There was a time over the summer when five photos emerged from my friend, Lauren; “Five photos that make me feel beautiful.” The images depicted various events in her life. The fifth one, the most memorable to me, was of Lauren cradling her new born in perhaps the most peaceful state I’ve ever seen her. This arrangement of photos made Lauren beautiful, in my eyes. But what made it beautiful wasn’t the selection alone, but the intention behind the collection was enought to strike a chord with me on the meaning of beauty. Five photographs of beauty meant five opportunities to be honest with the world. Honesty is beautiful because it contains truth in the strongest form; like a person without armor walking before an army, trust as their only weapon. From these five photos came a litany of words, all subjective:
tender, resilient, strong.
On the 27th story of a suite of luxury apartments, I stood out on a nearing chilly balcony, breathing in an air of freedom both with my lungs and with my skin. Down below was the city, its interwoven waterways filled with still boats chained to the walls like dogs asleep in a kennel. Up above the city’s dreary streets was the sky; within arms reach, its horizon was dressed by a long stroke of gray gouache. The clouds endless but moving, a cadence as slow as I felt my calm, heart beat. Despite an overcast day, the streets were active. Though I could not hear, I felt people’s laughter and loneliness. They emerged out of doors and disappeared the same, was entering into another containment. From up here, disconnected by twenty-seven stories, the city and its people’s movement was mute to me, a quiet people rarely experience and can withstand. To me, this quiet and my invisbility made my skin and eyes illuminate all the brighter. The wind would blow, but I did not shiver. The windows weree like mirrors, but, no, I didn’t feel afraid up here. From here, something surged through into laughter, singing:
invincible, impossible, bravery
Waking up naked was the only moment of the day that I felt myself. The only thing that barred me from a moment of my choice was the sun that coaxed me from my sheets like a growing impatient parent. Soon in the day I would have to adorn fashionable clothing that masked some truth about myself before an audience. I hated lying to people. The vestments I had to wear for, say, work, were merely costumes to hide my days of unconfident, insecure uncertainty. Clothing is armor. Before an audience, I grew into myself; before myself, I would shrink into myself, thinking:
vulnerable, dim, ambush,
Beauty sits for toast and coffee with Truth, between the two are Nutella, confiture, meats and cheeses. It begins to rain outside and flushes the marveling moment of invisibility, experienced just minutes before, away. Chocolate between Beauty’s teeth, Truth grins like a child, almost in admiration. Clued, reaching for a tissue, Beauty feels embarrassed.
“It’s okay. I’m not judging. Just be you,” Truth assures, lifting an eyebrow as to imply, “get it?”
Truth never found Beauty more attractive than when Beauty would just be himself. Beauty admitted to feeling ugly, but different when he realized Truth was listening. “I thought no one wanted to listen to my truthful side; perhaps, I was surrounded by people who do not care to listen, in general. Maybe it’s for that reason as why I feel ugly. I don’t want eyes to be on me as if lusted for. No, I just want to be known, recognized, accepted. I’ll always feel ugly if I don’t receive that.”
“People can be your mirror, though,” Truth reminder Beauty while looking down to smear more chocolatey spread over toast, “The image though will always be distorted.”
Beauty stopped chewing to let things digest Slowly lifting the coffee cup to his lips, pausing a moment before permitting the hot coffee. “People do bring out the sides of me that make me feel both comfortable and uncomfortable. Sometimes, I feel so liberated when I’m around someone, and sometimes I’m so constrained. I feel,”
“weak then, small.”
The spare room of my friends’ house off Alexander Street is congested with spare everything—spare clothes, spare furniture, duplicates of books I would never read, and many I could never fully read. The sheets on the bed are originally brown, but even stillhad noticeabe dinginess to them. I questioned if my two friends really did wash those sheets after their last guests. Sitting on the bed with a towel as my buffer to the dirt and my butt, I check my email and come across a message from the people I stayed with in Rotterdam. A brief salutations with the final photographs attached from the photoshoot.
I follow the link to come across a folder filed with some twenty or thirty photographs of me, only me, illustrated both in color and black-and-white. Reviewing any photos of myself is a frenzy of an experience, but looking at nude photos of myself was a nerve-wrecking experience. Blinds down so no one can see. Fan on so no one can hear.
These photographs portray the person I am, though I did not recognize myself in all of them. There are a few pictures that truly exhibit the human I know the best, but there are many positions that make me look unfamiliar and, admittedly, awkward. Many had me in poses that in general I can’t see myself placed in, attitudes I rarely present to the world—sexy, confident, vicious. Certainly, some of these expressions do not feel organic, but provide a glimpse of the potential attitudes in me. I could be that person in the photo, I tell myself. Those poses, though cued, are still forms of expressions of myself, just rarely given the opportunity to express (or feel safe in doing so). Lying now, in bed, still giddy over what I just looked at on my computer—windows down, fan still on—my grin sours to the sobering thought that there are parts of me that are:
latent, unexpressed, undiscovered.
Raining still, only recalling of being naked on the balcony, time seemed meaningless as does the idea of distance and possibility. I wondered why I felt so strong and why the word, strength, connotes associations of men with muscles and mustaches, men who are stoic and silent. The strongest men in the world have been, in my mind, the weakest. Must they use their laws and layers to defend against admitting some truth, some terrible truth? Vulnerability may be the strongest armor. To be so brave as to allow yourself to be pierced can make you fearless to the challenges of the world. But the reality is that I detoxed from those fears, having had confronted them and pass them before rendering myself vulnerable to the city, sky, and lens. Here, momentarily, while standing out on the balcony of the twenty-seventh floor., I can be true. Here, Iam no one’s exposition, but only myself, I am:
home, whole, here.