Legs submerged in water. Hot concrete on butt, wedged into the back of knees. Blood cells spin in bleached pools beneath your eyelids.

You feel the sun sit on your bare shoulders, thick and heavy in its weight, perched like a small child on fire.

You feel its tiny hands blot out your eyes; its little legs choke out your throat.

You feel overcome by white, summer sun. And yet suddenly you are comforted, for the moment, by the truth that at least your body is being touched, is being embraced, even if only by flames.

You look down to see a small shadow. There is a butterfly likewise sunbathing beside you, slowly clapping together its wings.

You want to reach out and touch it, just to see if you can. But you’ve heard about the natural oils of human hands being so heavy on butterfly wings that to touch them, for even just a second, is enough to weigh them down so that they can never fly again.

You imagine what it would be like to be a butterfly and never fly again—to have your identity stripped and be reduced to just “butter,” a subdued puddle.

You imagine melting yourself down into a soft, viscous liquid to fill the mold of a body that is any body but yours.

You imagine basking here in direct sun, waiting patiently for however long it takes for your skin to bake, to burn, to curl up and back like a pastry until you can peel it off, layer by subcutaneous layer, and unearth another you buried inside your gooey red center, and repeat this process with him—and his other, over and over again—and don’t stop until you reach the softest, most indivisible homunculus hidden deep within you, and stand you both in front of each other, and be the first ever to recognize what it truly means to know yourself, from the inside-out—to recognize that sometimes, true self-awareness can make you hate yourself that much more.

You imagine giving yourself skin cancer like a gift, stolen from your aunt’s coatpockets and stuffed fully into yours—an alternative means to keeping your hair short, an excuse to quit your job, to move back in with your parents to recover without feeling like a total failure.

You imagine lying down in a bed and never getting up again. Your body tossing and turning into one big bruise—an alternative means to tan skin, only pretending to fight off this disease, secretly cheering on what the sun started but could not finish, you are sinking deeper, and sinking deeper, and sinking deeper, laughing the whole way down.

You imagine inhabiting a life you didn’t wish was drastically different—an alternative everything.

You imagine being reborn into a coat always out of style, always in scrutiny. Imagine browsing the coat rack before moving onto the next life and picking out any other skincoat than the one you’ve just owned: white, male, straight, slim-fit. Imagine a life in which suffering isn’t sought for the sake of art, in which heartache isn’t thought of as cure for boredom, in which misery isn’t worn on your wrist like a fashion statement but is embedded in your body like an organ, as involuntary as a reflex. Imagine occupying a space outside the center of our social system: a white son born into this world out of luck, out of lightness, out of a gravitational pull of strings—that which situates you at the center of social discourse, that which has given you a voice box raised up to a platform to speak from, to speak for, to speak over those who are forced to revolve around the gravity of your actions and words, that which has systematically twisted their skincoat into a straitjacket, has continuously reduced their voice box to a cage.

You imagine this all, even though you can’t. Even though you don’t really have to. Because your skincoat protects you from ever having to acknowledge any pain outside of your own. Protects you like a coat of armor, and of arrogance, and of ignorance as to what it is to be born marked like a target, only to be buried in a statistic, to be chalked up to an isolated incident kept isolated from other isolated incidents, to be shrugged off by those who do not reflect you but will still represent you as someone who should’ve known better than to walk home drive home be alone at night or be alone at all. What are you even saying? Why are you even saying anything? Who the hell do you think you are?

You feel your skin on you, separate.

You feel your privilege in you, inherent.

You look down to see a small shadow.

You feel overcome by white, summer sun.

Stephen Wack

Stephen Wack

Stephen Wack is a graduate from UGA where he studied Neuroscience and worked briefly as an intern at the university’s literary journal, The Georgia Review. He has been the featured reader at multiple events in his town of Athens, as well as hosts a local, monthly open-mic night, Goetry. In February, Stephen self-published his second chapbook, Loneliness & Other Human Endurances (haha, etc.), a collection of auto-biographical prose and poetry navigating a wide variety of human hardships. His work has recently been published in A Quiet Courage and the Linden Avenue Literary Journal.
Stephen Wack

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