By the time we reached the deserts of West Texas, the skin which I had burnt red raw, carelessly floating down a river in the North Carolina sun, had turned to a translucent beige. As he drove the roads that bisected great swaths of tan sand that seemed to stretch on eternally beneath blue sky, I stared out the window. Every few moments I would glance back to assure myself that he was still there, illogical as it would be for him to have disappeared from behind the wheel of a moving car. In the silence of the passenger seat I was falling in love with him. In the silence of the driver’s seat he was gaining resolve to leave me sooner rather than later.
On the morning we visited Marfa, the great minimalist mecca to which I was eager to make pilgrimage, we drove more than an hour across the sprawling national park where we were camping to find a quarter-operated shower. It had been days since we had showered. No more than three, I am sure but for someone who sees this as a daily spiritual practice, going so long without showering felt like starving my skin. When my body felt clean again I put on a raw silk shirt that I had made myself while in art school and a soft beige pencil skirt I had found at the Goodwill that was slightly too big in the waist and wrinkled easily. It was the nicest outfit I had packed for our trip which was planned to involve camping, swimming and mostly driving.
He preferred to drive. I preferred to sit in the passenger seat and brush my hair, for the sensation of the bristles on my scalp is one of my favorites. When I wasn’t brushing my hair or listening to a gruff voice telling the story of a man stuck on Mars, I would examine the damaged skin on my thighs and chest. The little blisters dried and broke open to look like constellations on a clear night. Or like the cluster of foamy bubbles that cling to the shore when a wave dissipates. The larger patches of skin peeled off in sheets that flapped, partially connected to my body like the bound pages of a book. What remained beneath was a pinky-tan color, flushed like newborn. I rolled down the window, letting in the oppressive heat, and threw the dead skin into the desert. I liked the idea of leaving little pieces of my DNA out into the landscape, to be absorbed by the sands.
I grew up with snakes, my brother being a passionate herpetologist. They never scared me but they also didn’t interest me much except for when they shed. Sometimes I would watch them, in their sandy terrariums, slowly exiting their own skin. If it was a clean shed, what would remain was a perfect shadow of the creature’s form, translucent and ghostlike. But even if the discarded skin was broken, the purpose of the act would remain intact; the snake would be, in part, reborn.
That June in Texas I imagined that I was shedding for the sake of exposure, to make myself vulnerable to him and to become a new iteration of myself in his presence. Soon enough I realized I was shedding to become a new iteration of myself for myself, to gain a thicker skin, more resilient although still soft and creamy. And I was shedding in offering to the desert, to leave behind the part of me I felt I owed it. He has since settled, like a fine layer of sand, into the strata of my personal history. But my skin retains the reality of the story, the beige of my chest remaining just a shade darker than the beige of the rest.
*originally written in response to a question posed by Lula Japan but was never published.