Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 6

We're not supposed to bruise.

This the notion that crossed my mind when I watched my mother cook, after fifteen-hour days. what I felt whenever she'd complain about sickness and people would interpret it as whining. what I said to myself when I watched pregnant women hold their stomachs, with supermarket bags spilling, and stroller in another. how I felt every morning when I forced myself to rise...


Like all the boys in the neighborhood, Benjamin knew my father. This is how he reeled me in.

"He's the reason I'm a nerd. The first book he ever gave me was a collection of Robert Frost poems."

"My mother used to read that to me. It probably came right from our shelves."

"Yeah, he wanted me to take the other road."

We both laughed. Benjamin was different from most of the boys in our neighborhood. Most of their lives were predicated on basketball and hip-hop, but all Benjamin wanted to do was read.  It was all I wanted to do too. This could've been because he was older. Benjamin was sixteen, going on forty-five. Mr. Mills and my dad called him an old soul.

We spent hours at Free Verse, until closing sometimes, talking about the works he'd read. He hipped me to so many things. My mother and father would call the shop, ushering me to come home. Mr. Mills would yell for us to emerge from the bookshelves, "Jai, your mother said it's time!"

Benjamin would hug me and place his latest read in my hand, always just finished, "This one is good. You should start it, tonight."

I always did.

He was my first crush. The first boy to tell me the things I never heard, behind braces and glasses. The first to share in my interests and not recoil from them.

This is why it did not seem strange when he tried to kiss me.
This is why I didn't run away or push him.
This is why twelve and sixteen did not matter when it came to first kisses.
Because twelve-year-old me had only fathomed that kissing was as far as it would go.

Mr. Mills left the store that day.
He left us alone.
He asked us to close up shop because he trusted Benjamin.
He trusts Benjamin, with me.

He shouldn't have. 


My mother noticed the bruises first. 
I asked her to leave the room while I got ready for bed, but she refused.
She always knew when something was wrong. 

We're not supposed to bruise. 


My mother was perplexed at my statement, as I pulled down my pants. There, on my inner thighs, were large red and purple bruises.

She fell to her knees, inspecting me and crying all at once, "What happened, Jai?"

I was afraid to tell her. 
He said that he would hurt me if I told anyone. 
"People do this all the time. It's no big deal, grow up. Get up, clean yourself off, go home."
I fought the entire time, but he was stronger than me. 
& when he was done.
& when all the fight was gone.
& when I heard the front door close. 

I thought, "We're not supposed to bruise."

"Jailin Merendez, who did this to you?"

We're not supposed to bruise.

Apparently we do.

So I told her. 


My father pummeled his fists against every wall in our house, that night. He'd called some of his friends and hours later I heard the sound of sirens and yelling, outside. 

They'd found Benjamin, called the police and made sure he'd been put away. He would not be the one to serve Benjamin justice. The holes in our walls said otherwise. My father had released his anger on our home before he made his way out. Only a reasonable and kind man could do that.

He wasn't so forgiving when the throwing up started. 
My mother's face was pale when I came downstairs complaining of nausea and vomit. 

I ran to the bathroom yelling, "I think I have a stomach virus!"

Morning sickness.

I was trying to understand the phrase, considering the illness began at 3 pm that day.

"Was it something I ate?"

My father stood from his chair, the same anger on his face that he wore the night that the awful thing occurred.

"Jesus Christ, I can't believe this is happening."

My mother could not stop crying. She tried to speak, but the tears choked her quiet. 

"What is happening?"

"You and not staying away from boys is happening. I thought we raised you..."

He didn't finish his sentence. He walked out of the room in the middle of it. My mother's palms held excuses, caressed them into my shoulders. It didn't make it sting any less. Hearing my father's footsteps descend the staircase, hearing his car start, hearing silence in our home for the rest of the night cut deeper than anything I'd ever felt.

"We're going to see a doctor in the morning."

She tried to convince me that everything was going to be okay.

It wasn't.


"My father spent less time at home, after a while."

Damali's eyebrows furrowed. "What does that mean?"

"He got caught up in his work. He spent more time on his business, in his study. He was so strict."

"He loved you. He wore you on his sleeve, Jai."

I was suddenly defensive, "I know he loved me."

"I'm just saying, you sound unsure."

"We just didn't speak while I was away at college. Honestly, we barely spoke throughout high school."

"The accident happened while you were in college, right?"

"Yeah. I was a sophomore."

"Wow. I couldn't even imagine going back to school after that."

He moved his chair closer to me. I resisted the urge to push him away, the way I pushed Malaki away. 

"I did. I pushed through it. I came to New York City to write, and I'm barely doing that."

"You've got to push yourself through that too."

"I know. I'm just nervous about too much coming out."

"It's yours, Jai. You get to decide what leaves your notebook and what doesn't. But you've got to write it down."

He was right. 

Damali looked so familiar. He felt like home, even though I'd only known him for a few weeks. Free Verse was just as busy as it was back in the day. The line for coffee wrapped through the tables and folks were sitting on the inactive stage, reading books while they waited. Free Verse also felt like home. I tried to focus on the good memories that I had there. 

This was my third time here, with Damali, and every time he was nearby, that awful thing that happened in the backyard seemed to wash away. 

"So you kept my dad's dream alive, huh?"

"Kind of. It's a little program that does recreational activities with the youth here. We do film, drama, writing. They appreciate it. The parents sure as hell do."

"That's beautiful. You're going to turn them all into little Langston's?"

"Something like that."

He smiled. Damali's dimples were showing off.

"When are you going to get up on that stage, girl?"

I wasn't ready for the push he was trying to give me, "Soon."

I stood up to put on my coat and grabbed my coffee. Damali got out of his seat and helped me put it on. I stared at him for a second too long, eyeing his lips.


He broke my trance, "Yeah."

"Don't fall for me. I'll break your heart."


You can find Erica's books, here.

1 comment:

MJ said...

This is a really good series. Heck all of the writing on your site is great!! I look forward to reading it.