by michelle muhs
I am a weave world of scars. My fascia catches at the edge of them, a deep ache, so much deeper than the skin that holds it all together. I am a patchwork quilt of flesh sewn together without design. I let you do this. I let you tattoo your desires in sworls of the knife, the break of a fist. I let you love me with hands of knives, and a cock of hard metal. I let you rend me into delicate mandalas of blood and thick ridges of torn edges. I did it out of love.
I would watch you crawl from nightmare days to frantic terror stricken nights, sweating and swearing, driving fists into walls to try and get it out. I didn’t understand it then, had no concept or words for war. When you crawled from the bed on hands and knees, screaming names I didn’t recognize, I would wrap my arms around your arm, your head, around whatever part I could reach trying to comfort you I think, or trying to stop the noise, I am not sure which. You would look at me then with such horror, but it wasn’t me you saw. You would scrabble away from me, crab walking the floor as fast as you could until you hit a barrier, and you would look at your hands, with such regret.
I tried for comfort, for solace. I made sad breakfasts of toast and coffee that you, far away with those who died, stared at with your unrelenting dead grey eyes. Instead you sat with endless cigarettes, ash burnt nearly to the filter, ready to drop off, melding with puddles of butter on toast, drinking cheap whiskey from glass bottles. I brought gifts, drawings of houses and bright yellow suns, birds flying in perfect m’s and words meant to soothe, and when nothing else worked, touch.
I was so afraid. Terrified of you. You were the bogeyman, the thing in the dark, the closet, the space under the bed; everything scary I could think of had your eyes. I hid in closets, under beds, behind curtains, willing myself invisible, and I cried for you. It was nothing but a child’s tears. Crying for a misery I didn’t understand, for fear of harm, for love unrequited, for a savior that didn’t exist. But I loved you.
I would reach out my hand, fearful, tentative. I would take your fists, your fear, your limitless anger, and with a broken bone or a few stitches you would be soothed. You said you had to do it because you loved me. Even when every step you took, every choice you made, stank of fear, you claimed love. You were brutal when you raped me. You were horrified at what you had become. You unveiled a tight fisted grief, crying over what you had done, at what life had become, and you would hold me, saying, “Sorry baby, I’m sorry.“
In those moments, where you would hold me tight, tell me you loved me, call me sweetie and kiss my head with your rough growth of beard, scents of whiskey and cigarettes, I would give you anything. My body to scar, my lips to bruise, my love in whatever form you would take it. I would close my eyes and pretend and say, “Sweet dreams daddy.”
Our days became predictably unpredictable, a constant swirling up and falling down. We would blast the Doors until the glasses in the cupboards shook, with an almost manic need to find the happiness, and you would crash down so much further than you flew, breaking windows, breaking furniture, breaking everything you touched. I was no exception. I bear the scars in my eyes, my skin.
You had new and alarming obsessions. You were terrified they would find us, that they would torture us, kill us. We trained for disaster, for capture, for torture, for the end of everything. For hours we would practice, crawling on our stomachs, running blindfolded through the house, but we were never good enough, fit enough, clever enough, strong enough to withstand the lighters flame without flinching. Your fears ruled you. Controlled you. Drove you for hours on end with no real result. You acquired weapons for defense, knives, guns, rifles, machine guns, endless rounds of ammo, food for survival, whiskey for medicine. Our home was a fortress of war.
When you would finally sleep, crashing to the bed in exhaustion so deep I worried you had died, I would keep watch. I would create worlds in my mind of what could be, what I thought others lives were like and I dreamt of cartoons and parks, and playgrounds, and parents that smiled. I played silently in the dark of you, to a soundtrack of porn and war movies playing in the background. It was a constant in our little world this disconcerting mix of pleasure and gunshots. There was never a place for silence in our lives.
I look back at you now, at this world we had, and it was all a blur of blood and whiskey, rape and gun oil, fear and love. PTSD was not a thing then, the damage done wasn’t visible to the outside eye. It came out in darkness, in a violence for the sake of it, in a fear that turned the yellowed sheets wet with sweat; it was a contagious fear that permeated everything you did. Through it all I loved you in a way that only a small child isolated with a sick parent can love.
Today there is a road map of lines, crisscrossed highways leading through the terrain of my body. It’s depths and swells leading to every memory, to every time you printed your love in my skin.