Barefoot and Cloaked in New Skin
Bethany Mullins

The plant on my window sill is sprouting new leaves. I am a mother for a small moment, gawking, fussing, and rushing to show the household. I peel off the protective layer that has kept the delicate leaves safe from failing. I'm aware of the chlorophyllic processes of plants, which is why I keep him by the window with a sheer curtain to manage the sun's blaze. I've had my mishaps with this plant. The spots that infested its leaves came from my overbearing need to water it everyday instead of listening to what it needed. Those spots are now dissipating and the new-coming leaves are a testament to my improved dedication to spraying, grooming, and less-frequent waterings. I purchased this plant when I needed cheering up; an escape from neighbors raucously street fighting, the fanatical politics of living in a red county within a blue state, and the rising smoke from 29-year-old carpet. And I still find it remarkable. These new leaves are yellow, fine and veined, not yet sunned by the outside world. They are new life.

I find myself interested in the concept of time and place. Like, how do we go down the same road over again and feel completely changed by it? Or, when you elevate a space, organize it, and move the furniture, you find everything is where you left it?

Last winter was a different time. The world was before us like the sun, always rising. The day I got my plant I scoured Home Depot for the perfect ficus. My cart was full of bookshelves and string lights to brighten the corner of my world. The corner I spend most of my life these days. I had books from college, postcards from my travels, various notebooks, and stained poetry editions I rescued from dusty basement bookstores below the rainy cities of Britain and Ireland. I hoped to gather my memories of the person I was in this corner – a ditch effort to establish who I am in time and place.

I'm currently reading a book set in Scotland in 570 AD. During a time when the people and kingdoms of a country were not written down, history was repeatedly summoned through memory alone. Songs, tales, and oral history of the battles, the mighty warrior, the mothers who grieved for their sons, the lovers parted by war and blood – the memory of their ancestors was recited over and over to inform the choices and actions they made. Summoning the memory of those who came before was both a matter of respect and loss for the dead, but also to render them eternal, not only through name, but the great deeds they had done to ensure the future of their people.

While sitting in my warmly lit corner, I wonder what I'm to remember of this time. A world of travels, opportunities, and adventure shut off. What will I look back on this time, this patch of land I walk over and over, the walls I reframe and furniture I repaint? What rich memory will I summon about this time to aid me in my forthcoming journey? On my way back from one of my walks, dusk had settled and dark moved in. I weaved in between yards of angry barking dogs and passed a barefooted brood of children running into the darkness, I know not what for. Confused, I felt the pings of cold in my red fingertips, so I picked up my pace homeward. It was a magical time of day when the world grew quiet and a peace descended. The cold tends to stay us and make us still, and I found my body had no choice but to follow form.


Time stopped for a moment this year as we stayed home and baked, painted, wrote, and drank too much. Certain things sped up. Painful relationships came to a halt to open up new unconditional ones, past traumas came to light that have been addressed so peace can live. And all the while we sit and look out the same window we did nine months ago clothed in a completely different skin. Dusty air still cakes our lungs, our bones fragile from ill light, and our hearts are weary from mending.

The barefooted restlessness has passed. I find myself numb from waiting in different skin. I struggle to slip into my old skin. The one that has a living, breathing heart with strong bones and clean lungs. The one that made her feet sore with walking streets over and over with new eyes. Who found basements with curious books and made her choice to be there. My corner is lit, my books intact, my body struggling while also succumbing. I remember a time, a memory so dear, of getting lost. Of grinding the city for a way back and finding so many colors along the way. I summon the memory of an ancestor to restore me, but I am home. The mist-speckled hill, the screaming neighbors, and polarized country outside my window stay the same while my plant-child's new leaves turn greener from less water.