By Aimee L. Salter
I think it’s because the first time Chris saw me, I wasn’t me. He saw someone who didn’t exist. And by the time he figured that out, he didn’t care anymore.
He should have cared.
He cares now.
We’re in my room. In the half-light of my pitiful bulb, everything looks gray. Dust motes hang in the air. My narrow bed is unmade, sheets tangled. The quilt my mom stitched when I was two hangs half-way off the mattress, and stretched toward the door, like it too would flee this room if it could. The rest is bare – the drawers, the closet door, the walls. Even the clothes strewn everywhere are plain and dirty and blank.
Somehow it’s never bothered me before. But with Chris here it does.
His eyes are closed, those burnished lashes quivering because he’s screwed so tight, everything’s shaking under the pressure. The muscles in his jaw twitch. His hand is a white-knuckled fist. His shoulders… oh, Lord, help me, those shoulders that have lifted things I can’t carry and swept me along too…they’re hunched. Knotted. Pressing in on themselves. On him.
There’s so much of him that I feel small, yet he’s the place where I can breathe.
At least, he was.
My insides are in freefall because I did this to him.
I shouldn’t have that power over him. I shouldn’t have that power over anyone. But he gave it to me and refused to take it back.
“Chris?” I barely whisper, but he flinches like I screamed. “It wasn’t about–”
“Don’t.” It’s a hard syllable. A word bitten off. He doesn’t even open his eyes. “I swear, Tully if you say one word…” His fist becomes a hammer.
I am ugly. I am black inside, rotting and putrid. I have told him this. Many times. But tonight, finally, he believes me.
As he turns on his heel and stumbles out the door, I can’t even call after him.
Because when he gave me the power to turn him inside out, I gave him mine. And even though I knew this day would arrive, knew he was wrong about me, somehow he gave me hope.
As I watch him stagger into the hallway and disappear, that hope begins its death throes. It doesn’t die quietly. It screams and curses and shoves at me.And for the first time ever, I am grateful for my life, for my father, and for this house. Because if it’s taught me anything, it’s how to take a blow.