The first time it happens you are on a playground, the sawdust underneath the plastic slide making your eyes water, your wobbly knees bruised with childhood recklessness. You see your classmates clustered in a group under the shadows of pine trees, their voices rising in high-pitched union. Your innocent curiosity consumes you and you make your way over, peering through the spindly legs of your friends at the cause of the commotion. It is the girl who sits beside you in art. The one who smells like sour milk and manages to make you feel uneasy with her perpetual state of silence. A friend hands you a pine cone. “We are throwing pine cones,” she informs you. “Why?” You ask, aware that these actions are inherently wrong and mean. But your friend shrugs and pushes you into the uniformed circle, nudging you to launch your attack on the defenseless crouched girl hiding behind her own bruised knees. You throw it and feel a moment of satisfaction for being accepted, for not being the one whose naive eyes blur with tears as the catcalling and downpour of pine cones submerges you into a world of fear and brutality you will only be further acquainted with in adulthood. A teacher approaches and you turn to run, breaking free of the invisible bounds of your friends yet simultaneously letting a fragment of yourself slip away and be forgotten like the sawdust underneath your feet.
The second time it happens you are a teenager. You toe the line between childish innocence combined with feigned stupidity and an unexplainable yearning to be older, to be wiser, to be free. You read books and write whimsical poetry, which sounds exactly like the hormonal ridden teen angst crap that is expected of you. When your friends come over the worn book covers disappear under lace minidresses and an array of stolen make up from siblings and mothers who avert their eyes. You apply the lipstick, the eyeliner, the hem of the short dress that barely covers your legs sparse of hair. They beckon to you outside your window when the moon shines brightly up above, and you feel the adrenaline course through your veins underneath the thin layer of skin coating you from the dangers of darkness and the outside world. You are invincible, unstoppable, and even though you are terrified of being caught you still embark down the rabbit hole and cave into the their coos of encouragement. You sit in the dingy basement of a boy who is many years your senior, and as the joint is passed your way you accept, aware of the implications of this action of feigned kindness from a species you will never learn to trust. You let the smoke cloud your mind and your thoughts, you let the world slip from the holds of your fingertips, becoming the girl you once vowed to never be.
The third time it happens you are older, not by much but you have cast aside the skin of whom you once had become. You put on an ivy green coat with fur trimmings, apply lipstick expertly and slam the door on your way out. The sky is the color of the murky snow underneath your feet but you put on your sunglasses anyway. You arrive at the upscale restaurant where your friends are sat, and they clasp your frail body close with faked emotion. Their smiles leer at you like clowns, their stage make up painted on in permanent grins. They talk and you fabricate interest, allowing your emotions to range from outrage to disgust. They speak of things and of people and of their opinions, all of which you disagree with. But you succumbed into this cocoon of warmth and acceptance, allowing the plush armchair to envelop your disappearing frame until your presence is neither acknowledged nor necessary. When it is time to go, you perform the fake kisses with practiced familiarity. There are promises of next weekend, when everyone is less hungover. But you know that by next weekend you would have escaped, leaving only a whiff of the overpriced perfume you all wear and thus forever lost in the melting snow.
There are many more times. And there are many more skins and coats. You discard these as the years go by and they grow steadily in your closet until it is overflowing with fur and camouflage and leather. You sit at dinner parties and remain as still as a porcelain doll, unabashedly fluttering your eyelids at the racist remarks of your peers. You dance on tables in nightclubs where the music is loud and annoying, watching the hungry wolfish gaze of men as they pounce on the array of little red riding hoods. You are constantly leaving and moving and going. You are getting on planes to arrive in places where you must once again peel off the layers of the skin, which has grown tough on your bones. You are called incompetent, fascist, a conformer, and an actress. But the irony of it all is that you are the director, the watcher, and the careless observer. You do not care for the cast of characters that reside around you like skyscrapers and trees and butterflies. They are merely this, the surroundings in which you have lost yourself so long ago that authenticity cannot even be found in the barren landscapes of the Sahara desert.
When death comes you welcome it. You allow those that thought they knew you best to open the pages of your books and decipher the muddled scrawl of your ink pen on ivory silk paper. They stare at the pages, trying to make sense of it all, mumbling in hushed tones that they knew all along of what you really were. They find your coats, which have now accumulated to the extent that they are packed in boxes and held in storage facilities. They try on these coats to find that none of them fit. They gossip to their neighbors about you, warning them on the dangers of allowing such a thing to infiltrate their lives. Words are the only thing left to define you, to paint your life on a blank canvas in a multitude of colors, to unveil the reality of your incredibly bleak and lonesome life. The people that thought you loved them weep and feel anger and hatred coat their throats like bile waiting to be unleashed. The people that loved you are left confused and forever searching for the fragments of yourself you discarded and planted around the world like flowers. Your family remains; they stand at your tombstone with wilting flowers and allow tears to create rivulets of mascara in the creases of their wrinkled cheeks. They look at the dates you were alive and wonder how through the long span of years they were unable to catch on, to clasp you and hold you still. Your name is printed boldly and they utter it through their gritted teeth.
In union, they whisper: Chameleon.