The Intricacies


It’s hard to pinpoint the intricacies of a wreckage.

Something about it makes your brain run so fast that time itself seems to collapse.

Blood. Burning. Blood.

Kyle never saw it coming; the car hurtled around the corner so fast he could barely blink before the glass was flying through the night sky like stars. It was something like a surge of adrenaline that coursed through him, as he watched the world itself seem to grind to a halt, his hands stilling and mouth closing and eyes widening.

He never saw it coming.

But, the blood. God, it was everywhere – he was a window away from it all and yet it seemed to splatter his eyes in grotesque pools of deep, sparkling crimson. It slipped out onto the cold ground like it wasn’t everything – and maybe it wasn’t, he conceded, watching as it darkened from deep red to shining black against the road. Maybe not anymore. No matter how much he blinked, the blood was all he could see.

His ears rang. The crash was so deafeningly loud that it seemed all he could process was the warping of metal and sharp, sickening crunch of bones. Even through glass, he heard the girl’s forehead smack against the windshield, heard her chest thud and crack against the steering wheel. The night flipped from calm into chaos; every sound was piercing, screaming, aching.

But Kyle couldn’t move.

The seconds of shock slowly ticked by, and everyone in the car fell into panic. Charlotte had the phone pressed to her ear, hands shaking and eyes watering, and Matt pulled Kyle up and out of his seat in the driver’s side before he could feel anything but wonder.

“Move!” Matt yelled, forcing Kyle forward on stumbling feet. “Help me, there’s a girl in there!”

Kyle felt the bile rise up in his throat before he could reply. He yanked his arm away from Matt and retched over the side of the road, the acid taste of sickness coursing through him as he emptied his dinner onto the glass-splintered road. He felt like he could taste the blood he saw, taste the bitter iron and salt and warmth of the blood coating the girl’s head.

“Kyle, get up!” Matt snapped, his hands already moving to try and break open the door. The girl looked barely eighteen, hunched over in the driver’s seat, the skin of her head split and her skull gaping around a chunk of metal. The blood matted her curls and dripped down her face, down the lines of her pale cheeks and her soft nose – this time, he forced himself to swallow down the sickness.

“Get the boy,” Matt instructed, his voice unwavering as he pulled the door carefully. Kyle jolted, his eyes flying to the back of the car, the back seat he had thought was empty.

There was a body draped across its entirety.

Sometimes Kyle forgot that he did this every day, cut people out of cataclysmic wrecks more than Kyle ate. Of course he had seen everything, when all he himself had been able to notice was the horror of it all.

He nodded anyway, his heart thudding in his chest as he reached for the boy’s limp body in the backseat, wondering why he felt so solid in this surreal nightmare.

His skin was soaked, his hair rough with embedded pieces of glass and metal, his skin torn and bruised and burned. He felt so delicate and sturdy all at once and Kyle trembled, because this wasn’t real, these people weren’t dying because they hit his car. His hands were wet with blood and warm from the boy’s skin, yet everything felt so cold against his fingertips.

“We need to get them out of here,” he realised, smelling the fire before he even saw it. The oil bled around them and filled his nose with the metallic stench, filled his lungs with panic. He heard the flames slowly licking at the metal, the trickling and cracking and creaking as they climbed higher and higher until-

“Run!” Matt screamed, pulling the driver out of her seat with one last tug and moving for cover, barely seconds before the car exploded with one earth-shatteringly loud boom.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute, the crash that ground Kyle’s life to a halt, but it felt like years. As the ambulance arrived and the night sky filled with neon-tinted terror, he felt himself slowly awaken and look down at the blood in his hands, the outline of the boy’s body on the concrete, the graveyard that the street had become.

He never saw it coming, no, but now it was all he could see.

 

 

 

 

Plasticity

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The brain is a wonderful thing.

In the light, it seems like nothing more than examinable, something fragile in the heart of our harsh, human hands. Three pounds of electricity and fluid, thin tissue holding together the most vital parts of something that, with a flex of muscle, could be nothing. Only, the brain is one of the most incredible forms of life to ever live on our planet; underneath the sickly-grey sludge and grotesque form, it’s a supercomputer, so incredibly intelligent that all its true potential is still hidden, to be discovered, in all its glory.

There’s something called plasticity. It helps to think of it like self-defence – the brain has something ingrained that lets it bounce back, no matter how strong the trauma. The pathways alter, or rearrange, and all of a sudden, the worst pieces of us, the scariest corners we’ve ever seen, can vanish.

