Secrets Secrets

Fighter

When I was little, like five or six, I watched my dad fight for money for the first time. It was our little secret. He’d come up to me, bloody-lipped, and remind me what it was I had to say. I’d go, “Secrets secrets are no fun. Secrets secrets hurt someone” and he’d slap me upside the head before buckling me up in the car.

He’d clean himself up real nice while Mom worked the third shift, apply ice to his lip and wash away all the blood. He went through bleach like nobody’s business cleaning up all his tanks. The jeans would go through the wash three, four times before even some of the blood would come off. It became so I was his little partner in crime. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if they see he has a kid, maybe they’ll (subconsciously or otherwise) lose the fight. Most fights it was $25 if you lost, $50 if you won. If Dad was on a losing streak he’d tell me he was “counting his quarters.” Guys bet on the side, raking in cash or giving it away.

I scooped up my father’s teeth when I was seven, big root structures like the undersides of trees poking out of them. He’d later say he was glad they were back teeth. Easier to hide from my mom. The guy who knocked them out threatened to do worse, and the organizers held him back as he bellowed. My father had been taunting him. My father liked to taunt people, whether that was a good idea or not. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if he taunted them, they’d get pissed and sloppy, and he’d be able to get some good shots on them. It rarely worked, but he did it anyway.

I was eight when my mom found out. Call it an anonymous tip. We still don’t know which of our neighbors squealed, but they must’ve seen him coming in all bloodied up one too many times. She didn’t know it was from fighting until I told her. My father chased me around the room when I said this, threatened me with everything in the book. Told me to come and take my punishment like a man when I ducked around the kitchen table. Mom told him off and he stopped coming after me. I’ve never seen so much malice in a man’s eyes as I did then.

What the fuck was my father thinking? Didn’t he have any concern for anyone other than himself? And what did he think he was doing bringing his kid around with him to this? Didn’t he have any sense in that thick skull of his? He was to quit doing it immediately. But honey, he already had a couple fights lined up. No way out of them. And she didn’t give a shit if he had a shot at the heavyweight fucking title. He was done. Did he understand that? And yeah. Yeah, he understood fine.

He went out the next week. Call it a compulsion. Call it an addiction. Call it willful stupidity. We were out of the house the next day, divorce proceedings to follow. I don’t know for sure because I never did see him again, but word on the street is he kept on fighting, this time to pay for child support. We moved somewhere quiet and shaded with big, leafy trees. Last I saw of my father was a bloody old tank that slipped through the cracks and into our laundry, one of the blood stains shaped into a heart.

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Oranges

orange

When it came time to come home, I was cold and hungry and tired and I had no idea yet that Drew was dead.

Mom greeted me at the door, smile too put on, hug too tight. Dad even hugged me. Dad never hugged other males. I brought a bag of oranges with me, set them on the table. I knew how much Drew loved oranges. Past tense. “Drew’s coming home” is how they put it. Mom searching my eyes for recognition, her own tearing up. Dad put his hand against the door frame. He punched it once, twice. Mom stopped him before he could split a knuckle.

We did the usual. Mom hauled out the photo album, blew the dust away from old polaroids. I remembered then that you’re not supposed to shake them, that doing so can damage the image. A couple of them attested to this fact: a shot of Drew and I with a blob between the two of us, another with a streak erasing Drew’s face.

Drew and I weren’t ever close. More like we were on the cusp of being close but one of us would always fuck it up at the last second. The last time I talked to him, the last thing I said was fuck you.

Everything in Drew’s room was just as he left it. Sports stars adorned every conceivable bit of wall space. Pennants to schools Drew never went to topped these. Everything still stunk of his cologne.

I went through his drawers, finding socks, the odd memento, condoms. Nothing that could paint a picture except when taken as a whole. I dug under his bed for the three-digit lockbox that was rusting out at the bottom, the one I never decoded. I fiddled with it a while before it gave way: lucky guess.

