‘Did you never wear clothes when you were a kid?’
Every photo, I’m running naked in sunshine, clothed in fresh air. But I remember the day I climbed a tree to grab the rope swing. My dress got stuck as I launched, and I was left stuck, hanging in mid air with my bottom half kicking, naked. My friends below circled, laughing. Discovering shame for the first time, I burned.
I modelled mostly for groups. You sit and fix your eyes on a spot on the floor, and eventually start to hallucinate. It’s hard work, physical labour. Your muscles hurt. Dead legs. Pins and needles. But the money’s good.
In class, when the model is changing, everyone averts their eyes. It’s in the transition between clothed and unclothed that one is really naked. When nude, it’s fairly easy to become an object, make your body a face; breasts as eyes, cunt a mouth, like a Magritte painting. You assume a blank expression.
I’ve painted beautiful people, and people I thought ugly to the point of repulsive. Men, women. Kristeen with the blonde frizz and acres of rolling fat. Andrew with his greasy leer, beer belly and occasional erection. There’s never been a person, a body, I’ve not wanted to draw. Every one is fascinating. Everyone is just an arrangement of lines and colours. We all reflect the light differently, that’s where the interest lies.
I dig into the oil-slick palette, come up for air hours later with my hands covered in gore. Trying so hard to X-ray the subject, to look under the skin, it’s only when you face the audience you realise it’s your own guts you’ve hung up on the line.
They gave me a spinal which numbed me from my heart down. I couldn’t inhale properly. I asked one of the women in the theatre to hold my hand, because even the touch of a stranger lends comfort. Behind a green curtain, they cut me open and pulled the baby out. I listened to my son scream for fifteen minutes. As he finished putting me back together, the doctor took a sweepstake on how many staples I’d need.
At last, they tucked the baby into my nightdress, naked, struggling, his nails dirty with scum and blood. His skin perfect against my skin. I realised – all I needed was strong shoulders and arms. I didn’t exist from the waist down. I held on tight.
After the birth, I carried myself round in a stranger’s body. Scarred, sagging, striped like a tiger with purple stretch marks. Wounded in the middle, I bend in half like a hinge. Breasts scratched and swollen from feeding, back fucked from lifting, everything fucked from lack of sleep. I aged ten years overnight, averted my eyes when I passed a mirror.
The first time we made love, months late, you touched my scar. The same way the baby grabs for the most dangerous object in the room, you reached for the most tender part of me, the red line I’m scared to even look at.
I flinched, but your hand is warm. Your touch is good. You call me back to my body.
I have worn different bodies, different lives, different people. I’ve been a smear of bright skin, a drunk exposing myself, a good dancer. I’ve had gardener’s hands, dirty and blunt, inhaled a million cigarettes. Swam naked in rivers, carried a seed until it weighed me down, nursed a baby to sleep, got out of bed a hundred million times, even when I thought I could not.
What is left behind is not even scar tissue, not even bone. What is left behind is the movements I made, towards you and away from others, onwards into new countries, new days, just like the old days, more days, a finite number of days, working, always working, towards stillness.
*All names have been changed.