I have words on my skin. Years worth of language, loved and jealously guarded.
The first time I read the word ephemeral, I couldn't bring myself to look away from the page. I traced every letter slowly with my finger, trying to burn it onto my brain. Trying to, somehow, indelibly associate it with myself. It was so beautiful that I simply wanted it. I wrote it on my arm for a few days, over and over with a black felt-tipped pen, but somehow it was never quite enough. I wanted that word with as much desire and longing that an eight year old could muster. So, one evening after dinner, I unscrewed the blade from my Mickey Mouse sharpener and cut it into my thigh. E-P-H-E-M-E-R-A-L. After that, there was no turning back.
For my tenth birthday, I had a star-shaped cake with white icing and chocolate sprinkles, and a party for all my friends. There were silver balloons that bounced slightly against the ceiling, and a sign that spelled out 'Happy Birthday' in red, green and yellow. I didn't wear the new dress my mother bought for me because it had a v-neck, and if you looked closely enough you could see the first two letters of reverie slowly healing under my collarbone. Propinquity and lugubrious followed in quick succession, and by August I couldn't go anywhere without a cardigan on.
My dad lost his job when I was in high school, and we had to move. My mum lost her big kitchen and her quick, cheery laugh. My grandmother lost her free healthcare privileges and the pastor who dropped by every Tuesday just to listen to her. My little sister lost her front tooth and the tooth fairy. Me, I never lost anything. I was a skinwriter and no one could take what I loved away from me.
My teenage years were fairly predictable, with a flurry of likes, hates and loves. Esurient on my hip and vapid on my chest. A heart that broke far too often. Friends who came and went. Looking back now, I wonder why my mother never noticed anything. All the tiny pinpricks of blood my clothes had. Those quick tugs at my sleeve to hide the clumsily etched translucent on my arm. My stubborn insistence on always being fully clothed. She should have known.
I moved away from home after school, and joined a university in the neighbouring town. For a while, there were no words. Then a bent safety pin and I sat together in the dark and scratched lachrymose onto my wrist after my father's funeral. Erudite after I passed second year Maths, and luminous for that wonderful, wonderful boy who thought my words and I were beautiful.
Exacerbate. Profane. Stanza. Quagmire. So many years, so many memories.
Growing up isn't that sudden, dramatic change you think it will be when you are a child. It slowly creeps in. Seeps in. You eventually become the person you are now, and everything else starts to feel like someone else's life. Scars fade, you forget. But every now and then, the silvery outline of a favourite word on my skin takes me back.
[an editor's favorite, 2011]
Manisha Anand lives in London and excels at being a starving writer, trying (rather hopelessly) to find enough part-time jobs to pay the rent. Having an MA in Creative Writing doesn't seem to help matters at all, drat. Anand's writing has appeared in the anthology LiveJournal: The First Decade, Assembly Journal, and various post-its here and there.