Inside: the old Nazi pamphlet our grandpa brought back from the war. And there Drew was going off to war a couple generations later, though never coming back from it. More mementos, a couple trophy pictures of girls he’d been with. And there, at the bottom: an old polaroid of us as kids, Drew propping me up by the armpits and me perpetually laughing at something off-camera. I touched the photo, rubbed Drew’s face. I put the photo back and closed the lockbox. Put it away. Punched the ground until my mom downstairs asked if I was okay.

When we would eventually see him there in his box, American flag covering it, they’d refuse to let us see him. It’d be a closed casket. When they said we couldn’t see him, I punched one of the soldiers in the face. I was put in a chokehold and told to calm down as my face turned red and a vein bulged in my head. I said I was calm. When they let me go, I straightened myself up. I cried onto his box, my tears coloring the oak like so much watercolor.

When I finally made it downstairs, Mom was there putting away old trinkets, little gifts Drew had given her over the years. Dad was in the kitchen peeling an orange with his hands, ripping off little tendrils with his thumb. He let the pieces of peel fall to the floor.

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Amari in My Heart

Life Cast Projection Test

I name the little person who screams inside my chest Amari. Maybe chest isn’t specific enough. Maybe heart is better. She stays quiet most of the time, only every speaking up when she knows that something’s wrong. I spend whole days trying to find what I will give her for dinner. She is very particular about the food she eats, especially for dinner. What I do is I open up the door in my chest and feed her little bites. She’s very particular about the bites I feed her. They must be just right.

When we are done with feeding, I close the door in my chest and try to do something that will please her. Lately it is becoming difficult to please her. She is always wanting extra attention, but when I give it to her she acts as though I’m smothering her.

She loves taking walks the most. When we take walks, she sings with the birds, chirping along with their songs till I can feel the reverberations in my ears, up and down my spine. When she sings on our walks I have to be careful to avoid other people for fear they’ll poke around in my chest for the source of the singing. You can never be too careful.

I go on a date with fear in my heart. Amari has been known to act up before, and she’ll probably do it again. I feed her little bits of turkey to calm her down before the date and hope the tryptophan kicks in for an early nap. She’s wired, however, and there’s no way to calm her down. I go on the date regardless. We meet at a lovely sushi restaurant I’ve been dying to check out. My date looks just like she did in her profile picture, and I hope I look the same too.

Amari coos in my chest, soft and quiet. I suppose she likes my date, or is at least comfortable. Luckily it’s not loud enough to hear. I’ve had dates hear Amari before, and it’s always the same. If I don’t trust them, I’ll pass it off as something else. If I do, I’ll show them the door in my chest, open it so they can see Amari. Not one has accepted her, the door, or me.

It wouldn’t do to leave Amari at home. I’ve left her out for extended periods before, but the outside world is much too cold for her. She needs the constant 98.6 degrees of my body to sustain her. She’s a delicate creature, no matter how feisty she can be.

I don’t remember how long I’ve had her, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if it was at birth that she appeared to me, but I know that I’ve had her for as long as I can remember. My mother tried her best to accept her, but the whole situation gave her the chills. My father wasn’t much better. He thought she was an abomination but always made sure not to say it in front of me. I’d catch snatches of parental arguments, dad insisting we should pluck her from my chest and toss her out, that she was a disgusting parasite. My mom would always argue that maybe there was a purpose for her, that there had to be a purpose.

But anyway. The date. We placed our orders and made small talk over warm sake. Amari cooed warmly, replicating the melody of what was playing in the restaurant. She did it loud enough to be heard but her reproduction was similar enough where you couldn’t pick her apart.

We discussed literary matters, the latest books by Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith, the brilliance of David Foster Wallace. Junot Díaz and his Oscar Wao, Drown, This Is How You Lose Her. She remained as brilliant as she seemed from her profile, and I think I kept up well enough too. Amari hummed quietly to herself as we ate California rolls and sipped sake.