The brain is a wonderful thing, because it helps to destroy the pieces that aren’t so wonderful.

**

 

“Let’s state the facts,” Dr Bloom said, spanning her hand out over her knee, the denim of her jeans sounding rough against her skin. “You’re afraid of him. You feel unsafe in his presence. You feel an uncharacteristically aggressive response to him.”

I swallowed, feeling myself bite down on my bottom lip. “Yeah.”

It felt as though it burned, the way I had to dig into my mind in these sessions. My eyes glazed over, my cheeks burned, and my palms sweated under my thighs, my heart beating fast with every question, every answer I poured out feeling like a lie.

Dr Bloom blinked, her eyes steady on me as she tapped her pen against the desk. “Can you think of any reason why? Anything he’s done?”

“He yells at me,” I answered, furrowing my eyebrows. He yells awful things. She knows this. “He gets – he gets in these moods, and everything he says is just. Terrifying.”

“A lot of people yell at you,” Dr Bloom said, not unkindly, her voice tinged with a push. “Teachers. Your mum. People experience yelling a lot more than they’d like in their daily life.”

“This is different,” I argued, my nails digging into my thighs. “He’s worse than the other people.”

“Why?”

I fumbled, my nails painfully pressing through my tights, my chest tight with panic. “What?”

“He yells, other people yell. Why is it worse when he does, than when, say, your teacher does?” Dr Bloom asked, her eyebrows raised.

 

His lips move into a smirk. His hands are dirty, always dirty, always curled around something too violent for the summer sun around you. He’s disturbing, in the very roots of the word; his hair curls away from his head, unwashed, his forehead stained with sweat, inky oil in the wrinkles of his face. He’s smug. He’s always laughing.

“You think you’re so much better than everyone around you,” he’s yelling, his voice ricocheting off the glass doors like bullets. “You look at me like I’m scum!”

He makes you angry. He makes you furious. Your blood boils, like he’s taken something from you that you can’t even begin to paint into a scene, and he’s laughing, still laughing, spit flying from his mouth, hands flying into walls.

“Stop shouting,” you say, nothing more than a murmur. He laughs, positively howls.

“Why, are you scared? Good!”

 

“I don’t know,” I said, my mind falling out of focus, something like numbness slipping over me. “I think I might be being irrational.”

 

**

 

I was seven, the first time I felt afraid of him.

People talked about monsters, in the playground and in the books that I buried myself in. Monsters with ugly faces, sharp teeth, dark intentions – they wanted to hurt you, or if you spun enough times in front of a mirror in the dark, take pieces of you and keep them.

I never found them scary. It always seemed distant, the fear that I would end up dead from something much bigger than myself; it was childish recklessness, disbelief, denial.

And then he showed me how to feel the horror that was lurking underneath everything.

 

**

 

“You’re fixated on his hands,” Dr Bloom said, in the same, amused way she always seemed to be saying things. I blinked, the room flitting from winter sun into spring light, my bones fading from covered to barely sheathed.

“His hands are disgusting,” I breathed, glancing towards the wall. The posters were still there, peeling off the yellowed, cracking walls, proclaiming, don’t stay quiet. The numbers emblazoned on the bottom of the page had been scratched out with marker pen.

 

“I got you something,” he said, voice low and fumbling in the shadows of the back garden. The rain-soaked ground was seeping through the fabric of your socks, the cold, morning air biting at your skin. You were rooted to the spot, the ice scorching through you.

Paralysis, you think. A night terror in the harsh light of day.

He holds out a pack of pens, his hands oil-stained and trembling, twitching, the product of a comedown. You want to ask who he’s stolen from now, who he’s torn apart and kept the pieces of like a gift, but you just hold your hand out, because that’s all you can do.

He smiles, and his teeth are sharper than any knife you’ve ever seen. When his hands brush against yours, the hairs on your neck stand up.

 

                                                                               **

 

When you’re faced with an obstacle, the only way to move is through; life won’t go on if you push problems out of the way, refusing to acknowledge them. The only way is forwards. It’s all I’ve ever known.

I kept my feet moving, and the world kept turning; the tears were streaming down my face, my breath still hitching in my lungs. The blood still stained my hands, in the crevices of my fingertips, no matter how hard I’d scrubbed and scrubbed.

Dr. Bloom looked at my hands, and asked me about his.

