Skin by Dorothy Allison
Our lives are not small. Our lives are all we have, and death changes everything. The story ends, another begins. The long work of life is learning the love for the story, the novels we live out and the characters we become. In my mama’s photos is a world of stories never told: my stolid aunt a teasing girl, my sisters with their mouths open to laugh, and hidden in the pile, a snapshot of me at twenty-two, dark and furious, with Cahty’s pale face solemn over one shoulder. Disappeared, anonymous, the story we might have told then remade. She has become legend, I human in grief, and full of the need to grab what I can and hold on, to remake death and begin another tale.
I wear my skin only as thin as I have to, armor myself only as much as seems absolutely necessary. I try to live naked in the world, unashamed even under attack, unafraid even though I know how much there is to fear. What I have always feared is being what people have thought me—my stepfather’s willing toy, my mother’s betrayer, my lover’s faithless tease, my family’s ultimate shame, the slutty racist, stupid cracker dyke who doesn’t know what she is doing. Trying always to know what I am doing and why, choosing to be known as who I am—feminist, queer, working class, and proud of the work I do—is as tricky as it ever was. I tell myself that life is the long struggle to understand and love fully. That to keep faith with those who have literally saved my life and made it possible for me to imagine more than survival, I have to try constantly to understand more, love more fully, go more naked in order to make others as safe as I myself want to be. I want to live past my own death, as my mother does, in what I have made possible for others—my sisters, my son, my lover, my community—the people I believe in absolutely, men and women whom death does not stop, who honor the truth of each others’ stories.