Somewhere around the second course, Amari got impatient. She started babbling to me in her language that I’d never quite been able to decode. I told her to hush and my date asked me what I’d said. I told her this was lush… luscious. Great. It was all great. She looked at me like I sneezed onto her food and I attempted to steer the conversation back on track. Amari still kept it up all the while. At first, she sounded as if she could be a person at a nearby table. My date was none the wiser. In time, though, she got louder. A temper tantrum was common with Amari whenever I didn’t open my chest door and acknowledge her or at least hum or talk back to her. My date asked what that noise was and I asked what noise. She told me it sounded like a kid having a meltdown, but there were no kids here. I said I had no idea and guided us back on track again.

Amari quieted down from there. We debated the ending of The Broom of the System over dessert, and when it came time to it, I covered the check.

She invited me back to her place. We feverishly undid each other’s clothing practically the moment we walked through the door. I tried to leave my shirt on, which she fought against again and again. When she asked, I said I felt self-conscious. She insisted it was okay, that I could trust her. I unbuttoned my shirt one button at a time. Held the shirt together, then let it slide apart. Dropped it to the floor.

She wanted to touch the door, so I let her. She wanted to open the door, so I let her. Amari blinked at the light and cooed at her. She collected herself, acclimated to the sight of Amari, and cooed back. Closed the door. We laid down and made love on her bed.

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The Light of Your Eyes

Sunset

It was in the way you told me that summer night that we’d find a way back to each other, one way or another.

And how the postcards came in a full stream when you went on your great adventure, then steadied out, then went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.

It was in the way I couldn’t find your address when you were living abroad, and so we went months incommunicado.

It was us meeting in a crowd at a concert when you came back, and the way the glow of the sunset caught your blonde hair in a halo.

It was making love that first night back, in the backseat of your car, parked on one of the Smoky Mountains.

And then, maybe it was you heading off again, chasing a band halfway across the country, and how I said I’d be here when you got back.

Or maybe it was the fight when I saw you kiss the bassist, you telling me I didn’t own you, me saying it’s not like that, it’s just that we were supposed to be together, you saying I was maudlin.

There’s the way we made up after you left the band’s gang of roadies, catching a movie at the drive-in, my hand creeping up your leg.

I think of how I left to go off to grad school, and how I saw no one that first semester though I had the opportunity.

How we skyped to keep the flame alive, trading off horror movies to watch, and the way your smile was hurt at the end of each call.

I think it’s the way I came back for summer break and we entwined on your porch hammock, saying that this night wouldn’t end if we didn’t want it to.

It was you soaking my hand with your tears, holding me to you, not letting go even though I had to leave, had to make my plane, so we made love and I caught the next one.

It was drinking at a dorm room party and being forced by a friend into dancing with a girl who was eyeing me, and kissing her under the glow of Christmas lights.

It was skipping one Skype session, then two, telling you I was busy with schoolwork while I just couldn’t face you, couldn’t look you in the eye.

It was telling you when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and the way your face voided of all emotion, how you looked me in the eye before hanging up.

It was reaching your voicemail again and again, then you telling me to stop calling, so I started texting instead.

Maybe it was when you finally answered me, said this wouldn’t happen again, and I promised it wouldn’t, swore to you.

It might’ve been in the way I sent you flowers at the end of every week, not letting up though you told me to stop, laughing as you did.

I think it was the way the girl from the party hit me up, asked what I was up to, and I hesitated before telling her I wasn’t free.

I’m thinking it was asking you what we were, you asking why we had to be something, why we couldn’t just be.

Or maybe it was asking why we were exclusive then if we were just supposed to be, and you demanding rather than asking that I didn’t want to be exclusive.

It was ending that Skype call and punching the wall till I made a hole, nursing my fist after, icing it with frozen peas.

I’m pretty sure it was coming to see you unannounced, getting there just in time to see the guy you’d been fucking drive away.

How you flushed when I asked what that was, what the fuck that was, and you trying to tell me you get lonely sometimes.

