Nathaniel was distracted by a phrase he had heard uttered somewhere, sometime during his waking hours. It was all he could think as he had drifted off to sleep, glad to enter that gentle embrace, the disgust of being awake and aware of his encasement of flesh and bone could be escaped, temporarily avoided.
I am not my body.
He awoke each morning, more tired than the last, filled with a fatigue wrought from too many long nights of hyper-awareness and other unsavoury symptoms. He sighed, a sound that had echoed across many other mornings, and braced himself for the day.
On went the slacks, the long-sleeved shirts to conceal his form, and the silly scarf that somehow made his shoulders appear far broader than without. He wore shoes two sizes larger than they ought to have been, and his jacket was rather bulky, not giving off the image he had originally intended while imagining the end result. With his frame, he'd be lucky to find something that wasn't too big or too small, nothing fit properly, everything looked terrible, and it was all for naught. He'd have to slide around in his shoes for another while until he could wear boots for the winter.
Nathaniel became fixated on the look of his hands. He had seen a photo in a magazine of an immaculately manicured pair that did not belong to him, attached to the body of what was considered by many to be a vision of aesthetic perfection. The model was all angles, blond-haired with piercing grey-blue eyes and an almost androgynous mouth showing soft, sensual lips bordering on the faintest sneer possible. He was perfect, someone to be envied, so lucky to have been gifted such pleasing features on such an idealized, untouchable, refined masculine form. Some people had all the luck, they were born with it, it was in their biology, or perhaps they had worked at it and somehow achieved these near-ethereal results he was denied and teased with.
Nathaniel scrunched himself up in the corner where his bed met the wall, staring self-deprecatingly at his hands until he had taken in every characteristic. He noted the ugly darkening freckle near his palm, the scar that still remained from a mistake he had made once in shop class, as well as the general smallness and hatefully dainty appearance of his fingers. He wished they were bigger, maybe squarer and more substantial. He wished the span of his palms was greater and more in-tune with what he imagined he ought to have. After nearly ten minutes of this, approaching a type of meltdown, he exhausted his short-lived but troubled focus and felt his vision blur until he was barely able to make out the room. He took off his dark-framed glasses and rubbed his eyes, brushing away grains of sleep, and then pushed a coarse midnight curl back behind his ear, readying himself for the next chapter of his torment.
The bathroom game came next, the same as every day. The first step was to make himself look presentable and passable for the world outside of his bedroom. This step could determine whether his day would start off on a positive or negative note, and it was a not-so-rare ruling moment that set the standard for the rest of the time during which he was forced to interact with the people he crossed paths with. He dreaded and anticipated this moment each morning, inwardly tensing so that even his veins felt constricted as he stood in front of the mirror. His eyes slowly travelled to gaze at the person staring back at him, zeroing in on his form, locking into his posture as he foolishly attempted to convince himself of being able to cancel out the curves he felt brimming beneath his clothes.
Thankful for having slightly wider-than-average feet, he finally slipped into his shoes and gazed at the final product. He avoided repeating the error of making eye contact with himself, forbidding himself from spending too much time studying his facial structure. That was never a good idea and it brought on an air of urgency and desperation that he preferred to avoid.
"Are you awake? It's almost time to go," a voice called from far away in the hallway, somewhere outside of the bathroom.
Nathaniel tore himself away from the mirror to respond, "Almost ready, hang on," and tapped off the light switch. He caught one last glimpse of himself. An unfavourable image of his face distorted itself in his mind as it burned there, every disproportionate and incorrect feature called out to him in a wordless taunting. He cursed himself for having such high hopes as he stepped out into the hallway, nearly colliding with his stepmother, Rosalie
"Im, don't jump out at me like that. I was thinking you'd be another few minutes," she clutched a navy blue duffle bag, hurriedly thrusting it into his arms before patting him on the shoulder in an awkward gesture of affection that was filled with hesitation and yet prompted him to continue out the door.
Nathaniel took pains to blur out the strange verbal tic Rosalie uttered at the beginning of the sentence. Despite the effort, he remained unflinching on the outside, mumbling an apology in a gravelly voice as he moved to place the bag into the trunk of the family car. They both left the house not long after. Nathaniel, being the ever-helpful stepchild of the year, drove her to town to help with the groceries at a satisfyingly early hour that also granted him the privilege of avoiding, both, traffic and the rush of people fluctuating as the noontime rush hour began. The errands were run in due time and breakfast was had in the parking lot as he awaited Rosalie's return to the vehicle, agonizing in secret over the smallness of his hands.
