Secrets Secrets

Fighter

When I was little, like five or six, I watched my dad fight for money for the first time. It was our little secret. He’d come up to me, bloody-lipped, and remind me what it was I had to say. I’d go, “Secrets secrets are no fun. Secrets secrets hurt someone” and he’d slap me upside the head before buckling me up in the car.

He’d clean himself up real nice while Mom worked the third shift, apply ice to his lip and wash away all the blood. He went through bleach like nobody’s business cleaning up all his tanks. The jeans would go through the wash three, four times before even some of the blood would come off. It became so I was his little partner in crime. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if they see he has a kid, maybe they’ll (subconsciously or otherwise) lose the fight. Most fights it was $25 if you lost, $50 if you won. If Dad was on a losing streak he’d tell me he was “counting his quarters.” Guys bet on the side, raking in cash or giving it away.

I scooped up my father’s teeth when I was seven, big root structures like the undersides of trees poking out of them. He’d later say he was glad they were back teeth. Easier to hide from my mom. The guy who knocked them out threatened to do worse, and the organizers held him back as he bellowed. My father had been taunting him. My father liked to taunt people, whether that was a good idea or not. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if he taunted them, they’d get pissed and sloppy, and he’d be able to get some good shots on them. It rarely worked, but he did it anyway.

I was eight when my mom found out. Call it an anonymous tip. We still don’t know which of our neighbors squealed, but they must’ve seen him coming in all bloodied up one too many times. She didn’t know it was from fighting until I told her. My father chased me around the room when I said this, threatened me with everything in the book. Told me to come and take my punishment like a man when I ducked around the kitchen table. Mom told him off and he stopped coming after me. I’ve never seen so much malice in a man’s eyes as I did then.

What the fuck was my father thinking? Didn’t he have any concern for anyone other than himself? And what did he think he was doing bringing his kid around with him to this? Didn’t he have any sense in that thick skull of his? He was to quit doing it immediately. But honey, he already had a couple fights lined up. No way out of them. And she didn’t give a shit if he had a shot at the heavyweight fucking title. He was done. Did he understand that? And yeah. Yeah, he understood fine.

He went out the next week. Call it a compulsion. Call it an addiction. Call it willful stupidity. We were out of the house the next day, divorce proceedings to follow. I don’t know for sure because I never did see him again, but word on the street is he kept on fighting, this time to pay for child support. We moved somewhere quiet and shaded with big, leafy trees. Last I saw of my father was a bloody old tank that slipped through the cracks and into our laundry, one of the blood stains shaped into a heart.

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Oranges

orange

When it came time to come home, I was cold and hungry and tired and I had no idea yet that Drew was dead.

Mom greeted me at the door, smile too put on, hug too tight. Dad even hugged me. Dad never hugged other males. I brought a bag of oranges with me, set them on the table. I knew how much Drew loved oranges. Past tense. “Drew’s coming home” is how they put it. Mom searching my eyes for recognition, her own tearing up. Dad put his hand against the door frame. He punched it once, twice. Mom stopped him before he could split a knuckle.

We did the usual. Mom hauled out the photo album, blew the dust away from old polaroids. I remembered then that you’re not supposed to shake them, that doing so can damage the image. A couple of them attested to this fact: a shot of Drew and I with a blob between the two of us, another with a streak erasing Drew’s face.

Drew and I weren’t ever close. More like we were on the cusp of being close but one of us would always fuck it up at the last second. The last time I talked to him, the last thing I said was fuck you.

Everything in Drew’s room was just as he left it. Sports stars adorned every conceivable bit of wall space. Pennants to schools Drew never went to topped these. Everything still stunk of his cologne.

I went through his drawers, finding socks, the odd memento, condoms. Nothing that could paint a picture except when taken as a whole. I dug under his bed for the three-digit lockbox that was rusting out at the bottom, the one I never decoded. I fiddled with it a while before it gave way: lucky guess.