Or maybe it was me screaming you don’t think I get lonely too, you think I don’t know how hard this is, whatever this is.

Or saying I wish I never met you, you crying right after I said it, and wanting to take it back but not being able to.

There was how we ended that night, together in your hammock, both of us crying, your head against my chest.

After that, there was me leaving again, with no guarantee that what happened wouldn’t happen again.

There was getting home and hitting up the girl from the party, coming back to my dorm room and fucking.

There was ditching out on the Skype calls for a week, then two, then a month, barely answering texts from you.

Then of course there was you calling and saying you couldn’t live without me, that you had no idea why I was doing this.

It was me saying I couldn’t do this anymore, this constant back and forth, and that if we were together we were together.

And you saying okay, and me saying no, I mean it, and you insisting that you did too, and the way I admitted to fucking that girl.

And how you said it was okay, it was in the past, granting me clemency just like that, and how I wanted to kiss you so bad in that moment.

There was dropping out of grad school and moving halfway across the country to be with you, and living together.

But more than all of it, than anything at all, it was catching the light of your eyes in the Arizona sunset when I told you that I loved you.

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Acc I Dent

accident

To run into traffic on a sunny day, and to stand motionless as the cars come careening close, as they slam on their brakes and collide to avoid you. To break open a bottle of ink and to splash it over everything you own, leaving nothing out. To break into the house across the street and to sleep there. To get a gun and point it at your mirror self. To blow a hole in your wall and to stand in the spray of water coming from the struck pipe. To immolate a papier-mâché version of yourself on the front lawn, and to shoot at the squirrels when they get too close. To close the door on each of your fingers till your nails fall off and the skin underneath is oily and purple. To punch the replaced mirror again and again, till nothing remains. To find an old newspaper clipping of what happened and to eat it, not even tearing it up first, just forcing it down. To crush the shards down into granulated glass and to put this glass into peanut butter for the squirrels. To break the fingers of the first person you meet on the road and to kiss them on the head as they wail and flail. To punch your stomach until it’s black and purple, the skin raised in knuckle prints like welts on the flesh. To tear your calendar on the anniversary of it and to shove it down the garbage disposal, mangling your hand when you reach down and into it. To refuse pain meds when the ambulance arrives and they take you to the hospital, you going in and out of consciousness as the sirens wail and wail and wail. To rip off the dressing that they put on the hand and to wave the appendage in front of the doctor’s face like a treat for a dog. To get on all fours and bark when they ask what’s wrong with you, and to laugh your spittle into the doctor’s face. To leave before they’ve signed you out and to catch a bus back home, bleeding on the seats. To rub the blood on your face and gibber incoherently when you start to catch stares. To relay the memories back to yourself, waving your hand back and forth as you do. To incorporate the memories of the trauma, to dislodge it from the dwelling place it’s hiding in. To look at old pictures of her, before it happened, and to cry quietly to yourself. To put the pictures in a safe place and to be sure not to drip any blood onto them. To wash your hand and to wash your hand and to scrub it as the pain radiates like balls of lightning. To swaddle the wound in a rag and to soak the rag in gasoline. To light up what you’ve made, this human torch, and to wail and flail to get it off. To let it burn, somehow not tearing it off, and to watch as the smoking rag falls off on its own, no blood leaking from the wound anymore. To allow yourself two crushed aspirin and to swallow it dry, the metal taste seeping into you, filling you up. To fish the photos back out and to hold them up to the flame. To singe off your eyebrows for even thinking of it. To grab a fire poker and to wind up on your foot. To stop at the last second, and the stinging smell of fear. To inhale this scent deeply. To wash your feet and anoint them in oils. To shower in hot water until your bones ache and to get out and allow yourself a robe. To put away your knives and other sharp implements. To shove a screwdriver in the garbage disposal. To take the pictures out again, and to really look at them. To see beyond the accident, just her. Just you, before all of this, before all of what you’ve done. To look down at what’s become of your hand, what’s become of you, and to weep.

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