Things were simple at home, that had been the one positive aspect of being too broke to move to an apartment of his own. He knew his surroundings and had accepted the arrangement as a necessary one for the given moment, but he had also resigned himself to the situation, having accepted his place in the quaint guest bedroom that was offered to him. His childhood room was still painted that glaring pastel yellow he had chosen during the less wise days of his early youth, another aspect that disintegrated any wish to take up residence there. He would have rathered the semblance of starting afresh, even if he was forced to return to live beneath his father's roof. Plus, his old bedroom had happily been converted to a home office and so he wouldn't have felt right in altering it to his liking.
If Nathaniel was to be perfectly honest with himself, the surface-level complacency he felt dwindled beneath the weight of certain truths that germinated from within. He enjoyed the familiarity but loathed the falseness of his interactions with family, feeling as though he kept numerous dirty secrets from them. He knew even nosy Rosalie must have been unaware of the yellow bin concealed within a deep drawer by his bed, its biohazard symbol urging that the container's opening be properly sealed once sharp items had been deposited through a hole at the top.
Another secret he kept was attributed to his voice. He knew they thought he was sick with a stubborn cold, his vocal tones warbling and cracking for so long that it seemed to have dropped that way. Laryngitis, strep, something along those lines was likely used to dismiss everything as being symptomatic of a temporary physical illness. They couldn't tell the difference, yet he had no reason to resent them for anything. He could blame them all he'd like, but it still wouldn't mean he was wholly justified in it. He was a servant to his own self-erasure and failure to actualize his own wishes.
"I have something to tell you," he rehearsed to himself, muttering under his breath until the words tasted successful and more certain on his tongue. He digested the statement and imagined the look on their faces as busily reactive minds would've surely contemplated whether they must show disgust, surprise, shock, or flat-out disbelief. He felt a tightness in his chest, the old familiar twinge lent tension to his shoulders. He imagined the worst as he practised telling his imagined witnesses the truth of the matter.
I have something to tell you. You see, I'm not my body.
It never sounded adequate to him, even in his thoughts. Who really was their body? Was there any sense or validity to the question itself? Would anyone understand it in ways that did not result in the criticism and invalidation he feared? The thought seemed a bit optimistic, for starters. This was something he had guarded for several years upon realizing how easy it was for the people dipping in and out of his life to dismiss those they didn't see eye-to-eye with. Too many fell short of venturing outside of their comfortable zones of social familiarity, incapable of summoning the open-mindedness and reflection he sought. He was a part of that group of individuals bearing the vague but damning label of erroneous misfit. Where he came from, they were all the same, all too incorrect and too damaged to see or know any better than to conform to his social position, his class, his birthright.
He had stopped resenting his family for this after realizing it was they who couldn't know any better. They hadn't the language or experience to relate to the point of view through which he wished they would perceive him, although he was just as stunted in his inability to speak his mind. To argue meant that they would look down on him with each word of defence, waiting until he had run out of ways through which to state what had been obvious only to him. The frustration of these interactions would give way to the inevitable question: what in God's name do you mean? It would end at that.
To his family, Nathaniel surely was his body. His physical form tied him reluctantly and smotheringly to the plane of corporeal existence, binding him to the misery of proceeding through each day. He felt that his family had known him in the manner most familiar and easily accessible to them and would not be able to accept the reality of his circumstances, regardless of how he explained and described what he felt. On the other hand, he couldn't be what they wished him to be and so he felt trapped, as though he were being crushed beneath a role that was pushed onto him. History would repeat itself, they would demand an explanation, clarification, and they were likely to dismiss his words in favour of upholding a more acceptable status quo.
Nathaniel cringed at the thought of all those eyes on him, scouring his skin, boring into him quizzically as if they might unravel the true cause of his bizarre behaviour. He wouldn't even humour the thought of returning to see that blurry-faced, now nameless fundamentalist minister from his adolescent years who wore that snide glance along with the small shock of white upon his collar. The man was remembered as having always scrutinized and suggested that Nathaniel alter his behaviours and mannerisms to reflect a more correct upbringing. He would spend the next ten years contemplating how he would go about explaining that he was given counsel he did not seek and critiques that had made him feel as though he were a second-class citizen in a society that contradictorily boasted progressiveness.
He never discovered how to communicate those thoughts, however, even in the simplest of terms. Instead, he gave up as soon as he was confronted with the idea of being met with the disapproval he imagined. It would have been far worse coming from his family, even worse than when he was forced to listen to the minister, even worse than his peers and their imagined reactions. After all, he was bred to feel guilt at the drop of a hat, and shame for the most benign mistakes imaginable. Going against this standard that had been created and enforced for the better part of three decades seemed beyond undoable at this point. He bit his tongue, resigning himself to carrying that secret around at home until the inevitable day when he would finally sprout hair from his chin and perhaps finally be seen as an actual person and not some stupid child.
