w

assorted bottles on display in store

w

walmart shopping after work, after the end of the day and everyone’s ready to grab their frozen pizzas and go home.

“uhhh.” you stare at your camera, and then you stare and the rows of mini backpacks that hang before you. your sister slings an arm around your neck and pats a sleek looking black half pint.

“see anything you like?” panic. how are you supposed to choose anything? the idea of getting something absolutely brand new is foreign, almost dirty. everything you’ve ever possessed with the exception of your precious camera has either been stolen from dumpsters or carefully picked from thrift store racks. there’s something thrilling about getting something for your very own, something terrifying.

“the marvel ones look cool,” you mumble, eyes a captain marvel one in the kids section. you’re still a kid, after all.
“unless you wanna explain a flaming superhero on campus, i’d settle for something more discreet.” they rest their arm on your head simply because you’re short and you glower. “or not. whatever catches your eye.”

you pause. “do you mean that?”
“always.”

the walmart is left with one bobbing brown leather backpack and a jojo siwa balloon punched in the face.

i

two persons playing hockey on ice field

i

“i can’t keep TRACK of all of you,” the skate guard laughs as a bunch of little kids push them around the ice, tiny handmedown skates running against the cold to push this giant human around, for, you know, practice.

it is the second to last week of the skating season, and you wait for your friend to finish wrapping her scarf around her head as you have a small conversation about skating.

“i like it, i just wish i had lessons,” she sighs, staring over at some other girl on the ice whose teacher cheers her on as she does a cool one-legged spinny trick and doesn’t fall over. on the other side, the little kids have all fallen into a heap and their adult takes turns picking one up and dragging across the ice, giggling as they feel the sensation of floating on cold air.

“me too,” you agree. you take off your coat and step onto the ice, carefully pushing yourself off. you skate for a while, it feels like forever.

“hey, hey kid!” the skateguard comes up to you and the other children on the ice. “this is how you make a stop the hockey style, okay?”

without question everyone stands still and watches as they dart across the ice, sharply leaning on one side and letting a spray of ice fly across the rim. someone applauds. they come back proud.

“now you try it and see how it goes.”
“in figure skates?” you protest.

they throw their hands up in the air. “they’re all skates, aren’t they?”

t

poor lighted hallway

t

“…therapy?” the nurse asks kindly, handing you flip flops to walk in instead of the strange cloth sock contraptions they give upon arrival. you take them shyly, you’re not used to being offered anything, you feel guilty, you need to be tough, you have nearly died.

“is it expensive?”

the nurse laughs. “maybe, but your mind’s worth it.” they sit down and explain a way of healing you’d only ever heard as a joke, as a taboo element of life nobody wants to hear about, as something you never thought you needed. it sounds… it sounds good.

“we can set you and your family up for a session after you’re discharged,” the nurse finishes. “or… just you,” they add, watching your face crumple from passive to pained. “do… you want to talk about it?”

“uh, can i take you up on your offer another time?” you might be sidestreet, but you have manners.
“okay.”

when another time comes, you talk, and for the first time, you are listened to.

a

brown wooden framed white padded chair in between green indoor leaf plants inside bedroom

a

aftermath. an invitation. “let’s hang out!”

you’re suspicious. you should be, the people who you trusted stabbed you in the back and forced you to thank them for it.

still, a way out is a way out is a way out. you’ve stopped questioning the morality of a situation and just accepted it regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. what’s that to you anyway?

her apartment’s small, you’ve never been here before. the fun, artsy cousin from christmas and thanksgiving dinners holds her baby with one hand and with the other, pulls you in for a hug. you stiffen, you relax, it’s calm for a while, and then she asks you the question.

“how are you?”

it is then, slowly, surely, you feel like maybe you can heal.

k

photo of pendant lamp turned on

k

kitchen island at 10 pm, sitting cross-legged as your brother fishes for spoons in the utensil drawer.

“how’s it going?”

you answer by nearly falling off the island in exhaustion, but thankfully your hands grip the side in time and you give a sheepish grin. “oops.”

the truth is that daily mundane life is so freakishly different from living in a state of survival, and you’re not used to waking up to do, to be, to thrive. to running, to being free to run, to interacting with other humans, to do normal daily mundane human stuff. you are used to playing mind games you never win and cussing the person in the mirror, to locked doors and dark windows. you love it and you hate it and you don’t know what to do with it.

“ahh, sounds like you need some sugary motivation for your troubles.” the brother places a bowl in front of your regrettably small form, tucks a spoon into your tired hands, and lifts a giant carton of ice cream from the freezer.

“you’re tired too, aren’t you?” you say, propping the ice cream scoop against the white cardboard to dig into the heavenly coldness.

the brother simply winks and asks for two scoops of chocolate.