Caution! Broken Glass!

My mother’s foot is bleeding. There is glass inside her foot. I don’t remember how it happened. She moved the refrigerator, I think? To clean under it. There was glass beneath it. An overlooked remnant from an old mishap. The past is always lurking in the shadows, waiting to hurt us in the present. Or whatever.

My mother’s life has been a series of escalating instances of physical pain. Come to think of it, I have never seen my mother warped by her physical pain. My mother fears things like fluoride in the water, the liberal agenda. My mother does not fear physical pain.

Where was my father? Italy? Iraq? Serving his country, in any case. Or whatever.

I am not afraid of broken glass because my mother is not afraid of broken glass. The glass will come out, one way or another. The foot will heal. A friend drives my mother to the emergency room. The glass comes out. The foot heals.

The Girl and I share a room with four overgrown toddlers who have two drinks and shed their Adult Male costumes immediately. The air is thick with vodka and masculine insecurity. The boys are joking. Then they are yelling. Before anyone knows what is happening, one boy pushes another boy’s head through a window. Shatter.

The Girl and I freeze for the briefest of moments. Then, without needing to confer, we run. We lock ourselves in the bathroom.

Who are these people? My best friends? My only friends?

I knew boys before these ones. Boys who were kind. Boys who cared. Boys who became harder and harder to remember the more time I spent with these new ones.

One of these new boys, he says later, “I knew that one was trouble. I tried to warn you.” But they are all four of them trouble, in their own way. Profound trouble. Each of these four boys have caused their special brand of damage to myself and to The Girl and to every woman unfortunate enough to find herself in their lives at any given time.

In the present, I must remind myself that The Girl was my friend once. Was she my friend?

The Girl and I share a room with two overgrown toddlers. The boys who broke the window, they aren’t invited anymore. But the other two are. They always are. I hadn’t learned yet. The Girl still hasn’t.

The Boy I Belong To is careful and slow. He stalks around me in a creeping spiral. Closer and closer in. I hold still for as long as I can. The Boy I Belong To takes his time, acts casual, but I know what he’s doing. He has been doing it on repeat for so long. I can’t remember where I used to live before I made my home here, holding still in the center of his spiral.

When he gets so close I can feel his steady breath, it becomes impossible to concentrate. I am suffocating. I am engulfed in sheer panic. I blink. I cannot help it. If I lose my focus for half a second, I blink. Oh god. What have I done?

“Why did you do that? Why did you blink? You’re such a fucking asshole. How could you? I don’t deserve this. I didn’t do anything to you.”

Oh, but you did. Slowly, carefully, covering your tracks. But you did, you did.

Doesn’t matter. I blinked, and now there is a problem. Now there is a problem, and it is mine alone to solve.

He runs, and I must catch him. This is the game. I hate playing it, but this is the only life I remember anymore. The enemy I know. Or whatever. When he consumes my focus, there is nothing else to worry about. There is no wide world outside of us to contend with.

It is cold, and I did not put on a jacket. Doesn’t matter. I must catch him. I forgot my shoes, there was no time. Doesn’t matter. I must catch him.

This is the game. He will stop running when he feels I have chased him far enough. He always does. But this time, he doesn’t. He keeps running, and therefore so must I.

He runs over broken glass, and therefore so must I. I have no jacket. I have no shoes. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter.

I think to myself, “I am running barefoot over broken glass. I have never been so worthy, so atoned.”

Doesn’t matter.

I chase him further than I ever have before. I chase him all the way to his home. He locks me out. I wait by the door. He says “Go home,” but I know that would be mistake. I can’t go home until I have caught him. This is the game. I must play the game.

He has to come out sometime, right? I can wait.

There is a small voice in the back of my head. “What if I don’t? What if I don’t? What if I don’t catch him? What if I don’t solve this problem? What if I go back and make a life without him?”

I do not listen. I never listen.

He comes out. He lets me catch him. I did it. I passed the test. Back home we go.

The glass will come out, one way or another. The foot will heal. Not that day. Not for many days. But it will, it will.

No one drives me to the emergency room. The Girl, perhaps she was not my friend. Later, much later, I will take a deep breath and pull the glass out myself. It will take my foot so long to heal. But it will, it will.