Nothing That Bleeds8 min read
Rain patters lightly on the pavement, and you bleed among broken glass in the cool afterglow of the sunset. Sometimes it’s like this: it is sunset, and you bleed, and clear, rain-studded umbrellas shatter the blue-white of phone screens into a thousand drops of light.
Fragrant steam drifts through the ragged window you were shoved through. Spicy broth. Dumplings. Paper-thin brisket flash-boiled between cheap, splintery chopsticks. You’re hungry, but you’re bleeding, and this is it.
Sometimes it’s like this. Sometimes she steps up next to you, her sneakers grinding tiny, sparkling glass bits into the wet pavement, and she says, “What’d you fall out the window for?” like you’re the biggest idiot in the world for letting her shove you so hard.
Not this time. This time, she gives more of a shit about you. This time she’s frozen on the other side of that window, and her hands are up by her mouth, and damn, doesn’t the glass buried in your skull hurt?
Probably you’d stop dying if you stopped saving her, but you can’t do that any more than you can scoop the life back into your body. You can’t do it any more than you can stop going back because you don’t know how this started, just that you keep ending up at that first moment you met her because one of you is dead.
You inhale thick, wet iron, over-boiled fish balls, a bit of cold rain. Your fingertips are probably all wrinkled from the wet. A plane traces indifferent white on the deepening dark of the gloaming. Someone in stained jeans and a black striped shirt is running toward you, but this is it, and they’ll be useless like they always are.
You exhale. In the window, she lets out a sob and climbs up over the edge and no, dammit, you saved her, have been saving her, it’s not supposed to end like that, but she’s falling and maybe you shouldn’t have been so selfish as to make her care for you—
You inhale, and there is no glass, no bleeding, not yet. She’s six lockers down, and you see her scars for the first time again. For the real first time, you don’t know what to do. You’ve done this scene the same way so many times, and maybe that’s what isn’t working.
But you’re exhausted. You lean your forehead on the cool metal, then press into it, then push as if you can fall right through like the ghost you should be/are/wish you could be. She shouldn’t have those lines carved into her forearms, you shouldn’t have died seventeen times in the past three months, and ah, god, you shouldn’t have known the difference between scars made for pain and scars made for dying by the time you were fifteen, but here you are, and there she is, asking what’s wrong with you when she doesn’t really want to know.
You want to say, “Go away.” You want to say, “Don’t get involved with me.” You want to say, “Take me home with you, I know there are razor blades under your pillow, let’s bury them so deep you couldn’t dig them up without another pair of hands, another shovel.”
You say, “I’m fine,” and ask her name as if the answer matters. You never call her by it anyway.
She uses the same hand that pushed you through a window five minutes ago to point out you’re late for class. You use the same hand that threw her red-tipped sewing needle down the drain to swipe the wetness from your face. You are fine. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
She tells you everything again because you can take it. You listen to the blood she spills and the skin she’d like to split and you take it because you can. It doesn’t hurt you. It’s all just words, so it can’t hurt you. Never mind the way your hands shake while you wait for the next notification to light your phone. Never mind the nightmares where she’s got scissors and you’re too late and you’re screaming. It’s only that it’s happened before, her bleeding quietly in the dark when five minutes ago she sent you a song with a throaty, rich melody you thought was happy.
Before doesn’t matter. You are here. She is now, and it doesn’t matter because before is gone. Before is just a nightmare that shouldn’t bother you, goddammit. You convince yourself, again, that none of it happened. It’s the only way to keep going.
You are fine. As long as you are fine, you can take more. As long as you are fine, her hurt goes into you instead of her skin. As long as you are fine, she is alive.
You take to letting corners press into your skin a little too hard, a little too long. Never anything sharp. As long as it’s not sharp, as long as you don’t bleed, you are fine. Nothing that leaves marks on your skin. Nothing permanent, nothing that bleeds, nothing that scars. You hold on to that. It means you are fine.
One night you fall asleep, phone in hand, and then you are six lockers down, seeing her scars, and it’s your fault. You don’t cry because you don’t deserve to. You ask her name. She tells you to fuck off. You say, “Maybe you shouldn’t—” and then you shut up, you tell her your name, and leave before you can be late for class.