It was better than the police, than the ambulance, the demons screaming in my head for hours through the night as they kept me medicated in a hospital bed. She smiled, at least, and I smiled, because I sometimes wondered if in the course of synaptic plasticity, my brain had rewired the muscles that were meant to do that.

I blinked. “His hands aren’t the worst part.”

“Aren’t they?”

“Weren’t,” I amended, the fabric beneath my legs soft and rough all at once, a static discomfort that made me want to move, run, burn the restlessness out of my veins. “They weren’t the worst part. His mouth was.”

“His words,” Dr Bloom said, almost vaguely, her eyes calculating. “He always said cruel things, didn’t he? Provoking, perhaps.”

“He did,” I burst, my voice flooding with defensiveness and anger and everything all at once. Her eyes were calculating, sweeping over me as I played my fingers with the hem of my dress, her eyebrows raising fractionally at the nervous tremble of my hands. “He was cruel. His words were cruel.”

“Sometimes,” Dr. Bloom started, flitting her eyes away, her chin tilting up as she struggled to formulate a response. The air filled with electricity, negative energy pressing down down down until it hurt my chest, my gaze stuck on the fraying, maroon wool of her jumper. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but I never did; never wanted to delve into the deepest corners of my mind and realise that, in actuality, I was some sort of rearranged monster, hiding under big clothes and soft words. She licked her lips, glancing back down at me, a small smile forming, as though to say, listen to me, I’ve finally cracked it. “Sometimes cruelty can be a trigger, yes. But is it ever an excuse?”

 

*

 

“What are you going to do?” he screamed, his body pushing forward, backing you into the cobbled wall of the garage, the keys digging into the skin of your palm painfully as the door swung shut. You had wanted eggs, had slipped your shoes on with your pyjamas and rushed out through the cold winter air into the garden, your mind running with ‘get the eggs, get inside, everything will be fine’. It’s just a garage. Schrodinger’s Garage, probably, because you knew, somewhere inside of you, that he could be anywhere. Even if he was always in the back corner of your mind.

You were right, and you were wrong, and all of it hurt all the same.

“Get off of me,” you snapped, because you give it as good as you get, you do. You scream and scream and push and push until he breaks you, because you deserve it, you do, and if he does it, it’s some sort of sick validation that you’re not the evil one. You reached out, shoving him back, your hands colliding with his skin at what felt like a dangerous rate, unstoppable and immovable and horrifically harsh.

“What are you going to do?” he repeated, his head pushing forwards, his wide eyes only inches from yours, spit flying across your skin. You would shower after, you thought. “You need to stop being such a controlling little bitch!”

“You were taking drugs in the garage,” you hissed, and he smirked, shaking his head, scoffing, picture of innocence. You were angry. You always were. “My sister is in that house, almost came out here herself, and you think being so disgusting is okay?”

“You think it’s alright to be such a fucking control freak all the time? Get away, grow up before you try to talk to me about being disgusting. You know what disgusting people do? They make their family visit them in the hospital, and don’t even make it worth their time.”

 

I bit my lip, the feeling of his hands on my shoulders making me shudder as I met Dr. Bloom’s eyes once again. “Not an excuse, no. It hurts, though.”

 

* *

 

When the brain is under immense stress, it remoulds itself in order to cope.

It’s an evolutionary advantage; paired with the sentience, the ability to percieve ourselves and understand the world around us, it makes sense that the brain would have an escape route – a way out, if everything becomes too much.

Underneath the layers of skin and bone, there’s a supercomputer lurking, waiting to fix any and every mistake that everything between the sea and sky can form. Sometimes, to fix means to mask – to replace with something new, something that might never have happened, or might be a storybook version of something you’ve seen.

False memories, they’re called, but when they’re playing before your eyes, they feel more real than anything that’s ever happened to you.

 

**

 

“So, he wanted to hurt you, you said?” Dr Bloom said, her pen scratching against the notebook in her lap. The machines beeped around me, a cacophony of loudness and irritation all at once, making me glance down at the needle in my arm and contemplate ripping it out altogether, just to get the steady sounds to stop.

There’s a metaphor, in the mess of details, about how trying to fix a ripple can cause a tsunami; I never wondered before, if people could be natural disasters, but then, if this wasn’t one, then what was?

“He did,” I said slowly. “And he did.”

“He did?” Dr. Bloom raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. “Alright, what happened there, then?”

