HALSTED M. BERNARD
You miss your hands.
You miss the sight of your hands, or rather, not freaking out at the sight of your hands. You miss the clean, olive skin covering your knuckles, your writer's callous, your pure thumbs. Now you see bandages and broken skin, crevasses of angry pink interrupted by golden scabs.
You miss colder showers, now that you have acquired a taste for scalding water. Heat takes away the itching and pain for ten minutes each morning; heat has become your friend. You wash your hands before replacing bandages with the hottest water you can find. You discover which bathrooms at work have water so hot it hurts, because this hurt is nothing compared to the feeling when your skin cools.
You learn the timeline. You learn how long it now takes you to walk to the subway: ten minutes longer. You learn to sleep in fits and starts, waking from faceless dreams with your nails at your elbow, attempting to break new skin with vicious scratching. You learn how long it takes after removing an old bandage and washing the wound to the wound becoming wet with weeping to cleaning it again to applying ointment to applying a new bandage. You learn to do it quickly so you do not have to think about it.
You miss applying makeup, especially now that your face is covered in splotches, especially now when it could help hide something. You miss putting something in your hair to make it less flyaway, to make it behave. You miss choosing clothes you like to wear; you choose clothes that don't enrage your pimpled skin.
You know the dark continent on the outside of your left ankle. You know its terrain, terrain that must not be touched except with ointment and bandages, terrain that cannot stand to be covered by socks or shoes. You know what lives there, the unseen enemy you fight carefully, gingerly, engaging it in the shower with the high-pressure setting, holding the metal head in your better hand, aiming the boiling water and cringing as it hits.
You miss shaving your legs. You miss thoughtlessly applying sandalwood and amber lotion to your limbs, dabbing sandalwood oil behind your ears. You avoid touching yourself in any way so as not to allow the enemy to gain new ground. You cut your nails to the quick, even your toenails, so nothing can scratch anything else.
You learn new names. Bacitracin, Curad, Telfa, Cipro, Eucerin, Cetaphil: these are your superpowers. These will battle for you while you sleep, while you shower, while you sit upright and focus on anything but the pain.
You miss walking with an even stride. You have limped for so long that you can feel the left leg muscles weaken. You even imagine that you see your right leg larger than your left.
You see the sad looks as you limp onto the subway. When someone accidentally brushes your hand, you see her cringe and look away. You see your boyfriend wipe his hands after he touches your pitted skin. You do not blame him; how could you blame him? He holds you in sleep when you are safe, covered with thick pajamas. He cares, he asks how you are doing, and he listens to the responses. He gives advice. He feels bad for you. You put on a brave face for him, and for everyone else. For yourself.
You miss people asking "how are you?" instead of "how are you feeling?" You miss looking healthy in dreams, because now you dream of yourself as you are, exhausted and bandaged and limping. You dream of new wounds instead of falling; you dream of skin falling off your hands just as it does when you awaken.
You have thought of slicing off the dark continent with a razor. Don't pretend you haven't thought of it, as disgusted as you are with yourself for doing so. You have pondered how much blood you could lose before it would be dangerous. You speculate the strength it would take, and you are sure you do not have it.
Your hands, your hands. You miss gesturing with them, as they hide in your sleeves now, afraid of and embarrassed by the casual touch of the world. You miss shaking others' hands. Your hands miss each other, folding together in your lap as you doze off on the ferry. You keep them apart, dividing the enemy, but they are heartsick for each other. They creep closer on your thighs before you catch them. While you sleep, you are sure they clasp each other and promise never to let go.
Halsted M. Bernard obsessively archives the present, but cannot stop thinking about the world after this one. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband, two cats, a few gadgets, several fountain pens, and many books. Her website is http://halstedmbernard.com.