I am a red-eyed, punched cheeks teen when I fall for him. I have only found escape in long car rides and retreating further into myself. When I am in his arms, he says, “You don’t have to keep run away here. You’re safe.” I let those words keep me by his side while he roars at me for my mistakes. I let them keep me when he drinks in another room on Christmas Eve, leaving me alone with his family. I let them keep me even when I have no desire to keep myself. Two years later, I finally stumble out of his bedroom, a ghost with shaking fingers and no sense of who I am.
From another country, a nice boy texts me secrets until sunrise and tells me that the best way to fall for someone is to collapse into them totally. He talks about his childhood pain, his drunken walks, his suicidal highs, and urges me to the same. Carefully, I show him the bruises on my ribs, the stab marks on my thighs, the places I let others inside. Undressing with him is never literal. When he talks about dying inside of me, I leave him with a mouthful of apologies. He said, give me everything, all of your pain, but I could not stand to whither beside him, drowning in my past shame.
A few years later, I am walking beside a man with a pink, Easter egg head when he looks at me and says, You’re a mystery. What’s beneath all those layers? He’s trying to make learning how my body’s been handled seem like foreplay, but I can tell that he’s really trying to figure out how he can shape me. In his bedroom, he is so interested in me spilling poetry that he slits my wrists and says, Come on baby, bleed for me. I run myself dry, but no words come for him, because he taught me the art of being undressed and feeling nothing.
For awhile, even though I cannot remember others’ laughs, I continue to pick their names off of me like scabs. I continue to wake up feeling like I am being choked, only to cry out to a ghost. I continue to find myself saying it’s my fault, as I pull pieces of the past out of my heart. It is not until my mother sits me down and says that love’s burrowed in my bones, that I feel too much because I let everything live inside of me, that I begin to move on. She holds me and says, “You are not a graveyard for memories. Allow yourself to breathe.” Exhausted, I take a season off of love, and with time, grow a skin thicker than any of the insults that had been directed at me.