 

**

 

His hands feel like needles, and you’ve always felt deathly afraid of those.

They dig into your hips, your thighs, your shoulders, push and pull and take and take until your skin is marred and bruised and jarred and ruined.

His mouth curls up into something, but you think you’ve lost the meaning of what a smile can be. Surely, he can’t be smiling at you. Surely, the devil can’t show you anything but horror.

Your skin is cold, and burning, and you’ve never felt so occupied in your own body.

He takes, and takes, and takes.

 

**

 

“Just, like. When he pushed me,” I mumbled, flitting my eyes back to the dreaded poster. “Against the wall. It hurt.”

“Of course,” she nodded, looking like she didn’t believe me one bit. “So, he hurt you. Do you think that was a reason to hurt him?”

 

Blood, staining, warm and trickling, burning as you wipe it on your thighs and off your thighs, the steering wheel slippery between your fingers. You don’t know where it all came from, but you think it looks like a crime scene, horrific and violent in the light of the sun.

You wonder why it feels like a part of you just breathed, for the first time in a long time, when you know that the rest of you was just smashed beyond repair.

 

“No,” I argued, my mind swirling. “I pushed him back sometimes, but that was it. It was never the same.”

“Do you think he’ll ever hurt you again?”

 

The sun set as the hospital doors opened, your body exhausted, your mind even worse. Your arms were stained with blood, your legs trickling as it kept running. You didn’t know where to look, what to say, where to go, but all of a sudden you were lying down, and you knew, somewhere in your mind, that sometimes, when the sun sets, it doesn’t rise again. Not for everyone.

You didn’t think you’d feel so warm in the light.

 

“No,” I said, the nausea bubbling, my eyes squeezing shut. “I suppose he won’t.”

 

**

 

When the new pathway forms, the old one doesn’t just disappear.

It’s always there, lurking in the shadows; only, the brain found new ways to get to the light.

He ruined me. And the lights smash out. He pushed me. And they come back on.

You wonder if you’re losing yourself, in the way you keep framing and reframing the same picture, if it’s getting smaller every time, if you’re cutting yourself out so much that you’ll never be found again. But then, it’s always there, waiting.

Plasticity can pull both ways, but sometimes, some things are better left in the dark.

layers.

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Sometimes I wonder where we went wrong.
I blame her, I do. I know I shouldn’t; love is a many layered thing, and she was one of them. I’m tearing off the skin of it when I look at her, but you’re still the blood.

I miss you. I didn’t think I did. I didn’t think I would.
I chased you away with a laugh and now I’m in the dust, sitting with my eyes closed and I’m smiling. I don’t know what I feel. I say I miss you, but it’s many layers down, down to the bone, down to the cells and atoms and everything in-between.

I’m not going to apologise. I never will.
I need to stand up for myself; there’s something to be said about the compulsive need I feel to say sorry to you, when you let me know you don’t think I’m good enough. Maybe it’s a shadow of you, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m chalking you up to be something astronomical, when really, you burned out before I could even get close.

It’s all about resentment, when you get to the soul of it. I resent her. I resent you. You resent me.
It’s a helpless cycle and I’m not sure which way I’m going. I don’t want to be tied to someone so fruitlessly, but I don’t want to turn back and be the reason someone breathes. I need stable. I need just alright. I want someone to care about me a little, but not wholeheartedly, not emptily. I want someone to appreciate me.

I am a many layered thing. I’m the words I write, the words I learn, the pictures I take in the sun. I’m the people I care for and the songs I sing while I’m driving and the pointless videos I watch far too late at night. I’m the therapy appointments and the overwhelming love I feel for my family. I’m the days out with my friends and the days lying under my covers, helpless and bruised. I’m the fights I get into with my family and the fun I have when I drink until people worry about me. I’m a lot of things, and all of these make me remarkable.

No one would notice you if you weren’t with me.

Except they have. They do.
Two years since you pulled me in and you never will again.

I miss you, I do. And sometimes I wonder where we went wrong, where I went wrong, letting myself be so downtrodden and useless.
I’m worth more than being the someone that no one notices. I’m worth more than being everything to you.
I miss you, but with time, that layer will strip away.

the way it felt.

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1

Pain. Blinding.

There’s a light somewhere, everywhere, enveloping you in a cataclysmic blanket of heat and breathlessness. I want to open your eyes but there’s nothing left of you to grab onto.

