Shot

They sneer at me
and their spiteful liquor
sends a flash of liquid lightning
scorching down my throat. It heats
the roots of my ribs
as it courses through my essential organs;
it stews within the cavern of my
stomach, sending its steam back
to bubble in my esophagus; it
dilutes through my digestion
until every part of me holds
a molecule of malice
and every nerve sparks.

Next morning I still throb
with thirst, and can still smell
the smoke of their smirks.
Back bent, shoulders shrunk, eyes
inverted to avoid
the shards of glances from those who know.
Trapped in a cocoon of muffled mutters
I stagger away from the remnants
of their reward. Back bent,
eyes down, hat pulled over
the drums that pound with shame.

Hurt Worse

Hurt Worse

It’s been three weeks since you carved the word “fragile” into your arm. The letters didn’t leave the rough, deep-set scars you’d hoped for. At the same time you’re relieved that your co-workers don’t look close enough to see the pink raised lines that still whisper the bitter word.

You forgot how warm it was getting. And how intuitive some of them are. That they might notice how you hold the hem of your sleeves in your palm or that you’re wearing sleeves at all.

But no one really notices the way you clutch your arms around your ribs. When the scars start to heal no one pays attention to your itching. Even the people who know. It’s better that way. It’s not like in the movies where one person sees it, touches them gently, and fixes everything.

The last time you gave in like that, there was a backwards spiral. Those aren’t fun. It’s not worth it.

Even if you think the reaction would be better this time—better to just leave them hidden there and hope.

Hope they don’t stretch back open when you couch dance to The Lion King on Friday.

Hope the bleach water and goggles are enough to hide the red lines on Saturday.

Hope your roommates are too tired to look at you twice when they first get back so you have time to throw a blanket over the evidence on Sunday.

Hope that by Monday they’re set in enough that you forget about them and can focus on school and work and chores.

Take one breath every day and hold it till the lights turn out because that’s the only way you can make for even a tiny bit sure that nothing else is going to happen.

Remember the last time something else happened?

That’s where the word came from in the first place, when the best people averted their eyes when you stepped out of the police car clutching your overnight kit and smelling like deodorant from the treatment center.

The only way to prove them right is to take the word and make it real. You can’t think of a better way than with the help of your silver friend.

Remember the time you sliced off the top of your thumb prying it out of the pink plastic shaver? You don’t remember the pain. Only the blood that didn’t stop coming. Sometimes that’s the best part.

There’s that one time you did it in the shower because you thought you’d never come out. Even though you knew the voices in the rooms across the hall. They’d just showered and no one would be looking in for a long time.

There’s not enough gauze in the bathroom this time so you have to deal with it. It hasn’t been this bad in a while. Each step and turn stretches the split skin and there’s this metallic ache in your muscles. You’re not good at sterilizing. Maybe one day you’ll get tetanus. You wonder if it’s as debilitating as people say.

Three weeks later lying on the bed and twisting your arm in the crooked light of your desktop lamp. How did you get the letters in that spot anyway? Three weeks is kind of a long time. A lot happened, anyway. But you’ve managed to hold your breath all twenty-one days.

The ones on your leg stayed better. You wonder if anyone sees them when you’re in the water. They probably notice the hair first. You never shave.

I think you’re wondering if I noticed. If your tiny winces masked by an extra-loud giggle and your hitched breath lead me to some conclusion. If I noticed the way you held yourself. I’m not sure if I did. I wonder what I would have said if I had.

I think part of you wants me to be the one to fix this. Is that what I want? I want you to be fixed. I feel like I’m the last person you should count on to do that.

I think the funny thing is not even knowing how much she hurt you and still comparing myself and asking if I’m hurting you worse.

Then I look at your fake smile and wonder if anyone will ever hurt you worse than you hurt yourself. I think the reason you want the scars to last is because you want them to hurt worse than the pain.

Disturbed

Disturbed

I think I was ten when I learned what “disturbed” meant. It held such serious connotations. For me it described a feeling I couldn’t shake, something I didn’t like, didn’t understand, but couldn’t escape.

I noticed that when my brothers told me disturbing things, though, they did so with what appeared to be glee. As if they were not disturbed at all.

Maybe they were mocking me. But at the time it lead me to believe that by sharing the disturbing thought, it would become less real and less troubling for me.

I read a lot. I watched a lot of movies. I watched the news. I saw a lot of things I didn’t like, didn’t understand, but couldn’t escape.

If I told someone about them, it would make it less scary and less real.

I lived in a house with five other people. We never got out. I didn’t have friends. It took less than a day for everything one person knew to be common knowledge. there was no escape in my own home.

So I found other ways. I kept a journal. I wrote twisted fiction. I wrote stories about experiences I’d never had and places I’d never been. I wrote about people years older than me. I wrote about feelings I’d never had, feelings so intense I couldn’t find the right words.

I hated not having the right words. So I read more. I got a thesaurus. I read my dictionary. Trying to find the words I didn’t know that would click into the puzzle of the misery I was trying to portray in my stories.

I wanted to describe a misery too intense to be endured by a single human. Because I needed to get it out of my head.

I created characters so I could destroy them. But not completely. Tear them down then wait just long enough for them to rebuild only to be rendered into wreckage once again.

