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My LA skin is a size (or two) too small. I haven’t worn it in years – it’s been hanging in my closet behind all my dresses, something I absent-mindedly finger whenever I go digging through my clothes and it’s always the same startled feeling: hi, forgot you were there. A few times over the years, if I found myself alone with hours to kill I’d slip it on. Stand in front of the mirror, turn this way and that. Run my hands over it. See if it still felt like me.

The last time I really wore it I was driving up and out of Los Angeles, everything I owned in the back of my dusty Subaru, tears on my face. LA was a smudge of dirty in my rearview. By then, the skin was in bad shape (gritty with sun and salt, thin at the wrists where I caressed my thick blue veins with the box cutter, brown under the eyes, long in the hair), but I didn’t know I could take it off. I hated it but I needed it because it was me.

Now, on the plane, I forget that I should be wearing it almost until we’re descending past the thick band of smog into Los Angeles. My mind has been on a thousand other things. But as the fasten seatbelt light dings on and my tummy lurches, I realize the plane is landing and I am ill-prepared.

On my body, the skin doesn’t sing the devastating-but-seductive siren songs of pain and failure to me the way I expected it to. I am quiet and tentative in it as I walk Sunset Blvd with my friend, arms around each other’s waists, sun at my back. We take a left onto La Cienega in her car, my skin remembering viscerally how to get everywhere. I am astounded at how well I know this city. How can somewhere I haven’t been in years click back on inside, like a light switch in a room at the far back of the house? How can I have so many memories of a place where I felt so anonymous? The thought that keeps ferris-wheeling in my head: “How do I know this? I wasn’t even here!”

I force myself to see this city as objectively as I can: what is this place? All I can come up with is strip malls and car exhaust and vines dripping obscenely with flowers over courtyard walls. It fails to move me. I hold myself so carefully in the skin, expecting at any moment to be hit with the inevitable waves of SOMETHING: loss? longing? But nothing happens. And at the next light, we have to make a right to get to Century City – don’t ask me why I know that, but I do.

In the end, I take the skin off in the airplane bathroom somewhere over Missouri. Exhale. Let my stomach out. Touch my own face in the small mirror under the recessed lighting.


Kristin Quinn said...

This is so beautifully written Jenn! And so relatable. I personally don't have those particular feelings about LA, but definitely with certain situations or even with certain people. I love your writing. It is always so honest.

Anonymous said...

I think your DC skin makes your eyes pop. And your DC arms are real good at huggin'.

Ashley said...

I think it should read: My LA skin is a size (TWO) too small.

Just sayin'!

Phoenix said...

I'm not sure if you love or loathe LA but I'm glad to hear that you were able to visit :)

Lira said...

Everyone should live in LA at least once. That way, when they settle anywhere else, they're amazed at the kindness, good will, and humanity from their neighbors.

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