He wears an orange shirt. Not neon orange, but dull orange – almost like a faded traffic cone. It’s inside out, and the tag kisses the nape of his neck.
You will remember exactly how it happened. The dugout sits heavy above you both, and your feet won’t quite touch the ground where you sit. The floor is dirtied with sand and sunflower seed shells. The rafters hold immature graffiti and old, forgotten names. Your breath is gripping your throat, his explosive fingers are dancing on the small of your back and you notice that, today, the chain-linked dugout wall looks more like a cage.
“Are you leaving?” His voice barely registers and sits like a ghost behind your tense shoulders, the shoulders with scars, the shoulders where you wish two glorious wings would burst out of your bones and carry you away.
You don’t say anything. You just nod, abrupt and choked.
He is up and walking.
You grab his hand, mouth open and stuttering with shattered words gathering at the back of your tongue. His violet hand retracts from your fragile fingers, your breakable fingers, your shards of pottery fingers.
He is gone.
You do not cry. You lean your head back against the cement in the filthy dugout and exhale relief. Someone you know walks across the field bases. The birds sing.
The nightmares begin a month later. Each day is spent anxiety ridden with your heart caught in your throat; Each night is stained with his color, violet, the color of nightshade, nasty bruises, and bad, baseball-sized hickeys.
Insomnia becomes your new lover. She takes you into her arms and cradles you as you sit awake, head in hands, hands in hair, sobbing with your five fingers folded around your jackknife as if it could protect you from the purple ghost in your closet.
You keep seeing his eyes everywhere you go.
Your bed is a more comfortable prison than his arms and your voicemail box fills up.
Your best friend asks, “What’s wrong?” – the one that showed you the website in the first place. Symptoms, signs, things you sometimes wish you hadn’t seen and things you wish he never said.
You won’t talk about it. You won’t talk about his hands hiking up your skirt while your mouth remains sewn shut, your eyes closed, pretending not to notice. You won’t talk about his fingers, his purple and gray, swollen fingers, his bruising fingers, or his tongue like a razor or the way smoke lingers on his clothes like unspoken words.
You don’t like blue eyes anymore, or that smell of smoke or hands like his,hands that suffocate or cages paired with sly smiles. You are lonely and confused and spend too much time hiding under covers, cowering from the shadows that he left behind. Days waste away at the bottom of empty teacups.You struggle to put your bleeding fingers on the reason why.
You eventually find the words wrapped around your neck, in scars on your thighs, words you have looked up again and again in order to distinguish what’s real from what’s not.
You realize this kind of trauma isn’t textbook – it blurs the lines. You won’t find what he did illegal anywhere, because being a sadist isn’t quite as bad when the only wounds he left aren’t seen on the skin.
There will be half-assed conversations going something like, “He was a bad guy,” your hands are in your lap and your eyes look at your hands and your walls are stories high. “I told you so,” they dismiss you and continue another conversation that is more important than your miniscule attempt at coming-to-terms. It’s winter now.
The hallways of your high school are stark and warm, and each morning you hold a thermos of quotidian tea between your pale, glass shard fingers. Your friends still ask questions, you give a half smile and bury his memory further in your stomach.
You spit on the way off the bus trying to rid your mouth of his acidic taste.
You still hate the color purple. Insomnia is not so much a lover anymore as she is a friend that sometimes visits at 3 or 4 or 5 am. You make lists of words, lists of triggers, rattle them off to your hookups so hands aren’t misplaced. You get comfortable with calling it by its name – like a demon, like a devil, there is power in a name.
In a sunny café in the afternoon, one friend crinkles her eyes and asks, “I don’t understand how it was abuse if he never hit you.
Your vision swims violet. Your eyes taste saltwater. Your ribcage breaks under the sudden weight of his body, you feel his hands fasten softly around your neck, a collar of purple staining your veins. He is poison, rushing down to your lungs, making your fingers and feet shake.
You give a wry smile, collect your spare change, and, laying a goodbye on the table, dry and forced, you leave the coffee shop behind. It is another broken memory with remnants of bloody tongues and scripted sentences trying to explain your new bad habits.
You make lists of things you can do better in the nights when insomnia stays the night. You sit up with your phone beside your writing hand and discuss how to be okay with your best friend. You name your bad habits and your triggers and then write down how to save yourself from drowning if no one is around. You write over and over into your heart, “You are not an object, even if he treated you as such.”
You are titanium. Each step you take forward strengthens your bones.You cut your hair. You throw out your blades. You carry a knife in your bag and practice slipping it into your fingers from your sleeve, practice drawing the blade out of its sheath. You find love in the color gold and in cigarettes and in early morning cups of tea.
You remember how good it feels to kiss someone new. You remember that love isn’t always toxic. You dig up the real smiles you buried deep inside of your abdomen. You remove your mask. You straighten your spine.
You are not a bomb anymore.
It is summer again. A year has disappeared beneath your worn feet. You see him in your town, in a garage with strung up lights, the smoke hazing over your eyes so you only catch a glimmer of blue. His tongue is still a razor and you still have your knife in your bag. You know why you loved him. You also know why you left. You tentatively smile at him and your mended heart hurts. You smile at him and your mended heart hurts.
You still cannot meet his gaze or look at his hands. You still have bruises on your bones and scar tissue on your thighs. You still have lists of triggers that you have to hand out like pamphlets. You still have baggage, still have intimacy issues and you still say, “Stop,” when your most recent lover’s hands forget what makes you cringe, when they forget what makes you see violet. Insomnia still loves to sneak into your bed and you still sleep with one hand curled in a fist under your pillow.
“You’re strong, you know?” He says with two hands clasping the driver’s wheel. “I know,” you say, with your kind hands in your lap and your eyes looking at your hands and your smile tickling the sides of your cheeks.
You still remember him, but you don’t hate the color violet anymore.
Francesca is 17 years old, living outside Philadelphia in suburbia. She loves poetry, both classic and contemporary, and literature as a whole. She loves music to the moon and back, and her favorite movies to binge watch are Dead Poet’s Society, Wild, and Stuck in Love.