I wanted my words to tear my flesh in a way that I felt my hands never could.

I was trapped in the same way I trapped my characters. Maybe they had an island, or a fence, or a river keeping them in place. I had four walls and five family members who never let me ask the questions they didn’t want to hear answered.

I wrote with a darkness that shamed me. My writing lay stacked in drawers. When I read my works, laughter lashed back. My handwriting became smaller. The stacks grew higher.

As I condemn my characters to thicker and thicker layers of despair, I try to free myself from the sticky strings that life winds around me and sticks to the walls that closed in on my childhood. One time my brothers and I were playing we were trapped in a spiderweb but when the screams became too real I yelled at them to stop and ran out of the room. Then in my head I repeated the screams over and over until they sounded less real and felt less awful. I see the way my words struggle across the pages and the strings stick tighter but there are fewer. I’m still just a ten year old trying to run away from the meaning of a word I didn’t know, I didn’t understand, but that I can’t escape.

Bubble

Bubble

I’m in a bubble. No one can touch me. I can’t get out. I’m suffocating. All I can see are blurry images of what’s outside and pieces of myself and my mistakes reflected in the rounded surface around me, stretched and distorted to look bigger and uglier and repeated in the curves. Everyone’s image is bloated. Everyone’s voice is diluted. I could pop the bubble but it would end in a huge explosion; the residue would remain, splattered on my surface and those around me. And the people outside might not like what they see when the bubble no longer hides the worst of me in sparkling, smooth rainbows.

Stories

​The biggest mistakes I’ve made are the ones that anyone can see. White lines, brown lines. My skin a checkered canvas. A tally of each regret. Mostly hidden. All remembered. Every story. I can count them with my fingertips. Fifteen, sixteen in a row. Feel the ridges, taste the skin. My sad story written in the place that all can see.

“Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear — Burnt Pine

Candles for Orlando, June 15, 2016 Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. What happens in the span of a year is a blur of motion: feelings smeared across a moving train, purple sorrow, red hurt, green anger, and yellow fear. It’s a whirlwind of emotion, pain twisting around regret and spiraling into depression. But […]

via “Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear — Burnt Pine

Garnet Stars

Garnet Stars

Moon whispers through the whispy clouds and the shivering trees as we walk. We pause along the way. Air nips but we’re bundled and brave. The sky looks fresh and sacred, deep with night and sprinkled with silver, dashed with garnets of stars. The path spreads curled in darkness to my left and your right, it’s late at night, you’re here. Nothing seems more right. I’m used to darkness spilling in lumps out of my mouth streaked with tears when a hand is offered. But with you all I can think is how happy I am and it’s clear as the garnet stars sending their light in a centuries-long stream ending in our eyes.

Cars croon in the distance and the light from the apartments behind the trees adds an accent to your face when you look into the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the moon.

You sit in the grass on the side of the path and I join you as close as I can get without the tight sadness in my eyes. We talk about the moon and the sky and look across the pond sketched with stars giggling in the nighttime breeze.

We walk again and whisper through the trees giggling into the chilled night and bumping shoulders when we trip through darkness. Gravel grumbles at our feet. My hair is sticky from daytime heat and I feel embarrassed about the oil in my skin, relieved for the thickness of my jacket keeping that from touching you. Your hair seems perkier and your skin smoother. You’re even smaller that I am. I wonder at the conciseness of your body, shaped and sketched from years of editing. Your thesis is finally on your face and it’s a good one.

You don’t like spiders. I try not to giggle when I think of you braving bridges and traffic and people and gowns yet stiffening when the sticky thin strings touch your skin. I know the way better and lead on to a clearer path free of webs. Anyway, we can see the sky better from here.

The golf course is green and well-groomed, almost eerie in the light of the lampposts. Tall spoon-shaped trees create the shadows and a feeling of walls as we walk. There’s a hill, so we climb, and it scoops down towards the street. You ask to see my phone and we lay in the grass staring at the garnet stars and listening to the soft music curling from its tiny speakers and etching into our ears.

I look at you staring at the sky with the tiny light from my phone beaming into your face and I want to tell you, I want to tell you every piece of me that’s ever been missing. When you look at me I close my eyes and wonder if you’re watching me breathe.

You stand and jump to roll down the hill, laughing and hollering, and I scream and join you, spiraling through the moistened grass and landing right into you. You grab me quick, my back pressed into your face, and we lie there laughing like lovers in a John Greene novel. My blood is shivering from cold and screams and spirals and the feeling of your body holding mine.

You roll me over to run your sprinting fingers down my sides and hear me laugh again. I fight back feebly but my fingers flail limp against you and I clutch your fuzzy jacket and scream. You’re on top of me and in my face and I’m gasping for more than one reason when I see your eyes and feel your arms and elbows on my chest.

You ask me how I feel and I try to hide the truth from my reply.

I want you to never stand up but as soon as it starts to feel okay you must think so too because you get up to grab my phone from the top of the hill.

I know I’m wrong and you’re trying, but the garnet stars in my eyes tricked me when I thought it might be okay. You walked me home and then left and I lay in the rug pretending it was the moistened grass of the golf course and the cat on my chest was you.