Posted by: chance47 | 05/18/2017



If I had to venture, I would guess that the first time they appeared was when I was nine or ten. Around the same time that I became ashamed of my body.  

I was an easily startled young boy, full to the brim with equal parts quiver and humor. Shaking and hairless. If physical contact was made, I responded with a flinch and an internal massacre. Breaths would shorten and a catch in my throat would pitch my voice, already a soprano, a few steps higher.  

One day, when I was a startle away from burrowing into the wood chips of the school playground, black and gray, with a hint of silver, quills emerged from the backs of my arms, my shoulders, my calves and butt. Curved and piercing spikes unsheathed from my pores. With a flick of a muscle a razor sharp and painful dagger would present itself to warn others.

Don’t touch.  Not worth your time.

It was how I made it through the days sometimes. Those certain days. Oftentimes, I was quite a joyful and entirely too talkative child. Making up for my tactile dysfunction.

So this is puberty, I would often think.

Walking down the hallway, entering the cafeteria or, most horrific of all, boarding the bus, I’d bristle.  I’d hunch my shoulders, make my already wide stance as broad as possible. On the bus, someone would take the seat next to me and I’d swallow my breath and flare my nostrils.

Mind the spikes.  Please, not any closer.

When an arm would graze my elbow or the skin of their short-clad shins brush mine, my eyes would close and with a twitch my spines would push out an inch. Dermal antennae.  

“Tsss,” they would wince. “What was that?  What are you?” They’d switch seats and share whispers with others about the terror seated across the aisle.

When I’d move, a slight sound of tch-tch-tch would float above me. An early warning system for anyone curious enough to come close. Once, a brave and foolish soul, sitting next to me on a particularly bumpy bus ride, asked me, “What’s worse?  Being poor or being a fag?” He tried to bruise me, lacerating his own skin. The smell of iron and salt wafted from his wound.

I suppose it’s a rite of passage to fear your body. And I feared. I was ashamed and scared of my eggshell skin. It wasn’t something I was taught. Not a value instilled in me or a misguided moral given to me. It was learned however. It seemed fated for a youth of my status and history. I owned a skin too early cracked and roughly razed.  

I remember my body failing me, at a very young age, in the back bedroom of a Section 8 house over a particularly hot summer. A secret, full of innocence not knowing where to go and without consent, had scarred my skin and seeped into my bones. Calcified and festered.

Despite growing into a monster, I could express physically how I felt for those I cared about. The ones that offered me harbor were given tight squeezes with just a hint of distance. A reasonable facsimile of a good hug. My mother received the bulk of those exchanges. Rarely, but sometimes, my father.  

The quills remained through the torture of junior high and the disaffection of high school. I learned how to augment my prickly self with wardrobe and attitude.  Valuable tools for keeping things out of reach.

While rushing between seventh period science and eighth period social studies, I would often find myself on the bullied end of a pack of should-have-already-been-high-school-drop-outs. They loved to destroy your books and your dignity at the same time. One would hold your face to the ground while another would use your folders as make-shift skateboards to slide across the newly waxed floor. With some kicks, some spit and a well timed “Faggot” they would leave, laughing as your shredded homework and broken pencils lay before you. It took so much energy to get up off the floor. It happened every day.

One day, taxed too far, I flexed. Black and gray, with a hint of silver, quills sprang to attention. My arms wildly swiped through a blur of frustrated tears. I felt my secret weapons gain purchase in something firm yet giving. I looked to find my plumes lodged sideways through the throat of the most wretched of my attackers. A bubble of blood escaping his lips. His shoulders twitched as his neck muscles strained against the opening of his trachea. A final spurt of spit and mucus mixed with blood shot from his larynx and he crumpled to the floor. I turned to face the others. They ran and I gave chase. Tch-tch-tch. I worked efficiently and with a wild grace never before possessed.

There, I thought, Slide on that fuckers.

I graduated high school, not knowing, not really, how to hug my friends.

It’s no surprise that my rodent armor went with me to college; a sprawling campus surrounded by a town exhausted by an indifferent government. I called upon my skeletal halberds when walking home through the depressed alleys to the cheap off-campus housing that was all most of us could afford.

And that one night, when I was particularly vulnerable, when my dear friend answered a knock at the door not knowing that urban ogres waited patiently for access, my protruding friends were at the ready. The intruder’s punches, aiming for what they assumed was a glass jaw, were sliced to the bone. Tendons were severed and those that lived were left with appendages hanging loosely at their sides.    

Not. In. My. House.

I graduated fatherless, bruised and supposedly educated. I’d embrace my friends with dead arms and a practical squeeze of the shoulder to express to them that I cared. They knew the deceit of the hold.

By the time I made it to Chicago, my mutant defense was no longer hidden. My shiny black and gray, with a hint of silver,  needles no longer retracted when safe. I wasn’t, so they were always bared. The weight of my armor pulled my frame and stretched my muscles. I was unable to look people in the eyes, let alone touch. I tried my best not to scratch or poke or jab.  I was tired of hurting people.  

One night, untouched and feral, I tried my best to shed my skin. In my tiny bathroom, with a fresh razor in my hand, I shaved, hacked and sawed away at each spike. I tore the spears, one by one, from my pores. I was shorn, plucked raw and bleeding.  My skin, ruined and ghostly pale, was a maze of crags with no solution. I strained my ear, listening for tch-tch-tch, only hearing the buzz of the bathroom lights.

Years went by, full of empty bristles and distance. No black, no gray and certainly no silver. I was relieved, I guess, to no longer be deadly, but at the same time crushed by my body, still failing me.        

One morning, on the train to work, a gentleman with the broadest of shoulders boarded. He looked like a reformed hallway tyrant. He had a thick neck and arms wider than my head. All of this was complemented with a beautiful Grecian profile. Where my body had failed, his body succeeded. He grabbed the seat next to me. As the train filled, the standing passengers crowded and sardined their way to the back to make way for new boarders. Everything became cramped and enclosed.

This chiseled man, all full of things to make one jealous, inched ever so closer to me. I drew in my arms and shrank my shoulders as much as I could. The train, shaking back and forth, made it impossible to stay stable. I held my breath. Sweat beaded and trickled down my chin. Then I heard it. Tch-Tch-Tch.

No, I thought, not now. Please not now. Please. I was doing so well.

His dense forearm grazed mine. I drew the sharpest of breaths and waited for him to flinch. To draw back his arm. I waited for the puncture and the blood, but nothing came. Instead, I could feel the individual hairs on his arm. The tension in his muscles as he readjusted. He pressed his forearm, not with intention but accommodation, further into me. His warmth spilled over to me.

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t breathe.

I closed my eyes and a knot hit my throat. Unable to speak or even squeak, I slowly, slowly exhaled.

“Oh,” I whispered.  

That night in college, my tiny bathroom, the bus, the hallway in junior high. I know how it really was. What really happened.  But memory can be a fuzzy thing. Sometimes that’s better.  

My flesh has done the only thing it knows how. It tries, at times more successful than others, to protect me. That summer, in the back bedroom of a Section 8 house, my body didn’t fail me. Like any good mammal, I adapted.     

It may have been minutes, maybe seconds, but I sat there with my sandpaper skin resting against his. As my body relaxed and my chest widened, I allowed the tears to fall down my cheeks. Within a few stops he was gone. Without that warmth my body began to tighten and curl. Ready to flinch.  

Remember. Remember this touch. Exactly as it happened.  

I realized what my fuzzy memory had forgotten.  I knew, now, what I was missing.


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