She doesn’t find you. Two hours later you’re in the backseat of your dad’s pickup and then you’re at the lockers again and you should’ve tried harder, should’ve stayed, it’s your fault again because for once you weren’t fine.
You slam your knuckles into the thin metal, but only enough to bruise. It scares her. She won’t talk to you, and in two hours, you’re here again because whatever has done this to you, whatever timeless gravity holds the two of you together, won’t fucking let go.
She doesn’t text back, and you don’t have to worry because if there are no lockers, she must be asleep. You’re sort of relieved because you get to sleep before 2 AM for once, and then you’re guilty because you’re thinking of her the exact way she fears you will: like concrete on your feet, like a universe on your shoulders.
It doesn’t matter. You can carry those things. They don’t hurt. You are fine.
Sometimes she loves you. Sometimes she doesn’t have the energy. You understand. You have enough tireless energy to pull the universe that is whatever the two of you have become.
Sometimes you go out to eat, the two of you at your favorite hot pot place, and there’s no sewing needle and no blood in the sink and no hollow thunk as your skull hits the pavement.
Sometimes you dream of the lockers, the scars, the cuts on her fingers you can’t wish into papercuts.
Sometimes you sing, and it’s more like yelling, your voices mingling over the shitty speaker in her room until her parents bang on the door for quiet.
Sometimes you make phone calls to her parents at four in the morning, five or six in a row until they wake up and run to her, incoherent with terror you don’t let yourself feel. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You wonder how the fuck you’re supposed to save her if she keeps trying, and trying, and trying. It doesn’t occur to you that she only tries once or twice per iteration. It doesn’t occur to you that each iteration wears on you the way a nightmare does when it’s about someone real. It doesn’t occur to you that this is not your responsibility.
The guidance counselors never believe you, and if they do, she hates you after. There are a couple of days where you think you might’ve succeeded and then you wake up in the hall again, almost late for class, and there’s that girl you love, hate, fear, can’t save, must save.
You are fine.
You try calling her by her real name instead of the nickname that clicked the first time you spoke. It tastes like betrayal. She tells you nothing and you are by the lockers again, and your fingernails are in the soft skin at your wrists, rough, angry crescents that will fade by the time you’re in class.
Nothing permanent. Nothing that bleeds. You are fine.
She tells you everything and everything slips brittle, dry fingers into the fragility that is not, will never be, the last thing you have to offer. You give it to her because you never have, and there is always more of you.
You were wrong. There is no more of you, and you’re not fine, and she hates you for it. You hate you for it. You pretend that fragility does not exist and it doesn’t matter because she is gone, although she still talks to you, still texts you sometimes. You keep expecting the lockers, and they don’t come. Her name appears on your phone with decreasing regularity. You never go back to that hot pot place again. You look at scissors with more interest than you used to and do nothing.
One day you graduate without understanding how it happened. You never saw her scars for the first time again and you don’t know why. She walks across the stage, and you know what’s under the shiny nylon sleeves of her graduation gown. You know about her scars, and you don’t even know if her phone number is still the same. You walk across behind her, and she knows the fragility of you beneath the smooth skin at your wrists. Neither of you says anything.
Sometimes you want to text her. You spend half an hour trying to make your stomach stop hurting instead. There’s a flutter in your lungs that won’t leave, like those brittle, dry fingers ripped the top off that fragile thing in you and it won’t stop bleeding in the broken glass of your chest.
You discover, in college, that there are no lockers, and even if there were, no one would see your scars and ask your name. You made sure there weren’t any scars to see. You stick to fringes. None of the few college friends you have understand why you hate hot pot so much. No one on your floor knows why you don’t come to the lounge, so they make things up. It doesn’t matter.
Sometimes you expect the hallway, the late bell, your death on wet sunset pavement again. Sometimes you still dream of them and wake silent and sweating in the narrow twin bed of your dorm room. Always you are fine. Fine even with that delicate, fluttering thing in your chest, that thing that does not strictly exist. As long as no one sees, you are fine.