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Should have known: a boy first loved at a bonfire can only burn. Should have seen the matches slipped behind your ears, should have run from the lighter when you first tossed it my way. I should have taken the third-degree burns along your protruding collar bones as a warning flare, that this boy refuses to run, even when the flame licks your skin. That this boy refuses to move at all, actually—not for burning buildings, and certainly not for me, a creature of wind. See, I thought my fingers were streams, so I could cool your sparks before anything came of it. But I’m no dancer, not graceful, and I resemble no body of water the world has seen yet. Do you remember the night we sat outside for hours? It was freezing, and you told me you couldn’t feel my hands at all. I get it now: I’m insubstantial. Incomplete. I don’t edge and claw and scramble like you; I just sweep from one empty spot to another. Erode. Flee. Still, though, I see greater disasters looming under your skin. There is a creature hiding beneath your sternum, catching your scalloped ribs into the building inferno, one after another. This flaming thing rages and lurches and pines, never quite gets to its goals. I think I see something of my weakness reflected in its steely gaze.
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There are wounds along my spine, notches my fingers cannot reach. There is something jagged in my smile. It slashes my lips every chance it gets. There’s a tear drop stuck in my sternum, and I hear it slosh aimlessly whenever you enter the room, your skin unbroken like it was the day of your birth. Your gaze childishly inquiring, never demanding. You see the broken glass along my collarbone and come to cauterize the wound, but you stop just inches away. My marrow is a treat. My shoulders simper. My ribcage hums. What is broken remains beautiful—I learned this lesson the first time your fingers drew blood from my breastbone. You have not learned, you never do. My eyelids flutter like bees. They would love to sting you. Even my bruises are weapons, striking at your most stabilizing belief: I cannot touch you. There’s a tint to my skin that sings of damnation, and your stop-start brand of salvation holds no healing powers.
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A flutter of fingers across the counter, your spine curved like an interminable ache. My haphazard notes on the corner of your agenda, just another attempt at remembrance that will fall flat, and the impossibly small space separating our shoulders, the faked apathy it inspires. This is what I will remember of these days. You’ll stay here, go to the pretty, safe school with all of our pretty, safe friends, and I’ll be six hundred miles away, in some strange city with towering skyscrapers, resplendent in my regrets, my imperturbable loneliness. I will crumble your edges where I can, take them for the road—I need sustenance for the dark days edging in, and you need to feel wanted. In this way, if in no others, we are a perfect set, you and I. I want your fingers threaded like promises through my tempestuous curls. I want your gaze to whisper sonnets to my mercurial eyes. I want to run so far away from this town that your name loses the power to capsize my motion, send me drifting idly at sea. The paradoxes of my desire are riveting, and I wonder if I will ever patch up the rift left by your careless departure.
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I am a garment you’ve done your best to hide. I am distended and disjointed and I rip easily at the seams. When you approach in the hallway before second block German with all your brilliance trailing behind you, I falter. I shake. The words that tip out of your quirked lips, they stain me, pockmark craters across my skin. Everything I know can be grated into meaninglessness, picked at idly, but you don’t have time for such machinations—you tear and shatter and purge, you, you king of absolutes, sitting on your comic book throne and watching my descent. I waste entire days fading at the edges, threads untangled like my tumbling curls, just this side of obscene. I stretched myself across your doorstep and got stuck there. These days, it’s all in the twist of the hips, trying to set myself somewhere worth being, or perhaps to settle at your feet. The contortions of my torso speak sonnets you are not ready to hear, and my prayers tremble like endless static, unwind into regret in the sparse inches separating our fingers: yours, firm and warm and how they’ve ever been, and mine, curled against my side, one more concrete impression of these crooked encounters.
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but I just love and love and love you, even though I know better.
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—funny story, i’m sorry too, and this game of “who is the most sorry” stopped being clever some time back in 2007, so, spoiler alert—something’s got to give. darling, i could compose entire sonnets to the force of your apathy, the way it shrivels up everything it comes into contact with. a hesitantly made phone call at one a.m. does not compensate for hours of avoidance, for weeks of awkward absence. i am awash in the realization that none of the things i’ve done matter at all. that the seven prepared remarks i can make about the transition to democracy in myanmar have no bearing on this brutal game we play. and you, you’re only upset when you can’t avoid the consequences of those days as succinctly as you expected. it’s the guilt of the caught robber, shrouded in humiliation over others seeing his failings, but not put out by the crime itself—never even touched by the things he does.
you can shrug off my questions and studiously avoid eye contact, but do not fake surprise when friendship does not come easily, in those hazy days when you find a use for our interactions. there’s nothing like the knowledge that this farce of a maybe-something has faded into stone-cold nothingness. from your perch five miles away, you will frown when you read these words.
“she didn’t accept my apology,” you’ll say, “but that’s not my problem.”
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standing on your front lawn and crying was an impressive low, especially as i watched your shadow shift inside the house, headed back to the basement. i can’t cry the way other people do, not full-out gasping sobs, but instead, in rivulets, in streams of tears. you could see the liquid shimmer on my cheek from outer space, you know, tonight. you ignore the obvious with such resilience that i am rendered speechless. i’m bold enough to put these thoughts out there—not bold enough to force the issue. the strength of your ignorance would be enough to bowl me over, if i were capable of standing. i would not wish this upon my worst enemy. i hope you, surrounded by your guffawing bros, remember the look on my face as you closed that door for an eternity.
i know you’ve forgotten it already.
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You’ve stockpiled your ill-wishes like a child hiding bottle caps—ready ammunition, held flat in your palm. When you walk by with your hulking wingmen, faking apathy, I see the tension in your spine, the way your resentment pulls at your posture, tears at your tawny hair. Darling, there are vultures in the air, crying your name, waiting to be fed. See, when you thought you were holding your complaints close to your chest, they fragmented, leaked through your fingertips, and once you feed the animals for a first time, they do not leave. The birds flap their wings endlessly, blocking out the noise of the rational beings in the distance—like your childhood best friend. Have you forgotten him? A decade of something lovely, and these days, it’s all about band aids for gushing wounds. In Environmental Science, you sit beside me and idly draw pictures of decomposers in the margins of the textbook, even as you decompose, sinking slowly into the cheap plastic of your seat. There’s a gaping hole in the place of your empathy, and I read goodbyes into your every greeting.
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what have you done since the breakup? they ask
-avoided looking at myself in mirrors
-imagined the mayan calendar holding true daily
-slept precariously little
-learned the name of the nearest starbucks cashier
-wasted money on caffeine that i should not need
-achieved legal adulthood
-gained more weight
-ditched commitments to sit motionless in bedroom
-dodged conversations that matter
-and just generally felt down about the state of the world.
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