Silhouette of woman sitting with head bent with a sunset in the background

Skin Deep

Content warning: allusions to abuse

Originally published in Edition 6, 2018: Unfurl.

I stared at this blank document for approximately 35 minutes, typing, re-typing and backspacing starters to a 300-word poem that I thought could beautifully embody how I experienced trauma unfurling. I thought about how I could use white doves to symbolise how my innocence was taken away from me in a split second or use rotting tulip petals to depict the vehement redness of pain. I pondered ancient myths about wisdom and rejuvenation. I considered comparing my journey to the seasons or the process of snakes shedding their skin, to romanticise the temperamental nature of trauma. However, amid all my thoughts, I could not quite shake the fact that I had run out of ways to compare my own experiences with a mere metaphor, or how I could possibly limit my unravelling to a one-page document.

 

I have written a myriad of poems that I think embody how far I have come and when I thought about writing this piece, I knew another poem would be easy to write (suffice to say that writing poetry about what happened that night has become second nature). I read through my old poetry, seeking to find inspiration and a way to make this one stand out from the rest, maybe even a way to bid this part of my life farewell with some sort of a reflective poem, perhaps. But, this time was different to everything else. It wasn’t going to be confined to the safety of my $7 brown journal. It was to be published. I thought about how I could make you, the readers, grasp the process of undoing something that tainted every inch of my body. After pondering ways to write something worthy, nothing came to me – more so because I don’t think there is a metaphor or a short sweet poem that can make the process of renewing yourself sound beautiful. So here I am, unfurling myself to you.

 

I recall it being a normal Monday morning. I lathered myself in my favourite coconut moisturiser, chucked on my black tights and my jumper. But, after stupidly agreeing to meet him, my normal day turned into a nightmare. His fingers gutted me. With every plough, a part of me disappeared until there was nothing left inside me but corroded structures and emotions that I never properly digested. I no longer smelt like coconut, my black tights were not my own, my body was not my own.

 

I remember soaking myself in a boiling bath of hot water in attempt to rid myself of his smell. I soaked myself until my skin was numb. I pinched every inch of my wretched skin, starting from my legs slowly making my way up to my cheeks. I needed to assure myself that my body was my home and that I was okay; that I was whole. But that night, my body was not the humble abode I was comfortable in. Someone invaded it. He took away my solace. His silhouette festered within me, my mind infected by the sound of his voice.

 

I remember writing about it a month after. I tried to retrace the events, see where I went wrong or how I could have stopped it. I remember writing in red because I thought that accurately depicted the fire inside me. I questioned myself and for a very long time blamed myself. I remember tears flooded my journal every time I tried to write about it. But with every word and recount, I suddenly found that I could not recognise myself. I let this encounter define me.

 

In the months following, I became detached. I could not trust myself and questioned whether it even happened. I thought I knew the extent of confusion until I second guessed my own memory. My mind was incessantly at war with soldiers battling trying to resist the emotions and memories that festered within me. I could no longer carry the heaviness of my own thoughts. My body did not feel like my own. I could not let someone in without my insides churning. I tried to give him up, but I aimlessly tried to find a better version of him in everyone else. In an attempt to ‘heal’, I became both the abused and the user. I became a hospital for somewhat damaged people, attempting to fix their tainted hearts, to convince myself I was whole. But in doing so, I neglected my own sombre skin. After months of carrying the weight of melancholy over my delicate shoulders, I realised that I was not responsible for my own pain or for my own guilt.

 

Self-healing and growth is not something that I achieved in a week, not even six months. I have watched myself grow from a vessel who became more bone than skin, to a strong woman, able to withstand life’s hurdles. Just like the seasons, I found myself as dull and dismal as winter one moment but as radiant and colourful as autumn the next. My emotions once clustered like decaying tulips in the winter, but with every pang of anguish I felt, I removed the rotten petals, until there was nothing left but the mere silhouette of his memory. Every year since, I have shed my tainted and wretched skin. I have grown into a more nurturing and protective home, one with more skin than bone. A home that I can now call my own.