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GENTLY USED by Olivia Holbrook

I sit outside on the hard concrete, feeling the cold seep through the fabric against my thighs, then through my skin, then to my bones. I hold the mug in my hands, they’re shaking. The warmth feels like something distant, warming my palms, making them sweat, while the air numbs my knuckles. And fingers. I see the light in the clouds, reflecting off of something that only my dilated pupils can see. It’s morning. But we’re still here, and I’m still seeing the patterns in the sky that are telling my brain, “you just might not make it to that dentist appointment later, babygirl.” He’s passed out on the couch inside. If I force my eyes away from the colors dancing in the sky and look through the glass, I can see his feet dangling off the end, his skin blending with the mahogany wood as my brain keeps the world melting and twisting. I turn back and try to stare up into the sun, trying to take in all of that blinding beautiful light with my eyes that are so black and so tired from seeing what isn’t really there.

We had dropped at midnight, the acrid taste seeping out from under my tongue. For some reason I had expected the paper to melt, I know paper doesn’t melt, but still my throat had been surprised as the little square, sapped of its chemicals, forced its way down. I look at my phone, nine fifty four am. It has been such a long night. I can feel every minute spent shivering, then curled up in bed, our bodies pressed together in the hope that somehow his skin against mine would force our muscles to relax, our jaws to unclench, the shivering to stop. I can feel those minutes like wrinkles embedded into my skin. I spent so much time looking at the skin. The transparent skin stretched tightly over the writhing, pulsing veins running along my palms, now safely hidden away against the hot ceramic inscribed with: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.

I look down at my shoulder. I see the grittiness of my skin, a tell tale sign that I have been sweating, covering myself in salt and life and God it has been such a long night. My eyes, so tired of seeing, but forced open from the drugs still flowing through my brain, land upon lines. Thin white scars, relics from a time when I had not yet learned how to love myself through the pain.

I think of an old denim jacket, hanging up in a thrift store, the edges frayed, the blue, once dark and saturated with indigo dye, faded to something soft, and just a little patchy. The seams are puckering, curling the edges of the collar, from that time, or all of those times, that someone decided to throw it in the dryer rather than waiting for the thick fabric to air dry, telling themselves that it would just make the jacket softer, no harm done. The kind of jacket that makes you go: “wow, you sure have been loved” which really means: “wow, someone took shit care of you.”

I look down at my shoulder, covered in sweat, and hair, and little, smooth, white lines that cut through the pores, and I feel at once all of the hands that have kneaded their way into my skin down to my bones.

I think of thin brown hands with tapering fingers that reach down to a place untouched and push their way through the delicate pink skin all the way up to my chest where they hold on to my heart, only a little bit too tightly, until they decide they don’t want to anymore. They squeeze before letting go, leaving fingerprints that stay embedded in the flesh to always remind me that these hands no longer want me. I think of fingers with skin like mine, just a little too pale to be beautiful, and nails covered with chipping black paint, running along my neck down to my chest with a gentleness that I have never felt in my life. These hands make me feel like porcelain. I think of hands known by sight but never by touch before now, before we are both a little bit broken.  These hands hit me and I learn that it is not safe to have skin made of porcelain when so many hands don’t know how to hold on to something without breaking it. I think of hands that are golden and covered in an ashy layer of chalk or salt. These hands are wide and strong and dig into the skin that I have turned into clay in the hope that it will not break again. They leave white fingerprints wherever they grab at me, trying to pull me closer without letting me get closer and I see that having skin like clay will only leave me shaped into something by hands that are not my own and I think that this might be worse than breaking.

I am the denim jacket, worn and faded and stretched by too many hands. My body, like all bodies, is used, not in the “you only used me for my body, you asshole” type of way, but in the way that makes old denim jackets so much more comfortable than new ones. I laugh as I look at the mug in my hands. How silly to suggest we could ever do anything in the bodies we are given other than to try to find ourselves.

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