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June 01, 2024

YOU

BY KAELYNN PUGH

 

I am broken. I know this. I've known this for a while, but there is a certain clarity in this day. I hold a brown paper bag of groceries from the corner shop in my lap, sitting on a metal slatted bench—waiting for the bus that'll take me to Seventh and Pine, to wait for the next bus to take me up to the 44th, where my fortress sits. I don't like leaving home anymore. Outside feels too wide, like the sun will swallow me up. I flinch every time someone passes me on the sidewalk, shrinking back. I know they're not you. They can't be. I keep telling myself they're not you. But your look is seared into my brain—echoing against every face, bleeding into bodies until everywhere I look, I see you. My ears too have mutinied, I swear I can hear you between the rush of traffic, around buildings, in the crowd—your voice yells my name over and over. I can't help but tremble at the anger I hear in your words, at the way you turn my name into a curse. It is not fair. 

You make me fear my own name. 

You're not even here and I still fear my own name.

The hissing of brakes alerts me to the bus. It's a shiny bus, a silvery body, and as I look up I see a tall form behind me and my heart bottoms out. I stand too quickly, my groceries going pulpy on the sidewalk. I crouch down to gather what I can—to gather my wits—but my hands won't stop their jittering and all I can hear is your voice screaming at me that I am a spaz, stupid, wasteful, ridiculous, weak. I can barely move. 

A man folds down across from me—he wears a gray suit and I stiffen at the sight of you—dark hair, dark eyes, deep brows. But his voice is soft and kind, eyes light, hands careful and that was never you. He hands me a can of peas that must've rolled from my bag, and it feels like a trap. I wish it didn't. I wish you had no power over me—you're gone, you're nothing, but still you win when I can't even trust a can of peas not be nefarious. I guess I wait too long because he puts the peas in the bag for me, he puts everything back in the bag—everything unbroken, then he gestures to the bus, the door open and ready, and I can say nothing—do nothing—but clutch my dripping paper bag and climb into the vehicle. 

You would've called me disgraceful, would've pretended you didn't know me, would've screamed at the mess I am wearing—but the man simply nods, picks a seat, and wishes me well. I slide into a seat too, my brown paper bag of groceries bought with your insurance money puddling on my lap. I try to remember how to breathe, how to unfold my spine, how to talk, as the bus pushes forward. I know that I am broken but I am better than this. I'd like to think that one day I won't be defined by the fractures you gave me—I am more than my broken pieces—I know this. But I come back to myself slowly, so slowly that I can't help but think of the words you called me that I'm finding difficult to deny: that I am worthless and pitiful. Those words are not mine, yet I find they are there nonetheless—they've infiltrated my mind, made me see myself through a lens filtered by you. I wish I could see this world, myself, through my own eyes without your hate tinting and tarnishing my view—but I am broken. And broken isn't bad. It's a gift. Because it means that you're gone, and I survived.