the bare and bloody words

this is a story i’ve never told anyone.

this is a story i’m telling you now.

it’s not a bad story, although i get hurt.

it’s simply one of my many collisions.


i believe, though i’m not certain, that i was 10 years old. i don’t remember where i was coming from. i don’t remember what i wore, though in my memory it’s always my favorite green shirt, polyester and stifling and adored, with white daisies at the neck and an adamant refusal to stretch. i think i still had my glasses with the gold apple decal on the left lens, i must have, i’m sure i did. we were poor, too poor for new glasses, and made do with outdated vision for years. most likely shorts, most definitely knee socks, they still could pass for fashion then, pulled high every few blocks, hand-me-downs that lost elasticity by the second. the knee socks, i know for sure. but i don’t remember at all my feet. there had to be sneakers, something, because my bike had those metal pedals with prongs, traction, they called it, torture, i called it, although it didn’t stop me from riding bare-soled out of the neighborhood when the need arose.

and that day i was alone. a strange thing, how did that happen when there were three above me and one below, always someone tagging along. but i should be honest, always someone for me to tag after. even my siblings found me uninspiring and slipped me at every chance. so, i must have been left behind. must have been.

and yes, there was sun. and no, we had no money for prescription sunglasses. brilliant, the light that day! sparking off the pavement, digging into my eyes until they seeped, teared, everything was coated in a sharp, hard luminescence.

i remember i was tired. short of breath. i’d been riding for a while, my legs were trembling, my hands aching, mostly the right, from the brake that didn’t quite work and needed more pressure than my tiny fingers could bring to bear.

my head down, plowing, chugging up the street, the sun and my legs and the tears and i was so close to home, so close, mere blocks, straining, struggling, when i hit the last slope. not steep, not sudden, but enough to pick up speed without laboring, enough to feel a breeze begin and to feel, already, the cool garage, the glass of water from the tap, the soft couch i was already sinking into in my mind.

all it took was a second. an instant of muscles released, and will unfocused.

i ran into a car.

to clarify: i biked into a stationary car. it was parked along the curb. i was going fast. my eyes were watering. my head was down. i didn’t see it until it was far too late to avoid the crash.  i was on the pavement, considering the cloudless sky, swallowing blood before i could see what had happened.

my front tire, hitting the back bumper. the bike knifing beneath me, flying back as i flew forward, arms curiously outstretched. what does it say that i had no instinct to protect myself, to stop what was coming, but that i opened, as if an embrace were the only possible response. chin leading, as it still does, my trajectory was inevitable. the impact fixed. it was my chin, that bloody stubborn chin, that hit first, followed by my ribs, my hands. i’m not sure if i bounced or pushed back. probably both.

the space between the trunk and the pavement disappeared. i was in one place, then suddenly another. sky. blood. limbs akimbo.

my first thought, the most important thing in my mind as i registered what happened? look around. look around, cara. see who was there to see. find the eyes that were surely taking delight in your stupid, graceless fall.

but there was no one. thank god, no one! oh, thank god.

i lay there, calmly cataloging what hurt, what was numb, the parts of me with and without movement. i thought i should sit up, so i did. i thought i should check for blood, so i wiped my mouth. red streaks ran down my hand. i had bitten my tongue, badly. i pulled off a shoe. pulled off a sock. wrapped the open end around my tongue, put pressure on it, and waited for the flow to stop.

performing a methodical visual reconnaissance, i observed a surprising lack of scratches, though i could feel enough soreness under the skin to know the bruises would be deep and plentiful. no shorts for a few weeks, then. but i would have a hell of a bruise on my chin. i could feel it swelling already. there was nothing for it. i would need an explanation. what does it say that i had no intention of telling the truth, that my embarrassment ran deeper than any real hurts, that i would endure bruised ribs over brutal ribbing, as if that were the only appropriate response to such a lack of grace. such a fall.

the blood had stopped. i unwrapped my tongue, pulled off my other shoe, sock, bundled the bloody one up and pulled on my sneakers, it must have been sneakers, must have been. as they slipped on a bit too easily, i noticed i was sweating. everywhere. i was covered in a smooth, soft luminescence. i remember this fully. i thought that perhaps the crash had collided my particles into something beyond a body. outside myself, this made a strange and perfect sense. shaken, burning, i thought perhaps i had gone supernova.

blinking, focusing, i discovered my bike was also surprisingly free of surface damage. unbent. unbroken. but i couldn’t bring myself to get back on. wrapping my too-tiny fingers around the handlebars, i pushed us both off, heard us both creak, rumble, as if an explosion were imminent. it hurt like hell, but i kept my head up, wary of another collision. i looked the road in the eye the rest of the way home.

i dropped my bike in the yard and opened the door quietly. slowly. look around. look around, cara. see who will see. but there was no one. oh, thank god.

i walked down the hall, up the stairs, joints loose and barely holding my limbs together. i didn’t stop until i was in my room, door locked, on my bed, on my back, curiously staring at the ceiling, absentmindedly swallowing the iron in my mouth. the space between the trunk and my bed had disappeared. again, i was in one place, and suddenly another. home. silence. i could finally fall apart.

i believe, though i’m not certain, that i slept. i don’t remember what i told my family, how i explained my battered chin. but in my memory there is always sympathy. i’m sure there was. there must have been.

i suffered for weeks. sore. hiding my bruises. nursing my tongue. eventually my body healed. but without a telling, the words buried into the muscle of my memory, and the hurt, the shame, lingered deep and tender.

these days find me much the same. exploding for weeks. sore. but there is a difference here. now i relish my bruises. now i loose my tongue, letting fly the bloody iron words, digging out the heavy weight that has slowed me all these years, that has limped me along, hitched my step.

it hurts just as much to dig out as to bury deep. but all of the mistakes i now make contain beauty. because i come by them honestly. by living. and because i will not hide them anymore.

some days i am a bare-souled girl, with a scar on her tongue and a secret inside. some days i am nothing but a glorious light, expanding, coalescing, going supernova. some days, i am both.


now you know the story.

now you can see me as i am.

it’s not bad, although i’ll get hurt.

it’s simply myself colliding.

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