I want to paint a picture for you, a myriad of watercolour screams and footfalls, but you’ll never see it.

You’ve never lived this.

 

2

Hurt. Bone-deep.

I clutched onto you in the deepest of waters, my flesh peeling from my bones. I held onto the frames of you, the very ends, and you disintegrated before me with a ruining smile, leaving me loveless, leaving me to drown.

I want to sit back up, but I can’t. I didn’t survive this.

 

3

Frantic. Screaming.

They’re shaking my body and I’m a dead weight on the floor, except its midday, except I’m alive and awake in the middle of the road. I wonder where you went; even the sun doesn’t come anymore, the blinds have been shut for days. Glints of silver. I miss your bones.

I want to feel you, breathe you; there are years between us. Time is never enough.

 

4

I want to tell you how it felt; how I cried for days, weeks, months. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t look at you, couldn’t stop. My world crashed. My mind stopped.

I kept swimming in a whirlpool of hate and misery, and you were screaming that it was only a matter of time. Sometimes I remember your voice, rhythmic, beeping, heartbeats in the dead of night.

 

5

I want to tell you that you ruined me, but I’m not sure that you’d care. I think you meant it.

 

all my body knows.

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My body knows me.

After I make myself sick, my body trembles. The tremors rise through me so violently, I wonder if there’s a cold I’m not feeling, a sickness I don’t know I have. My hands shake, my shoulders shake, my mind blurs.

My body knows that I do not like to be sick. My mind doesn’t.

My mind screams, do it again. Feed yourself and feed yourself and feed yourself until you’re splitting at the seams. Push further and further until there’s nothing left, until it hurts so badly you can barely keep it in, and hold it. You have to hold it before I let you take it away.

My mind pilots me. They say, mind over matter, but when it comes to my mind, it controls me. It floods me in fog, drowning out anything that might hold a degree of rationality, splitting away anything that could mask as sensical. It thinks it knows me. It thinks it is me.

I make a plan every day. I tell myself, today, I won’t purge. This is the real me, the rational me. I tell myself, today I’ll have oatmeal, and salad, and I’ll do yoga. Today, today will be different. I make notes on my phone, notes on my laptop, notes on the little books I keep down the side of my driver’s seat. Today, I won’t purge. Today, I won’t purge.

And yet, I do.

It follows the same routine. The gradual ticking from, today is different and I can feel it in my bones, to, what difference does one day make? My mind convinces me that today does not need to happen. Today is an illusion. Do you think you’ll get better in just one day? You won’t.

I listen. It cracks. It falls from, today doesn’t matter, to, today is the same as every other day, and no day will ever get better. I become ravenous, even if I don’t feel an ounce of hunger in my body. My mind is ravenous. I push and shove and tear and smear until it’s all gone, a cataclysmic wreck of empty bags and dirty plates, and my stomach feels so full that I can’t move.

Then, I wait. And I wait. When it’s time, my mind is excited. I get to the bathroom and I bend over the toilet seat, making sure not to bend my knees, and I feel my fingers around the back of my throat. It’s almost like I’ve learned tricks. I can purge silently, quickly, mechanically. It’s over within seconds, and there are tears in my eyes. My lips are swollen. I stare at myself in the mirror.

I look myself dead in the eyes, blink the mascara-stained tears down my cheeks. There’s vomit at the side of my mouth. My hair is standing on end. Offhandedly, I think about how nice my lips look like this, how sparkling my eyes are with tears in them. I smooth my hair back down, and I splash my face with water.

It doesn’t make sense, what I do. The person standing there, the one purging, she isn’t me. I am not gripping onto the sink with shaking hands, gargling water and watching as specks of blood swirl down the drain. I am not in that room, as my body gurgles in satisfaction at the loss of the awful, pushing sensation in my stomach. I am not me.

There is a difference, between my body and my mind, and I am neither.

My body knows me, it does. It knows I have no energy. It knows I don’t like feeling pain. It knows I’m not hungry, not even at all, and that I don’t want the messy food and messier end. My mind does not know me. My mind knows itself, its sickness, and we are separate.

I am not my mind, nor my body, nor me. Not anymore. Somewhere, in the sea of porcelain and the blinking of tears and the pushing of extremities, I was washed away, swirling down the drain with the blood, never to be seen again.

I do not know if I will ever be myself again.

But I know, as I take out my notebooks and scribble down tomorrow, I won’t purge, that I will.