The moment you went from bullying
I knew that I would be
chained to you eternally.
hiding in my closet
i can still hear the screams,
as my mom called the police
from the other room.
i pressed my ear against the wall,
hearing the growling,
i could see him in my head:
my dad, pressed against the wall
holding him there.
i didn't bother to wipe the tears from my eyes
as i clutched the blanket to my chest-
the closet seemed to close in around me
as i got lost in the shuffle of the darkness.
it was my only friend.
i waited for him to break down the door,
and claws at the ready,
but he never came.
my dad cried out.
i could see it in my head,
the look in his eyes,
i remember the squeaking of the front door
as the police came inside tentatively
but all he did was wag his tail.
they threw him in the bathroom-
i still remember the scuffling.
i could hear it through the wall,
mixing with my stuttering heartbeats.
the door slammed,
and they emerged with his neck
looped through the catchpole.
they threw him in the back of the truck,
slammed the door,
and took off.
i never even got to say goodbye.
he sat in a cage for ten days
before they killed him.
the same amount of time
that we had to love him.
i wish it had been longer.
But Then Came A Fifth
We didn’t always have a family of five. It was once only two. When my older sister came it was three, and when I came it finally became four. That was it. We were only a family of four. I liked our family of four. I always thought that four was a nice number for a family.
But then came a fifth, and that fifth wasn’t even ours to keep. She belonged to somebody else. I remember our car skidding to a stop in front of a dimly lit building I’d never seen before. The only light came from one single door in the corner, almost beckoning us to come in. She was only four months old at the time and felt like a fragile dandelion that could be blown by the slightest breeze.
Mom said she was only supposed to stay the night. That night.
I remember sitting on our big, leather couch watching this giggling mess of a baby trying to roll over on the floor. I wondered what made her giggle so much. I wondered what made me smile when seeing this baby filled with uncontainable laughter.
Mom said she was only supposed to stay this week. That week.
I remember walking through the bread aisle in Publix and being met with the uncomfortable feeling of someone watching my back. Every person in every aisle reacted the same. Their one glance turning into that one stare. She was brown and we were white. Every one of their drawn-out looks was a reminder, that she wasn’t ours to keep. We continued on past the bakery and its sugar-filled smells. Each pastry was a work of art. Yet among the many intricate designs was a simple black and white cookie. Although that simple pastry was made of frosting and dough, not glass, I felt as if my family’s reflection was on display for everyone to see.
Mom said she was only supposed to stay this month. That month.
I remember signing up for the childcare at my church, just so she wouldn’t cry every time we dropped her off. I wondered what made her cry so hard. Did she think we wouldn’t ever come back? Did she think we were leaving her?
Mom said she didn’t know how long she was staying. I hoped forever.
I liked the number five. I thought that five was a nice number for a family. I wanted a family of five.
Mom said we were just going on a trip to Colorado. Just a trip.
I remember asking “Why can’t she come with us?” and Mom replying “She’s too little to go on a plane.” I didn’t argue. Mom was always right. Mom was always right unless she wanted to be wrong.
Wrong. I remember sitting in the fake leather seats in the congested airplane. The air was filled with the sound of high-pitched crying. Looking down the aisle, I could see a small infant, no older than four months, wailing in her mother’s arms. I glanced back at Mom, studying her face. Before I could ask that simple question once more, she answered.
“She went back.” Mom said. The word back seemed hard to say in her mouth. A word that I might have written a thousand times over without it truly having meaning. She went back. She belonged to somebody else. Not us.
I remember that night in Colorado. My white, hotel sheets had been darkened from my tears. The cold, wet feeling left on my pillow that wouldn’t ever dry. We were only a family of four. I hated the number four.
For an entire year, we went without hearing from or seeing her. Our four-person family didn’t feel quite right, like a car with four wheels, yet it was still missing its steering wheel. Our even-numbered family somehow felt odd.
For one of the first times in my life, I kneeled down onto the carpeted flooring in my bedroom and prayed. For the first time, I didn’t fight the tears in my eyes. I let them roll down my cheeks and onto the floor. For the first time, I let out everything.
Why couldn’t she stay? Why couldn’t she look like us? Why couldn’t she… Why couldn’t she…
My hands gripped harder onto my scuffed knees. Each tear tore through me.
And I prayed one simple sentence. Just let me see her again.
As usual, we went to church on Saturday. As usual, we would walk by the playground. It all felt like an as usual Saturday. But then came the fifth, running into the playground. There she was. She was there. But as I came and sat with her on the playground, I saw no recognition in her face.