At the end of that very same day, Nathaniel dragged his feet down the hallway and into his room, removing his clothes. He tucked the corners of a towel over a mirror until the fabric had held itself in place. He adhered to his usual routine of showering and shaving after wiping away a small circle of fog from the mirror, just big enough to see himself through the thick steam filling the bathroom. He didn't know why he did it. Those myths about shaving so that the hair grew back thicker were unreliable and misleading. Regardless, he did do it and he maintained that small hope nestled within his chest as he spread the shaving cream over his jaw, paying careful attention to the small ridge of his undergrown Adam's apple, if it could even be seen as such. He almost always nicked the very corner of his bottom lip, watching the tiny trickle of blood make its way down his chin and into the frothy whiteness that was presented in heavy contrast to his copper skin. As he shaved above his upper lip, he kept his eye on the scarlet rivulet, finishing the job in time for a knock at the door that startled him, leaving him glad he didn't have the razor pressed to his face at that very moment.
"We're ordering in, do you want anything?" Rosalie asked, back again for another attempt to draw him out of his room.
He pressed a small crinkling of tissue to his lip and said, "Sounds fine to me. Could you order me a panzerotti?" He cracked the door to list the rest of his order, feeling a wave of self-loathing that left a sour taste in his throat.
"Im..." that tic again, "We hope you'll sit out with us tonight. We seldom get to see your lovely face anymore since you started your new class load."
He couldn't bring himself to respond in time so he listened to her slippers pad down the hallway as the muffled shuffling sound carried itself away from the upstairs bathroom. Most of his dinners were eaten alone in his small bedroom, with a fan blowing cool, dust-specked air in his general direction as he read through an assortment of satire-drenched online articles. Afterwards, he took this time in browsing various services, contemplating starting a blog, although he couldn't imagine what he had to say that would interest anyone. He found a forum that catered to LGBT users, inviting them to discuss a wide variety of topics that pulled at his interests in a mild but friendly sort of fashion.
Normally, he avoided websites like these because of how everyone seemed to be at each other's throats. He couldn't tolerate conflict or confrontation of any sort, perhaps to a fault. Though he sometimes considered internet dating or perhaps searching for a pen pal, he also found the same could be said of dating services and social media in general. He despised arbitrary groupings of people based on every tiny aspect and he was easily frustrated by polarizing opinions that were torn down on a whim. It was as if people on many of these forums used labels to the point where none could express a single thought without being categorized and sized-up instead of just having quirks and distinct personality traits. Language was likely to be policed until it was transformed into meaninglessness.
Nathaniel scrolled through a few pages, taking note of some comments here and there. He clicked on a link entitled Virtual Pen Pals by accident and was quickly brought to a thread that showed various members providing brief summaries of themselves before attaching photos and external social media links. He saw a few gay guys looking for M4M connections, there were some lesbian posters, some bisexuals, and a slew of transgender people, some of whom made Nathaniel feel as though he wasn't so out of place. He skimmed through the majority of these until he came upon one comment that was very typical but was also a bit comical in a casualness that reminded him of early 2000s profile blurbs.
Body Type: Athletic
420-friendly, gay, sorry ladies! if you want to find out more, msg me.
At the end of the short post was a photo of an extremely cut fellow with pale blue eyes and long red hair tied back into one of those messy, contemporary man buns that were all the rage. Nathaniel clicked on the icon that would allow him to send a private message and wrote a quick sentence in response to the man's ambiguous post. After a few moments of typing different variations of "hi, want to talk?" he decided to make a post of his own that might attract someone who was lurking and hadn't yet revealed themselves to the board. He wanted to remain non-committal and vague enough to preserve his anonymity, but he had to believe someone similar to him would be drawn to the words he typed. Crinkling his forehead as a pulse of anxiety made its way through his body, he attempted to emulate a written tone similar to what he had read in Mr. Sorry Ladies's post.
I'm in my 20s, in school. Queer. Rambly. I'm not out at home but I need more friends...am eventually hoping for an LTR. You can find out more if you message me.
He debated using an emoticon but decided against it since that would surely give the impression of a pathetic and desperately cringeworthy little slime. Instead of continuing to agonize over each flaw in the message, he shut off his laptop and went to bed. After a few minutes of being away from the soft glow of the screen, he pulled the blankets over him and bit his lip. A slightly different iteration of a familiar statement sprung to mind as he shut his eyes.
I'm not my body, am I?
The degree of uncertainty felt during the most lonely part of his day was exquisite in its bitterness. The answer should've been the same as always.