Strip Searched

May 18, 2008
By Yahui Liang, Edison, NJ

I see her change in the locker room on the first day of gym, because there’s something natural about skin that lures the eye. Plus, the hideous teal lockers aren’t much to look at, so it’s inevitable, of course, a polite glance but no serious staring.
I squeeze past her tall frame to get my shirt. She’s Asian and broad-shouldered, with black hair streaked with cheap seven dollar do-it-yourself blonde. You can tell all that with her shirt on. But when she’s shuffling around half-naked, twirling her combo and squirming into her pants, her shoulders, the crook inside her elbow, and her wrists are bare, vulnerable, and oh so… naked.
I walk out of the locker room slightly dazed.

Is she-she can't possibly-it’s not true- no-no-no- not the Eileen I know.

And first of all, I don't know much about her, and of her past, I certainly don’t know enough. She’s a mutual friend, a close acquaintance at most, moved from Sayreville or Newark or New Brunswick or somewhere... somewhere downtown. She’s tough... tuff... tuff and quiet.
From first impression to “close acquaintanceship,” I’ve always suspected her of having a dark past during our first encounter, but this year, quality time in third period health has revealed that she’s really soft-spoken, not quiet, and athletic, not tough.
But what I just saw shocks me.
To the point where I can’t even look at her anymore. Can’t sit next to her in the library without wondering how many cuts are hidden underneath her baggy sweater, whether there’s a pentagram carved into her arm, if she has a Swiss army knife tucked behind her manga book so that when she turns the page, she’s slicing herself on the blade, quick, clean, easy- a rush, a high between each chapter.
Her blood stains my mind with questions.
Does she go home hung up too? And when everything, whatever perverted sensation of euphoria blood brings, fades, does she resort to… the kitchen knife? Her father’s razor? The cheese grater?... or maybe she’s got a stash of samurai knives she’s collected from years of cosplay. Reenacts a milder form of seppuku every night. Pain for honor. Bloodshed for honor. What is honor?
And why? Why, why, why, why, why? Is it too hard for me to comprehend? Is it something that I-who-has-lived-a-tragically-perfect-life-so-far can't possibly imagine? We can talk, you know. We are both people of reservation, not emotion, but we can talk...
Yet the truth is you'll never tell and I'll never ask.
The silence wedges itself between us, even now, like an unwelcome, third-party observer, as she rests right next to me, tracing the wooden patterns of the table and procrastinating on homework. She reaches over to my planner to doodle inside, an innocent move, but I just can’t STAND it anymore, can’t think about what bruises, what wounds she’s hiding and so I reach over and grab her arm, just as her sleeve rides up, and I twist her wrist gently. How smooth of me.
Of course, she probably weighs twice as much as I do cause she’s ripped and I’ve seen her lift three times the amount of weight in gym as I can, and it’s easy for her to resist my prying fingers. On defensive instinct, she stiffens up and I’m suddenly trying to bend an iron will, but her arm is briefly exposed in the commotion and the tan skin flashes me. It happens so quickly, but I’m a hunter with a target now, and I know what I’m looking for. Her battle scars, her carvings, her personal etch-a-sketch- it reads like the book of her life.
That’s it? That’s all? Just… that?
“I was bored,” she shrugs.
I squint in confusion, trying to decipher her past, her personality, her philosophy, what she’s freakin’ feeling right now - something her blood won’t reveal but her facial features might- but she’s busy burying her fist inside her sleeve and tucking in her fleshed diary, and I decide I've seen enough.
It’s a let-down, really, as I pull my hands back and use them to punch in numbers on my calculator and she goes about defacing the cover of my planner with whiteout. The silence settles comfortably between us. Turns out all she’s got on her wrist is a smiley face and "Hi."

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