Something Real

When I was younger, I despised happy endings. Some stories were so real and true and right and then all of a sudden everybody was alive and in love and mentally whole and the illusion fell apart. I would imagine what really must’ve happened, because nothing was ever that perfect or simple in this universe. When my mom would read to me before bed, I would wail and screech until she told me something real and true and profoundly right.

I probably should have stopped when I noticed how this made her crack. I quickly learned which bits and pieces were my fault: the lines in the crease of her forehead, the blood that dripped from her knuckles when she clenched her fists in anger. Tell me something real! I would holler, sobbing into the pillow and feeling the broken skin along my spine heaving and splitting like buckled earth, Tell me something honest!

My mom stopped reading to me before bed after that.

Dad rarely snapped. His skin was taped together here and there, but rather than having lots of thin lines all over his skin like I do, he just had a few wide crevasses along his neck that would rip and tear further apart in the rare event that he finally lost his patience. He broke when I was pretty young. Mom doesn’t like to talk about why, and I stopped asking when her chest began to split in two.

Everybody and nobody wants to know what will break them. It happens to us eventually. Even the sociopaths with their smooth-as-polished-quartz skin hit a snag when something doesn’t go their way. My skin looks like marble at this point and it’s really only a matter of time.

I can’t ever look away when somebody shatters. The old people, covered in bandages and tape, just sort of fall apart by themselves on the subway or in the restaurant where they were sitting alone. I think they see those of us with less cracks and more hope and they accept what’s coming. Then there are the really exciting ones, the rich and famous that explode into a million pieces on a stage when the crowd doesn’t clap loud enough or when they lose a lot of money. Those are harder to figure out because you just assume they’re perfect, you know? The richest of us can afford to cover up the cracks.

Sometimes I wonder how I’ll go. But then my friends get angry with me for talking and thinking and existing and I see the new cracks running up and down their arms so I stop. Still, though. I think I’d much rather explode in a burst of human shrapnel than crumple in on myself when the time comes.

Anyways, there are some things I do to keep myself safe. For starters, the easiest way to avoid cracks is to stay away from people. I’m proud to say I’ve never let myself love anybody. I learned why you shouldn’t love people the hard way. My mom’s chest cracking open as my dad shattered was not a coincidence. And when my sister’s best friend stopped hanging out with her for another girl who had pretty, sparkling skin, she had to sit in bed with bandages all over her torso for a whole week until she could move without dropping pieces of ceramic flesh on the floor behind her.

Sometimes I worry, though. This old woman covered in safety pins once told me that she was okay with the breaking. Why? I had asked, absolutely horrified but intrigued all the same. She laughed and flakes of skin fell from her face while she told me about her beloved and how he had held her together better than any clips or adhesives ever could.

But then she shattered right in front of me. So I’m still skeptical.

Like I said, I don’t like happy endings. I’ve never seen one yet and I don’t think I ever will. There was one time that I really thought everything would be okay, at least for some people. I was pretty young still, but my parents took me to this party at family friend’s house once and I remember everything.

The lady who was hosting the party was very pretty. Her cracks were there, but they were thin and she carried herself in a way that defied brokenness. I asked my mom what sort of pills she was on right in front of her and my dad boxed my ears while everybody in the room got those little stress cracks that happen right behind their ears when they’re embarrassed or tense.

The hostess lady just laughed and smiled and that’s when I thought she really must be different.

Apparently this whole party was to celebrate her and her husband’s anniversary. They had lots of pictures up, some when they were in high school and had pretty clear skin, and one from their wedding day with lots of gaping, anxiety-induced valleys running all up and down their necks. That was my favorite because they were still smiling and it felt so sincere and I remember feeling hopeful. I still don’t know what I was hoping for, but it was there in that moment and sometimes I cling to that feeling and pretend that what happened next wasn’t real.

I remember the phone rang and the lady ran to get it and I’m not clear on the details, but I guess her husband had lost his job that day and he broke. Just like that. Boom. Nothing. Nobody. Gone.

She sank down into a chair by the table and just sat staring at the coffee cup in front of her. My mom and dad and everybody else but me knew what was coming, and so the room spun into a flurry of people trying to leave to give her space or stay and hold her together. My mom and dad began pulling me to the door. Apparently we were the type of family that wanted to leave this lady in peace before she broke.

But I yanked myself away and I went and sat next to the lady. She didn’t look up; she just kept staring at the coffee. That’s when I saw the deep cracks slowly but surely clawing their way across her torso. I watched, fascinated, as she began to fold in on herself. I thought she would maybe just crumple up like the older people do. But then all of a sudden I was covered in skin and something red that looked like blood but felt like glaze. That’s when I finally let my mom pull me out of the chair and out the door. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a bigger split in my own skin.

I still have the taped together gap in my stomach to show for it.

And I still don’t like happy endings.

[Written December 13th, 2015]

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