Inside: the old Nazi pamphlet our grandpa brought back from the war. And there Drew was going off to war a couple generations later, though never coming back from it. More mementos, a couple trophy pictures of girls he’d been with. And there, at the bottom: an old polaroid of us as kids, Drew propping me up by the armpits and me perpetually laughing at something off-camera. I touched the photo, rubbed Drew’s face. I put the photo back and closed the lockbox. Put it away. Punched the ground until my mom downstairs asked if I was okay.

When we would eventually see him there in his box, American flag covering it, they’d refuse to let us see him. It’d be a closed casket. When they said we couldn’t see him, I punched one of the soldiers in the face. I was put in a chokehold and told to calm down as my face turned red and a vein bulged in my head. I said I was calm. When they let me go, I straightened myself up. I cried onto his box, my tears coloring the oak like so much watercolor.

When I finally made it downstairs, Mom was there putting away old trinkets, little gifts Drew had given her over the years. Dad was in the kitchen peeling an orange with his hands, ripping off little tendrils with his thumb. He let the pieces of peel fall to the floor.

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Acc I Dent

accident

To run into traffic on a sunny day, and to stand motionless as the cars come careening close, as they slam on their brakes and collide to avoid you. To break open a bottle of ink and to splash it over everything you own, leaving nothing out. To break into the house across the street and to sleep there. To get a gun and point it at your mirror self. To blow a hole in your wall and to stand in the spray of water coming from the struck pipe. To immolate a papier-mâché version of yourself on the front lawn, and to shoot at the squirrels when they get too close. To close the door on each of your fingers till your nails fall off and the skin underneath is oily and purple. To punch the replaced mirror again and again, till nothing remains. To find an old newspaper clipping of what happened and to eat it, not even tearing it up first, just forcing it down. To crush the shards down into granulated glass and to put this glass into peanut butter for the squirrels. To break the fingers of the first person you meet on the road and to kiss them on the head as they wail and flail. To punch your stomach until it’s black and purple, the skin raised in knuckle prints like welts on the flesh. To tear your calendar on the anniversary of it and to shove it down the garbage disposal, mangling your hand when you reach down and into it. To refuse pain meds when the ambulance arrives and they take you to the hospital, you going in and out of consciousness as the sirens wail and wail and wail. To rip off the dressing that they put on the hand and to wave the appendage in front of the doctor’s face like a treat for a dog. To get on all fours and bark when they ask what’s wrong with you, and to laugh your spittle into the doctor’s face. To leave before they’ve signed you out and to catch a bus back home, bleeding on the seats. To rub the blood on your face and gibber incoherently when you start to catch stares. To relay the memories back to yourself, waving your hand back and forth as you do. To incorporate the memories of the trauma, to dislodge it from the dwelling place it’s hiding in. To look at old pictures of her, before it happened, and to cry quietly to yourself. To put the pictures in a safe place and to be sure not to drip any blood onto them. To wash your hand and to wash your hand and to scrub it as the pain radiates like balls of lightning. To swaddle the wound in a rag and to soak the rag in gasoline. To light up what you’ve made, this human torch, and to wail and flail to get it off. To let it burn, somehow not tearing it off, and to watch as the smoking rag falls off on its own, no blood leaking from the wound anymore. To allow yourself two crushed aspirin and to swallow it dry, the metal taste seeping into you, filling you up. To fish the photos back out and to hold them up to the flame. To singe off your eyebrows for even thinking of it. To grab a fire poker and to wind up on your foot. To stop at the last second, and the stinging smell of fear. To inhale this scent deeply. To wash your feet and anoint them in oils. To shower in hot water until your bones ache and to get out and allow yourself a robe. To put away your knives and other sharp implements. To shove a screwdriver in the garbage disposal. To take the pictures out again, and to really look at them. To see beyond the accident, just her. Just you, before all of this, before all of what you’ve done. To look down at what’s become of your hand, what’s become of you, and to weep.

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