“Do you know my name?” I smiled trying to say without letting the tears fall. The little brown girl with afro hair shook her head, and then went back to the slides on the playground. Up and down. Up and down. I couldn’t help but watch, my eyes following her movements. Up and down. Up and down.
When I met her once again in the childcare room at church, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed. Now there was a slight bit of recognition in her face. For me, that was enough. I was surrounded by children, yet I truly cared for only one.
Week after week, I held her in my arms every Saturday. Only on Saturday. I loved Saturday.
Mom said she’s coming back.
Back. The word’s meaning had changed so drastically. She was coming back home. This time I promised to hold onto her tight and never let go.
A year went by - I had gotten used to her monthly visits with the mother, and the difference in the way she acted when she came back home.
Another year - I had gotten used to her father’s letters from jail, which she couldn’t yet read, and his drawings of Mickey Mouse.
Another year - I had gotten used to her funny little questions, “Mommy, when I get older will I be white?”
And on May 26th of that same year, Mom said she would stay. And I knew she meant forever.
I walked aimlessly down the hall. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew why.
The words “Please send to room 94” were written on a yellow piece of paper my History teacher had handed me. I knew right away what it was about.
I walked as slowly as I could. When I passed a security guard or teacher, I pretended I knew where I was headed. I held the yellow pass so they could see and kept on my way.
But my mind was elsewhere. I stared out windows and into classrooms as I passed. I wanted more than anything to tear the pass in half and throw it on the ground. All I wanted to do was run.
Ever since school had begun several weeks ago, I had dreaded this moment. I knew that some day my friend would spill our little secret, and I would be the one who would suffer. Or, maybe, so she could join in the fun … I should make her suffer.
She had told, hadn’t she? I asked myself over and over as I searched for my destination. I trusted her with my secret and she had told. But I’d known that some day she would. Maybe that was why I had told her.
Deep down, I was tired of struggling. I was tired of the constant tears and sadness that seemed to take over my life. But I didn’t want to admit it, and I never would – not in a million years would I admit that I didn’t want to be like this anymore.
Finally I turned a corner and saw a number on a door that matched the room number on the pass. I opened it with a shaking hand and stepped inside, terrified, overwhelmed by loneliness, and burning with hatred for the one who had tattled on me.
I felt like a small child, lost and unsure where to go. I probably looked like one too. No hint of confidence was on my face and I knew it. And I didn’t care if my fear and anger showed.
The room was dark – just a small lamp in the corner and the light from the social worker’s computer screen. I shut the door, as she instructed, and sat in a chair. All I wanted to do was walk away … even more so when she began to speak. It started out as a “getting to know each other” talk. She asked me simple questions and I answered. But still my mind and heart were not in that room. All I could think about was why I was here. What had I gotten myself into?
Then the conversation took a sharp turn, so sharp that I felt as if she was stabbing me in the heart. Her questions brought tears to my eyes, but I refused to set them free. I had learned how to hide my emotions, and I used my “coping skills” to keep from breaking down.
I answered with nods and shakes of my head. When I did speak, my words were only whispers. I could feel my voice begin to shake but still – still, I did not show her my feelings.
My heart beat rapidly as her words began to sink in. It wasn’t that they were changing me, but they were becoming more real to me. They were somehow cutting through my denial and causing me to open up to myself. Somehow, I felt a flicker of hope spark in me.
I walked out of her office 20 long minutes later, still physically and emotionally tired from battling a mental disorder. But I also walked out of that office knowing something about my friend – that she had cared enough to tell.
And that was all I needed to know.
a world of black and white a vision knew only dark
trapped soulless between the shadows and the light
a longing disguised as fear turned into a spark
i could only think of one haunting name in the rain
a soft touch a shallow fault a lasting hurtful pain
my whole life felt like one long washed-out night
there we were chasing the outline of the night
until the moon had faded leaving the sky dark
lost in the ecstatic thrill of insanity and pain
there we were racing after what’s left of the light
watching the colorless world drown away in rain
the only thing left ignited was our muffled spark
a chance i took and in your eyes i saw the spark
leather jackets and white-gold shoes under the night
a paper cup of cold latte and the sound of the rain
wishing the impossible we only belonged in the dark
a seven-letter name i didn’t dare to bring into light
black skirts and crimson lipsticks and all was pain
there we were my heart synced to the beats of pain
but in the eternal darkness you were the spark
you taught me everything i knew under star light
there we were falling down the deepest night
fingers around my wrist pulled me into the dark
leaving red marks on my skin they burn in the rain
a sad song and a story that ended in pouring rain
i was drowning in fragmented silence and sober pain
a memory of a world that had never been this dark
broken to pieces by what i had mistaken for the spark
a heart that doesn’t heal and a gleaming ocean of night
but one thing i could never be wrong about: you. were. light.
