Alternate titles:
A Collection of Real and Fake Stories: All Involving Hand-Holding
Repressed Trauma, but Make It Art
These Characters Aren’t Real, so Stop Guessing
Or Are They? Perhaps Partially

On his nightstand: fifteen orange pill bottles lined up like plastic soldiers ready for war, a marble guitar pick nearly bent in half, an empty dream journal, and above it all, a gaping hole in the drywall from the night I told him all of it was too much for me. I hated holding his hand. It felt like clutching something clinging to life by a thinning thread, a run-over animal laboring for its last breaths. “Come closer,” he’d say, but closer was everywhere I couldn’t stand to be. His room reeked of grief, of months-unwashed sheets and sour sickness and my foolish inability to relate. His pain was fragrant and all I could do was soak in it, graceless. He only praised my poetry when it bled. I think this was his way of entertaining a pent-up fantasy of us taking over the world, one miserable line at a time. I never kissed him, not even on his good days. I was too afraid that, by loving him even slightly, I’d kill him. But I think that’s what I did anyway, albeit in a different way, killed him so good he ended up writing seven awful songs with my first name plastered right there in the titles. I listened to them secretly, hearing him curse me under dissonant guitar chords, those bedroom lullabies damning me to hell. For months I wondered why. Was it because I couldn’t stomach the portrait of him: unkempt, rageful, defeated? That I couldn’t mask my discomfort under the ballads I’d write for him? That I never knew what to say when he wept over his own survival? And then I remembered. I had penned a letter: I can’t love you the way you want me to. It was only after I arrived home, after slipping it into his unzipped backpack, that I realized. It was his birthday

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