Sensitive child. That’s what I’ve heard about me. I’d sit on the porch, eating apple slices and watching the squirrels grab fallen acorns off the lawn, or bury them there for later. They spring from one spot to another in a series of perfectly semi-circular arcs, and then come to a stop, sniffing the air, heads darting around before bouncing away to the next spot. I’d take a sip of lemonade and watch a couple of the bushy-tailed creatures chase each other around the trunk of the big oak tree. Eventually, my gaze would settle on a squirrel, gray with tawny streaks, that sits and gnaws on an unidentifiable piece of something it holds in its tiny paws. The longer I watch, the more I focus on its delicate features: the joints in its arms, the black expressionless eyes, the teeth.
As if undressing the squirrel with my eyes, my mind starts at its teeth and peels back its skin in a rotten black slough. Paws become rigid, and curl up like dried oak leaves. The bones in those delicate joints jut through a matted mass of fur. The eyes now convey only surprise and horror. Feeling ill, I retreat back into the house, leaving the cool spring breeze behind.
In the bathroom, I lean my head against the mirror and stare down into the sink, not because I’m going to be sick, but because it beats looking at anything living. If I look at myself, I’ll only end up deconstructing my own features to match those of the squirrel, who had long ago hopped away in search of more food. If I look up now, I’ll be looking directly into my own eyes. I’ll see the fibrous sunburst of my irises not as a part of me, but just as a part–an object removed from context, ultimately flawed and perishable.
I can jump off the roof, crash my bicycle, and test the perishability of the context, but woe unto me should I focus on the minute for even a minute. Big cuts will bleed, staining clothes beyond the purview of ice and soda water, and thorns will sit in a fleshy pincushion, waiting to be plucked out, but these things are right and good. They are life itself. It’s the uneven fingernail scratching the skin–a subtle reminder that below the fragile covering are bones just awaiting a good bleaching in the sun–which makes the spine tingle and the mind spiral into oblivion.