Up until recently, I was a masochist in the worst sense of the word. At night, when you were sleeping, I would bite down on my tongue and stop breathing until the stars flew in. The taste of iron and hemoglobin would fill my mouth like a river until I was forced to take in air and spit the blood out. You slept like an infant; I wanted you dead.
It was a terrifying sensation, like sea sickness of the brain as the body rocks it, knees to chest, half-feral and starving for untainted waters. Day after day, dark oceans slapped at my lungs, as my lips spoke in soft, genteel concurrences. Half whispering this sugar-sweet delusion: “babyiloveyou babyiloveyou babyilove.”
After a while a person forgets. A prison is just a home with small rooms and half-frozen meals; a partner is just a bitter extension of the self, glued at various points. My voice lost its humor, your accent its charm. There is a choice in the matter.
It’s all your fault, or it was your hand holding me underwater.
At best, it’s before you’ve been broken that you realize the fault lines in sallow skin coincide with the cracks in the kitchen tiles; but the already shattered souls can have revelations, too. It was done too soon; I was standing alone in the wreckage, hands deep in our rotted organs as the laugh tracks played from the TV. The terror of falling the moment before impact, a momentary death, a calm the second after.
And I remember it this way: Like any other evening, we were hazy and lamp-lit green, two bodies going through a violent choreography for an inanimate audience. You held me down, but you were red-eyed and wasted and I slipped from your grip, dipping like a dancer. And then it was different: a shift in dust, a sideways breeze.
Well, I know that you heard me, the sound was stifled before ripping at the seams of us, shaking the ash-stained floors. A bellow I couldn’t control that leapt from bloody lips, tired of hibernation – an animal, teeth bared at your throat. I saw it all. I was the lioness.
Perhaps you remember differently. What did you feel? The shot, the scream, or the sonic boom?
You were the eye of a great beast, a fighter that kept his trophies on or around my body: scars, smashed veins, and one or two unborn ghosts, nothing more. Cooing love songs through fire after striking hard, hurling apologies into walls or fists into bones. You earned this.
But you underestimated me, didn’t you? I was the champion, arm up at the match. Roaring five senses and years of blasted self-esteem toward you. A deafening noise, the last you heard from me.
Now, like a butterfly with wings touched by hands I’ll sink, losing what light I left with. You’ve earned this, but I did too: the sting of buzzing hornets behind eyelids, the stripes of prowling tigers at night. That one, last jagged inhalation: what zero means as a verb.
This is being saved, and erased, heroism without the glory. Torn open, incinerated, and spread across a ravaged land. This is not an ending or an escape. It’s a canyon where we used to live. Let the vultures have you. And the stars fly in for good.