I was a little girl and I was afraid of walking barefoot—so I played just once in the sprinklers.
I remember the evening pink and delirious, the brick steps warming my mother’s thighs and the pressed air hugging the curves of my bare throat. I don’t remember if I shouted, or laughed, the way the kids do when they hang from the tree outside the shop and I think why do you even exist? Why exist in a world that could flash-freeze your blood to read the anger that’s been spit at you?
They laugh. They swing. I run through warm droplets of water and spend nights whispering to my stinging blood—you exist, you exist.
My soles are still puffed-soft like a grandmother’s fingertips, but they crave the heat of the brick, the burn of the sand, the electric pain of the tweezers pulling a boardwalk splinter. Still, at twenty-four I wear compression socks for spider veins. I look for sensible shoes with foam arches and pull the curls away from my face. I use umbrellas and pay the bills on time. All these things I thought would make me strong.
I try to keep my blood from freezing—if only to avoid the jagged edges of the ice it will make. Somewhere in the core of my belly there is a girl who walks barefoot on the dirty pavement. There is a girl who makes decisions and spends long days in the sun without burning. I have tried to cut her out into the world, but birthing an existence is heavy work, and to offer her small body to the hard world, a crisis of loss and unbecoming. Instead I whisper to her, you exist, you exist—I pretend I am protecting her from pain.
I am a woman now and I am afraid of fading. The sprinklers are gone. The world is dripping away.