“Take it Off” by Evan Rodenhausen

It’s odd. I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve been here for a very long time, as long as I can remember, as long as anyone can remember, but it’s never felt like this before. It’s never felt like all of the pieces are the trappings of someone else. It’s never felt like that before. 

It’s odd. 

Let me try it this way. Let me start by saying that it’s not normal. I see plenty of people walking around who seem just fine. They don’t seem uncomfortable. I remember a time when I didn’t seem uncomfortable either. I remember a time when I didn’t think about zippers. Or how to get one of dad’s fishing hooks out of the shed without him noticing. 

Something about me is different, though. Something about mine is different. Maybe it’s wrong. Maybe they gave me the wrong one when I was born. 

Let me explain: I can’t control the temperature. I can’t be cool when I want to be cool, or warm when I want to be warm. Last night, I was under a very large amount—a copious amount, we’ll say—of blankets. Large thick ones spun from wool. And I couldn’t stop shivering. 

It wasn’t the blankets, you can bet on that. You should understand that. It was the skin. It was letting in all of the cold air. I tried to squeeze it shut, but it doesn’t seem to like when I do that. 

How about this: one morning, very early one morning—I tend to rise early in the morning—I got up and stripped down to my skin. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror hanging from the door. I even had the lights on. 

I wiggled the fingers and toes. 

Rotated the arms, stuck out my tongue, and blew. 

The noises seemed to come out of me, but that made sense. My tongue isn’t the problem. The earholes, the nostrils, even the eyes. Those aren’t the problem. I understand this. 

So I just stood there and watched myself be very still in the mirror, under the bright lights. Waiting for the skin to slip. For a draft to catch a loose flap of fat that hadn’t been fitted quite right, and make it quiver. For one of my eyes to droop because the pocket of skin that holds it in isn’t quite right. 

Isn’t quite mine. 

I wonder who has mine. 

But that’s no matter for me. The matter for me is getting out of the one that fits all wrong. It’s like balloons filled with meat have been fitted around my fingerbones. The nose looks deflated. Some days the cheeks flab and sag, and the skin spills out in folds like shelves of viscous lava. Some days my face leaks from a thousand tiny holes. The same tiny holes that let the cold air in.

Other people’s skin fits them just fine. It doesn’t crater and bleed like mine does. It doesn’t rip open like mine does. It doesn’t fall apart like some wasted thing like mine does. 

Some days I’m able to slice it open. I can see my true self hiding in there. 

I want to take it off. 

It’s not mine. 

But when I try to—like that morning in the bathroom—people stop me. They get in my way. They even scream sometimes. 

But this thing is so tight or so loose or so wrong, and they don’t know. Their skin fits just fine. I looked for the zipper, because it must be a zipper, but I couldn’t find it. No matter how I contorted, no matter how I twisted. When Mom found me, I had my legs bent and knotted and my arms craned back and was tearing at the skin at the tip of my spine.

 Maybe it’s buried back there. 

But I don’t think so. I think I have to make my own. I have this sharp hook from one of Dad’s fishing lines, and I just need to get it in the right place. That sweet spot at the very tippy top of my spine. 

Get the angle. Hook it in. Zip. 

Slip right out.

I’ll be free.

Evan Rodenhausen lives in Philadelphia, PA, where he works in immigration law and advocacy. A graduate student at Arcadia University, he is currently writing his master’s thesis on Calvin and Hobbes.

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