It was the summer of the lizards. None of the exotic, tropical green lizards that I remembered from my childhood, but ashy greys, dusty browns, toxic yellows and moist blacks. Prehistoric beasts shrunken down to miniature, flashing scarlet gizzards in their jerky mating displays.
That was the summer I began to feel like a lizard myself. I spent my days basking in the sunlight, trying to absorb as much brightness as I could. I think I was trying to bleach you away – like a medieval country wife laying the dank winter bedding atop the thatched roof, baking the badness out. I began to lose my hair and my skin started to crack and peel, a shedding of my former self. I hoped that the new pieces being revealed would be something glorious, an improvement. Evolution does propel us all forward, the broken-hearted and the lizard alike.
During this time of death and rebirth I found the part of me that I thought I had happily thrown out with the bathwater of my angry teen years. Instead I found her, that hopeful and irrepressible lady locked in stasis – my soul had preserved herself the way a child would wish, in a fairy tale slumber. Sadly, I did not know how to breathe her back to consciousness. I stared at myself, hands pressed desperately against the walls I had constructed to keep myself out and keep myself in. I needed me, and that was the most frightening realization of my life.
In the first days following our final words, my time was spent in an unfortunate haze of mind-numbingly routine tasks. There was joy to be found in the small spaces between the repetitions of the loops, but their relief was bright and quick – fireworks that made the darkness deeper in their absence. Wake up, try not to remember the warmth of your body. Dress and brush my teeth, try not to remember the sight of you in the bathroom mirror next to me. Make my coffee, try to forget the breakfasts you surprised me with on rare occasion. Take the dog for a morning walk, and banish the memory of your smile the day we brought our furry baby home. Go to work, submerge myself in spreadsheets and the inanity of a summer spent in education to keep you at bay. Return home, smother any wonderings of you with crime dramas and housework. I tried to clean you from the drains, from the drapes, from the curtains, from the comforter. My home, not our home I reminded myself, had never been cleaner, smelt fresher and I had never been more insensible to it.
It was during these cleanings that I noticed the first crackings of my skin. It began innocently enough with the webbings between my fingers and the tops of my knobbly toes that you always remarked were exceptionally long – hobbit feet, if I remember correctly, it’s hard to tell these days. The shedding was unremarkable at its early stages. The cocoa butter lotion I kept well-stocked appeared to eliminate any trace of its existence so long as I sat still, quiet, passive and complacent. Every time I picked up a scrub brush, a hammer, any instrument of change, the flaking would begin again. The hardest time for me was when I began to lose my hair. Thick strands of brown curls loosened from my scalp, bundles of dead and dying hair clogging the shower until I was standing in a shallow, stagnant, and tepid pool of soapy water. Between my balding head, and my red, sore and scabby skin I truly believed that given enough time I would be qualified to join a travelling side-show circus. A medical malady turned freakish marvel.
I wept that night. Great-big-fat tears I cried. At first I wasn’t sure what I was crying for, but that night I realized that I cried for my broken heart, for that part of myself sleeping on the far side of my defenses. I sobbed for the memories that I had lived with you and those that I hadn’t. I cried for our children who would now never exist, I cried for the wedding dress that hung in my closet and for the tan line that I wore on my left ring finger. I mourned the death of the remaining shreds of my youthful naïveté, I cried because I knew in that moment that I would never trust another so fully, that I was no longer capable of giving so wholly and freely. I sighed over the last kiss we shared, and how I could not have known that it was to be our last. I cried for all the kisses that I had saved for you, each one cataloged and waiting with their butterfly flutterings, terrified at the thought that they now may or may not be claimed by another. I cried for so many things, for the bittersweetness of the past, and for the murkiness of the future. I cried the tears of the frightened and unsure child and the bereft and bitter tears of the betrayed woman.
And as I cried, my body shed and flaked until all that was left was a hollowed and raw figure. My fingers traced the smooth heat of my hairless head, and they traced the sunken planes of my cheeks and sockets. The new skin was tender and tentative to my touch, as sensitive as an infant’s. This time when I came to that wall seeking that other half of me, I did not press and I did not stamp my feet and huff my breath in frustration. I had accepted that this may be all that there was to my new existence, that maybe that part of me was always to be a memory, an eternal mausoleum of the soul. I was content to be still and content to let time heal the things that I could not.
I do not know how long I sat, nor do I know how many days I returned to the unchanged sight of that poignant scene, but I began to find peace. I began to speak to myself, whispering the secrets that I had held so deeply in my heart that I forgot them at the bottom of my love for you. I told that frozen face of my many mistakes and my many shames, of my fury and resentment and of the trio of my newest scars. I told her of my triumphs and I even told her about you. How we had loved so passionately, how we had laughed at one another and ourselves in the orange light of the fall sun, and how we had planned to promise ourselves to each other in that same sun, and how promises can be broken even by those in whom we house the best of ourselves.
Each day brought a new fact, a new story, a new truth and I whispered them, sang them, and shouted them at that wall. I never questioned whether my stoic self could hear me through the barrier, it was enough to believe that she could. My hair had started growing in, a softer and lighter brown, the curls still inclined to go askew. My skin had toughened and no longer pained me. It looked duskier and felt more velvety than I remembered. It was the skin of the well-traveled.
Finally, the lizard summer drew to a close. The black, yellow, grey, and brown streaks in the grass and sidewalks had slowly vanished into the rich loam of the planter boxes and bayous. The light had mellowed, and the fierce baking of the sun no longer seared my flesh, but soothed and smoothed the tangles. The day had come when all that I had left to say was the simplest truth. I was not whole without the piece of me living, unmoving behind the thin partition.
Quietly I spoke the words that had eluded me throughout this season of change, “May I come in?”
For the first time in all the many months since I had discovered her, she slowly opened her eyes and scooted herself upward on her bed. She looked at me, a small, warm smile on her face, “I’ve been expecting you.”