falling in the dark, one last time to create a spark
breaking from pain, searching for the end of to- night
life was the rain but through that rain i saw light
lots and lots of screams
peeking through door cracks
willow on the floor
tears streaming down her cheeks
“Stop it! Leave her alone!”
holly pushing the officers away
needles come out
holly gets held down
her body goes limp.
willow screams louder
I stared at the phone in my shaking hand, unable to process what I had just read.
The tears began to well in my eyes as the weight of truth crushed me beneath it. I heard my phone crash to the floor before I realized it was no longer in my hand. My dress ripped as I crumbled to the floor.
My eyes blurred and I felt the make-up I had spent hours on run down my face. I laid my head against the cold tile of the bathroom floor, letting my tears puddle against my cheek. The pins in my hair dug into my skull, but I felt nothing. My body trembled, my breath shallow as I stared at the fibers of the bath mat. An aqua color with stringy, elastic fiber sticking out of tightly wound carpet fingers. My breath quickened suddenly, my lungs filling with more air than they were prepared to, ripping, fighting against my rib cage. I felt the emotion rupturing through my skin, another deep breath and I screamed as I had never screamed before. I kicked the wall as I tried to sit up. Only to scream and collapse again, hitting my head against the hard floor. Disoriented I felt my pulse in my temple. Thump. Thump. Thump. My lungs burned. My throat burned. My heart beat as fast as it could, desperate to keep me alive as I tried to will myself to die.
James was dead. The man who loved me. The man I loved. The man I made the mistake of leaving only a year before. The first man to be good to me. I was too broken then to be loved by someone as true and good and humble as him. His only job, as far as he was concerned, was to provide and care for me, to love me and support me and help me through every endeavour the best he could. I was the toxic one, plaqued by my lack of self awareness and unhealthy relationship expectations. I had left by slyly going to his house while he was work, grabbing the remnants of myself, every piece of evidence that proved I had once been there, and driving out of town. We had began to talk again, as friends, a couple months before. Before... Before... He was murdered.
Good, true, honest James had been murdered by a man he had tried to help. A man he had given a house and food to. Mark, was his name. A homeless man that James met at a party on the lake last summer. James took Mark and his six year old son in, gave them somewhere safe and warm to be until Mark got on his feet. There had been an altercation at the end of that summer between the two of them. Mark had been angry at James for questioning Mark’s parenting methods. Mark had pulled a knife and James had choked him out in self defense. Mark and his son left that day and life went on back to normal. It was barely discussed anymore. Two days ago, Mark had contacted James, saying he wanted to squash the beef and put it behind them. They went to lunch, James paid and Mark was invited to a get-together at Jame’s place that evening. Everything was fine, good even. Nobody at the party suspected any malice, so much so that after James had gone to sleep and the party died out all of James’s friends deemed it safe for them to go home, even with Mark still there.
After the last of the friends had gone home Mark walked into James’s room and watched him as he slept. I do not know how long he stood there, how long it took him to decide that he would murder him, the man I loved, a brother, a son, a friend. I wonder what went through Mark’s mind. Did he think of the consequences? Did unwarranted anger course through his veins, did envy suffocate his compassion, his conscience? After a time he had decided, walked back outside through the kitchen, to his truck and to wherever he stored his hunting equipment. There he found a sharp blade of 12 inches used to gut large game such as deer and elk. Mark then walked back through the kitchen into James’s room and stabbed him. Stabbed him 25 times in the back while James slept.
It is not known if Mark left then or watched as James stumbled out the door before crashing through the bathroom door to the right of his bedroom. James was found face down in a puddle of his own blood on the floor of his bathroom, alone, bleeding out, not standing a chance against the coward of man who decided to take his life. Mark went home. Mark hid the murder weapon, changed out of his bloody clothes, took a shower and went to sleep. Mark returned to work the following Monday, seemingly unfazed by the act he had committed, the crime he had committed, the murder he had committed.
