My skin is a pale cloak draped over muscle and bone. A skeletal sheath wrapped taut round my body, makes me whole. Keeps me warm.
I examine the dark hairs that graze my arm like seaweed rooted to the ocean floor, combing whichever way the current guides.
Graceful, soft.
A fading tattoo, once black, now the color of midnight. It carries to another tattoo. Inked stained armor. The pattern of my cloak. Drenched in words and layers of memory. Three stars on my wrist ahuevo online, a reminder of freshman year in Tallahassee. Nights of tear stained phone calls wanting to throw in the towel, to take whatever combination of pills in the medicine cabinet that would offer stillness, nights of suffocating poetry, chiseled hymns of mourning.
A decade later, the serenity prayer crawls my entire forearm. It was the start of my recovery. I had been at an alumni AA meeting weeks after leaving rehab in Delray, when we recited the prayer together. The foundation of a transformative journey that will forever be branded above the darkest steps on the path.
This skin has been witness to the storm, walked through fire, the old friend who bares microscopic scars of time. My personal history unfolds through hieroglyphics depicting my past like a storybook. Time capsules paint my arms with shades of deeper meaning. A fearless shield from the outside.
Then the tiniest shadow of nothing. A black spec hidden in secret, tucked behind neatly combed seaweed. A spot on my armor.
I ran my finger over it. A slight, almost undetectable rise in the plane of flesh.
This dark gray bump, maybe the size of a pinpoint, now a growing ball of fire to my OCD. Eager fingers caress the newfound mystery again and again, parting fine hairs to reveal its full face.
A most perfect dot, a smudge of imperfection on a lifelong friend. Maybe a pimple or ingrown hair. I pick at it with my nail. Gently squeeze. Mounting frustration fuels my obsessive determination to vanquish the foreign body.
Set with a do-or-die intensity, I squeeze until a shooting pain peaks then coasts like a flag in the breeze. Time slows, sounds become a distant whir, as if the world is coated in rubber.
The final squeeze.
It was a sight that caught the breath in my lungs.
From out my body, out of my flesh, out of the insignificant blemish, swirled a thin black thread glistening against the light.
I continued to force an exit, aghast at the anomaly.
A worm danced from its tomb as if summoned by its snake charmer, twisting and writhing out until it lay, full body, on my wrist. A parasite burrowed beneath my protective shield.
I pick up the slimy, delicate creature as it curls mid-air. He was too small even for fish bait, a hook would split him straight in half. I threw the worm into the white porcelain bathroom sink and watched it twist and fold helplessly, before coiling then transforming to a solid black pebble. Hard, now still. As if it knew it had been caught and was ordered to self-destruct.
Those are the last images I remember before waking. Fragments of the dream have been burned in my mind.
I examine my wrist.
Of course there is nothing.
But maybe something, something a bit deeper. Something parasitic lodged within me – in my mind. Like tar clinging to my heart.
A feeling that might need to be released, a hope clung to with child-like recklessness, a defect of character ready for exposure. Maybe all of the above. But this spot I cannot squeeze – this worm I cannot toss into the sink. It has to be examined, felt, held on to with white-knuckle determination until the pain of ritual becomes too great.
Until the walls crumble.
Until the self is realized.
Exposed as a worm slithering in the sink.
Then the time comes to make a choice. To stand stagnant in fear of change – the comfort and confusion of what I know – or to walk blindly into the forest. To cross the line of boy and man, sufferance and acceptance. For even the truth is a lie until I digest it as my own.
These things I always wished to be. Award speeches I planned to give. Autographs I practiced signing. Desires I felt so sure were my written destiny, the chosen path laid in gold bricks before me. The famous actor, the great artist, acclaimed writer, the vampire slayer, mystical witch, tortured musician. So many worms crawling beneath my skin, cravings, the unfulfilled yearning for something earth shattering. My dent in the universe of Steve Jobs proportion. Of Buddha significance.
Because no matter how big – no matter the acclaim – there is always another hole to fill. A dream to pursue helplessly and woefully at the expense of every other being within my grasp. Because one is never enough and two is always one shy of three.
It is at the expense of me.
The present moment sacrificed for the great unknown. Worms within the House of Truth, an infestation of the mind. Of the soul self. Locked in a sepulcher by the sea with the beautiful Annabel Lee.
Until the return to an embrace, a reunion home to my silo with God and the authentic self. The oneness of love and eternal union with a vast, infinite ocean in which I submerge like a sponge.
The reconnection.
Today is my birthday.
I am thirty-two.
At twenty-nine I began writing again, worried about the oncoming of thirty. The worms slithering under my skin. Years later I have pulled one out. Maybe more than I know. And if someday, someday I rid my body of every last parasite, every hungry regret or desire unfulfilled, I fear I will find that nothing was there to begin with. That it was just my mind wandering outside of my inside. The place the boy rests within the arms of his mother, the arms of his father, the tattooed arms of his own secure establishment within himself. He followed breadcrumb trails in search of cake with no intention of going home. An insatiable appetite developed. And with every man, all craving grows to hunger the day we take that first Biblical bite.
Or something like that.
But there are worms in my skin as there are worms in even the most brilliant red apple.
A spot on my flesh.
The faintest shadow in a sparkling eye.