Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I’m still three. I’m sitting on my grandfather’s lap, and he’s feeding me sips of his beer from his bottle cap. My grandfather’s hair is black and shiny and smells of V05 hot oil, and I’m the most important person in the world until my mother comes and takes the bottle cap away.
Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I’m still five. The boy across the street comes over, and we swing on the swing set in my backyard. I’m swinging higher and higher and he twists and he twists his swing around until he sets himself free, and I see the trainwreck in the width of a second. He hits me hard as I fly high, setting out into the ether with no one to bring me home except the solid weight of gravity and the sick thud of my body against ground. My father shuffles him out to the tune of my wailings. I never want to see that awful boy again, and my father pats him lightly on the shoulder, knowingly nods, and in a quick glance, offers a lifetime of sympathy, knowing himself the shrill sound of the girl you hold in your heart.
Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I sit shell shocked as my mother leaves us at the chicken sandwich place. My father and I gape, two fish at a table, the checkered tablecloth covering the nervous bounce of my knee. She’s never left me. She’s never walked away. And it’s only years later with a husband and child and two dogs that bark a nervous twitch in your eye that you understand the art of wanting to leave and the grace of coming right back.
Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I’m a stupid teenager who did stupid things and loved a boy and lost all of it like the time I was three and I dropped the crystal bowl at Jones department store after my mother firmly told me not to touch. Everywhere there are shards of it, bits of story and one-liners, and lost smiles, sunflowers growing wild like weeds and every bit of happy I’m sure I’ll never have again.
Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I’m a grown adult who spits in Your face. I do it like rhymed verse and broken characters and swooping storylines that lead to nowhere, and my hands are invisibly inked with the pain of wanting to lose yourself tub-deep but not even having the guts to start the faucet.
Sometimes in the space of my ribs or the span of my arms, I let go, my pride like broken diamonds crushing into the soles of my feet, and all I can see is the bright lights of the megachurch above my head, and that deep water, that filled tub, that turned faucet, and down I go, buried with You, until somebody’s strong arm brings me back, and I’m there again where I started, only it’s not the same place in the slightest.
And there You were, all in the thick of it, even when I couldn’t see You. I sometimes wonder, why didn’t You stop it? The hard parts, the pain, the constant whine in the back of my spine? That voice that licked at my ears and broke my heart? But then I know now, You were there, on Your knees, broken shards stabbing through the skin of Your palms, picking up my lost pieces, holding me close until it was time to forge me anew.
© 2023 by Ericka Clay
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