Here’s a thought for you:
Physically, we are hardest in the center—our bones. The skeleton is the hardest part, then the softer tissues layer outward from there. But psychologically, we’re hardest on the outside, and the least concrete in the center, where we are unbuilt, and where our concepts and ideas float without metaphysical moorings, like print written delicately over a soup skin.
I think that the skeleton itself is an uncomfortable concept due to the unconsciously understood notion that we are softer inside, not harder. Beneath the representations, posturing, and defenses, is the utterly vulnerable core. We see a skeleton in a scary movie or in a classroom and it smacks of cadaver, so we feel that fear that comes from seeing things associated with death, but beneath that I think there is a discomfort that comes from seeing something that is supposed to be human but is intrinsically opposite. Like a mirror image, except instead of being a dimensional opposite, it is an inversion.
We do not carry hard centers.
Even just saying it makes me aware of my defenses and my armors, like they were glasses of water on a table someone nudged as they walked by. Just mentioning my mechanisms of self-protection perturbs them. I see their surfaces lurch and rebalance.
Let’s extend the metaphor. Look at the exceptions to this…rule of skeletons: the marrow in the bone, the brain in the skull, the organs in the ribcage. In particular the ribcage. A bizarre thing. As though the architect, knowing the organs needed protection, assembled a crude basket with sticks. And with time our soft tissues loosen and sag, our skin and all else, and droop in the basket like rotting fruit.
In the ocean it wasn’t always like that. Beneath the waves we had bones, but if you go further back you find a time when we did not. When the rigidity required to make a brief stand against the more severe effect of gravity on land was not a concern. And they’re still there: the other ancestors. The ones we could have been.
Some with rigid bones, others soft. Some with outer shells, some without. Some soft through and through. Many, for which the only durable portion of their existence is the teeth, the beak, the mouth.
There is a moment of recognition when you see an injury and white bone shines through. Even if it is blood-covered, you see the white beneath the red. You know that the bone is seeing light, and you are witnessing a small portion of the inflexible system that scaffolds the body, girds it, and is an invisible part of every move it makes.
Let’s stretch that metaphor even farther. Engage your imagination for a moment. What would you say if you met your skeleton in a pizza shop down the street? Somehow it has escaped, and had a hunger for cheese and pepperoni. It slipped out your mouth silently while you slept, and now you’re chasing it down, your soft flesh struggling to support you.
You see it standing there near the garbage can, using the posture you do while you’re eating pizza. Slightly hunched, shoulders bunched, leaning slightly on one foot. It has a paper plate in one hand and a napkin pinched in the fingers holding it, its head is downturned but still gazing out the window, jaw slowly rocking back and forth. The other hand is holding the crust of a piece with several bites removed. The crust is bent into a V, index finger in the cleft, thumb and other fingers on the outer sides of the bend. It is chewing with distracted slowness, gazing out the window at the busy street.
You address it like a lost lover, I imagine. You grab its attention with a touch or a word, something quick and too strong, then there are long moments of no communication. As though it were very important that you know you are near each other, but nothing needs to be done. You tell it that you do not walk well without it. It tells you that it does not taste well without you. Nothing changes. And you watch each other without seeing, across a gap of inches, or miles, or years.