Of course I knew none of this, motionless on the bathroom flooring, trying to force the life from myself, drunk with alcohol, drunk with pain, drunk with rage. I would find all this out in the coming weekes. All I knew then was that a man I owed so much to no longer walked this Earth. A man that I had wronged. A man I gave up for my own selfish, scared, immature reasons.
I don't remember how long I lay on the floor, my head throbbing, nausea dancing at the back of my throat, tears running dry, dress ripping more with every sharp inhale. After an eternity, I placed my hands against the ground, attempting to push myself up. My weight pressed into a wet spot on the tile and I fell back to the ground. I tried again and again, finally using the edge of the bathtub to get one leg under me, the sink to help me get the other. I stood in front of the mirror, make-up no longer smeared but gone altogether. I turned the water on to wash my face and brush my teeth. The exfoliating beads felt like sandpaper against my skin. I rinsed my face, the water warm and soothing against my red hot skin. I stared into the eyes of the woman in front of me, no longer recognizing who I was, no longer knowing what life meant now. I stumbled to my room and laid down, letting the world spin before I closed my eyes. Everything was different now, I didn’t know how, just that it was. I screamed and the world went dark.
A Word from the Wise
It was right after she left me that I received the best advice I've ever had.
Eight happy years collapsed from beneath my feat in a terrible morning, an argument hat no words could resolve for her mind was made up as to her future and I was to be no more a part of it than a painful memory, another face to fade into obscurity. She handed me back my great grandmother's heirloom ring and without a tear in her eye walked out the door and never turned back.
The pain of losing my one true love felt unbearable. A dagger in my back that I could reach the handle with blood-soaked fingers just enough to nudge but never firmly grasp enough to pull free, every attempt digging the blade deeper into the sinew of my being. I thought it would never end.
It was in the turmoil of my pain that a dear friend sat me down, and gave me his wisdom on pain and suffering.
He said to me that the scars people leave on our being never truly heal. People say time heals all wounds, and perhaps time can staunch the bleeding but the scar will always remain.
He led me to the shade of a solitary birch, broad and towering amongst a stand of similar trees. Into its trunk were carved letter, intitials, names. Grey-black scars on ivory bark. He gestured to a marking the size of my palm that read "M+K, 1989" and said:
Thirty-one years this has been here, and yet it hasn't faded. The tree is still damaged, still scarred. Thirty-one years ago, this probably wrapped halfway around the trunk, but now look. No bigger than my hand, and yet I can barely reach around the tree with both.
It was true - the carving stood stark against the bark, barely spanning a third of its width.
This is an old scar, and over the years it hasn't gone away. Hasn't even gotten smaller. But it did not kill the tree. The tree grew bigger, and as the tree grew bigger, that scar became a smaller and smaller piece of the whole. It's still there, it always will be, but every day the tree grows, it becomes less significant. It becomes merely a mark of a memory long past.
He gestured to the other carvings, other markings, other dark eyeholes where branches snapped off and deer antlers rubbed and teenaged lovers professed their commitment.
And maybe one day whoever carved it will see it again, but it will not be the only carving; it will simply be one story cut short amongst a thousand more etched into a tree ever growing. The scars people leave on our hearts will never go away, but with time, they become smaller pieces of us because like this tree, we are always growing.
And my hands ran along the trunk, and feeling each age-old scar, I understood.
My best friend fell out,
knowing him since diapers,
We both hooked on dope,
Never shoulda got invited,
Dead on the floor,
While I’m working up some more,
Had to run that pocket, he’s got that score,
Blue and gray,
Fentanyl killed my homeboy today,
Ain’t nobody called the feds, fuck it he dead,
Can’t help the excitement, his pockets lined with dope,
shit I wish I had a rope,
I’m so depressed,
death done got me stressed,
Feeling like a helpless sucker pushed right up to the edge,
I exit the spot, looking for some rock,
I need to get stupid, forget, my best homey dead,
I see the dope man, hand feeling the pistol grip,
Might get my drip on a murder tip.
His name was Travis but he’ll never have this,
Never went to school,
Never went to college,
Head full of drug knowledge,
Stomach full of air and shit,
Thought he’d go home, thought he was bout it, course now he dead and shit
Now he never going home,
his life fucking done,
his family fucked up,
I can only think, damn son—I can barely HIT
(This Is For Option Two)
I felt hopless,
I felt pain
that I didn't
seem to care.
But that's what fixed me.
I wanted to be better.
Better for you.
I wish you could see my effort,
but at the same time I'm glad you can't,
in case it isn't good enough.