Posted by: alegra22 | May 10, 2011

beneath the skin

Before I became a mother, I found certain children unnerving. I am still haunted by a delicate-boned Indian girl, probably no more than three at the time, who fixed me with her eyes and for just for a moment, I caught glimpse of something so ancient and angry and beautiful that I was grateful she had years to grow into it.

Last night, Zaviera caught me off-guard with one of those moments. I was exhausted from the constant tug and pull of three children needing me, their demands clashing into one another, words piling up, overlapping, spilling over into whining and tears. Finally, there was quiet. Finally, I could make one of them perfectly happy by giving her my full attention. I lay on my back while Zaviera painted my face to make me ‘beautiful.’

“I will make you beautiful like a butterfly!” She cooed, her voice taking on the lilt of wind and wings and flying dust.

From the couch, Sol grumbled, “I wouldn’t want to be beautiful like a butterfly. I like butterflies but I wouldn’t want to look like one. That doesn’t make someone beautiful. That’s what I think.”

“SHUSH SOL!” Zaviera frowned and harumphed, turning her back to him and smiling down at me, her face instantly shifting from I-am-going-to-kick-you-in-the-shins-if-you-don’t-keep-your-opinions-hushed to “now, where were we?”

I closed my eyes as she began to brush powder across my cheeks. I remembered that once upon a time, I could almost imagine myself into the idea of a butterfly. I could feel the rush of wind and the sky stretching around me. I imagined disappering into a cocoon and it filled me with a moonlit type of fear, not bad or good, just lonely. 

 When I was Zaviera’s age, I held no limitations for what I might end up becoming or what was possible just around the corner. One night I frightened myself with the belief that I would grow up to be a monkey or a rooster.

I wondered if this was what Zaviera was thinking as she imagined ‘beauty’ on my face in long, colorful stripes. If she saw the expanse of a wing spreading across the bridge of my nose and along my mouth. If she got the colors just right, Mommy would be able to fly.

She pressed too hard on my skin, scratching me. I opened my eyes, “Sweetheart, be careful, that scratched me a little bit.”

She bent down to examine the damage. “Is your inside coming out?”

“No,” I said. “But it hurt.”

“Would you be black underneath your skin? Because it is very dark inside our bodies.” She nodded sagely, proud that she knew so much about darkness and insides.

“It would be all sorts of colors. There might be some parts that are almost black, but probably a lot of red. Let’s just be gentle, okay?” I was tired and I wanted her to keep stroking my cheeks and eyelids with her magic powders.

She sat a little too straight, her face shifting. She was coming to a conclusion and it was a serious one.

“I don’t think I would like you if I could see your insides. I think if I could see the red beneath your skin, you’d have to go away.”

She had that ancient thing in her eyes. Her voice contained the honesty that only children have, as if there is something about being unable to grasp mortality that translates into a beautifully savage form of truth-seeing and truth-telling. They are wildly invincible and innocent in their trespasses.

I didn’t say anything for a few moments. She watched me. She wasn’t worried. She was studying my face.

I smiled, “I would be sad if you sent me away. I would miss you terribly.”

“Yes,” she said, “but you would have to go, so I will be very careful.”

A few moments later, she was my little girl again, that ancient thing gone, but the moment chased me into sleep. My children are still so close to a time when they didn’t exist in this world and each day, they are slowly coming more and more into form, understanding their boundaries and how to interpret surfaces. I used to worry about this a lot as a child – the surfaces of things. I could see that there was an unfair order and I wanted to be sure that everyone was loved. I worried about the people who didn’t seem to have the right surface, people who seemed to be inside-out. I worried about me. I wanted to be sure that I deserved love and I couldn’t tell if my insides were spilling out.

I fell asleep understanding that as my children grow into the world, I am slowly growing out of it. If my outside becomes scratched and my children confused by what they see beneath, I will just keep fixing them with that ancient thing I hold inside of me. Eventually, they will stop seeing anything but the love beneath my skin.



  1. i am loving these daily blogs….i am inspired!

    • I am so glad. Thank you for taking the time to tell me!

  2. I think I understand that look, and saw it in my own children at one point in time. Beautifully written….thanks,

    • Thank you, Sue. The ‘look’ has definitely been a moment of recognition for me in my own children and others – the sense of how powerful a human life is and how uniquely created. It’s both absolutely a new creation yet somehow linked to every ancestor that has gone before.

  3. this writing every day thing? keep at it. you’ve caught me by the heartstrings.

  4. Alegra I love the depth of this , I love the way you draw your readers in thoughout the story and then there are bits where you linger a little longer through those captivating words like beauty, inside out and darkness. Just then I thought of this where there is light there is no darkness… Hopefully the people we meet will see the light that lives inside us the red that reaches out in love and the yellow, purple,orange,pink and blue that allows us to leap in the air in utter freedom. You are the voice that makes my spirit dance , the depth I so long right now. Thank you for having the courage to break through the darkness and give us wings to fly. Kia kaha,kia toa, kia manawanui. Love you Ange

  5. Alegra, this was the most powerful piece of writing I have read from you so far… It gave me chills rather than draw tears, and the chills only continued as I continued to read. There is something big and deep and powerful and strong and mysterious in this piece, and I am loving the voice you are finding outlet for; the mysterious power you are giving voice to. Incredible…. Brave and beautiful. Thank you. ❤

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