We live on a small avenue, thirty-two houses in a U-shape; all with perfectly square front gardens and identical red-bricked facades. We know everyone who lives on our cul-de-sac, and they know us. Living next-door to us at number ten are Tom Cahill and his wife, Dotty.

I am not who you told me I was, every time I looked into your eyes and saw reflected back to me the image of who you told me that I am. That is not who I am. You have never known who I am. If there is anything that I know, and there is so much that I don’t, it is that I am not what I have felt: my depressions, or hungers, my compulsions, despairs: they are not who I am, though they are wells I fall down into, for long times knowing nothing but their dark, cavernous mouths swallowing me up whole. Rage is also what I’m not, and there is so much rage. Days where all I do is swim through it, oceans of fire, praying one day it will end, that I’ll have strength to face what came before, before the rage. Neither am I the thoughts I think that tell me who I am. More often I’m the dreamer forgetting he’s asleep. My body’s mostly what I think I am, but I am not; this body that I’ve pierced and tattooed, raped and drugged, tried to kill, snuff out like a candle, or sell for sex because by then cash seemed like the only thing of value men could give. I am not that sex, though sex is what I found when I, abandoned, went looking for myself. I am not my scars, the scars that you, and I, and they, we all razored into me, even though for years that’s all I saw: not the house I was before the storm, but the ruins, the brokenness left standing, that’s left me wanting just to tear down all that’s left and start anew because there’s no way I’ll be whole again, not this time ‘round. I am not my story, even though I tell, or want to tell, almost everyone I meet “who I am.” I do not know who I am, have no idea, and grow weary of the language that I use in place of being me. Words like “victim,” and “survivor”: I am not a survivor, not of you, not of anyone. Or maybe if I am it is of me that I’ve survived. Funny, all these words I’ve used and thought were me—sooner or later they all become like boxes, and I am not a box. If I am anything I am bigger than all the boxes that I’m stuffed inside, or stuff myself, a marionette, inside. Boxes, no matter how immense, cannot contain the size of who I am, because I am immeasurable. That is all I know I am: immeasurable, even though I, daily, measure who I am by what I make, do, see, think, touch, taste, feel. I am none of what I make, do, see, think, touch, taste, feel. Perhaps if I am anything, then I am everything you did not want me to become, that you did not show me I could be, you did not allow me to explore, did not permit me to discuss, think. If there is sin in forgetting, perhaps then that is what I am: a sleeper, having sinned from choosing to forget. If I am anything, anything at all, I fear that I am much of what is coming to me now, a visitor I called forth. Today, if I am anyone’s house I am my own, and no one, not anyone, enters me, not even during sex, but myself.

We are not exhibitionists.  We are confessors.  We express excruciating moments with carefree wit.  We use writing as a means to an end, the end being someone else.  If we laugh – if others laugh – those things will leave us.  We can rename those things as if they never were the way they were.

I would not have been so shy that the first day of school was the worst day of my year because my parents named me Lauren, but called me Laurie, and I had to tell my teacher when she called attendance.  I would not have been so afraid to ask to go to the bathroom that I peed in my pants in the library.  I would not be the one who came home on the first day of seventh grade with her bra up around her neck because she didn’t know how to ask her mother how to adjust it.  I would not be the one who asked, mortified, only to hear her mom laugh while telling her friends about it later.

I would not be the one who stole candy from her babysitter’s car.  I would not be the one who was certain that no one liked her.

I would not be the one who ate her way through law school instead of leaving.  I would not be the one whose dad’s cousin raved about her mother’s beauty, then told her she looked just like her father.

I wouldn’t be the one who found a napkin stuck to her boot last night after walking across the bar to the restroom.  I would not be the one who won’t finish writing the novel that tells the truth.  I would not be the one who worries that nobody will comment on this introspective nonsense.  I would not be the one who worries that people will judge.

You won’t be the one who didn’t go to your prom.  Or who was beaten up by a younger kid when older meant stronger.  You will not have been short, fat, frizzy-haired, tall, skinny or a late bloomer.  You will have had perfect skin and teeth.  You will have been friendly with puberty.  You will not be surprised when people like your writing, or think you are pretty or handsome or want to spend time with you.  You will not be the one who ate lunch in the library, or played fantasy games, or collected stamps or could not talk to boys or girls.  You will not be the one who read words but could not say them.

I will be the one who Brian chased on the playground so he could kiss my hand in its red mitten.  I will be the only freshman to have had a part in the school play.  I will be the one whose first submission was published.  I will be the one who makes people laugh when I tell them about the worst things.  The things I think of 20 or 30 years later.  The things that still don’t make me laugh. Not really.

We write ourselves into different stories and then edit.  And edit more.  Until the original is disappeared.  Mostly.  Run your fingers across our scars, knotted and raised.


I have been condemned. It’s okay. This is what happens. It was a long time coming. Actually, I don’t know how I eluded it for as long as I did. Luck, I guess. But I always knew that someday there would be a reckoning. I always sensed the day would come when I would have to pay. There are consequences to the things we do. This is just the way it is. Without them, it’s not life, it’s not real. We must suffer for our mistakes. For our crimes. This is the way it must be.  

I know how it all came about as well. I knew then. I’m not that ignorant. You’re young, and your heart aches. It won’t stop. You don’t know why. It just does. A drag here, a sip there, looking for a tiny bit of relief, something to dial down the furious turning of your mind, the relentless twisting. Trying to make sense of the contradictory emotions. All of it seems to accumulate in your soul. It becomes the depository for the pain. You try this and that. It turns out to be fruitless of course, and by the time you find out it’s far too late, but for so long it seems possible, to turn a mirage into something real. So you play with the salts, they fade, the half-life shorter and shorter, you start mixing this with that, waving your hands through the smoke.  

Eventually it stops working and still your heart aches. Your heart breaks. It breaks again. And again. You keep taking the drugs because you know it will happen again, and you just can’t bear it once more. You want to stop. But you can’t. It’s too late now. You try this, you try that, but every time the pain seems worse,  heavier, a dull heat somewhere inside, baking a part of you into something solid, a hard shell forming over your heart, fused with the flesh.

One day you wake up on a floor somewhere. You have nothing. Absolutely nothing. The illusions and delusions are gone. You see clearly. You feel like a fool. You’ve wasted so much time. You did. No one else. This is where you should stop. Find a way. Before it’s too late. Stare it down and start over. Shout. Scream. Yell for help. But you didn’t. You couldn’t. It was too terrifying to face. And you felt like a weak, useless, piece of trash for not being able to confront it, and begin anew. So you dig. You begin a tiny excavation, searching for the bottom. For years it goes on, miraculously, nothing happening but things changing hands, you sell and others buy, exchanging death sentences. Somehow it keeps the end at bay. Deeper, deeper, you go. You know that you are going the wrong way and you hate yourself for it. Your mind wants to stop and turn around. Your heart has dreams. But they were locked up now, out of the light, trapped inside the stone. It was your body that was in control now. Your body that was taking you down this horrible path. It was your flesh that caused this. It was the criminal. It must pay. Not for the crimes against society, and not by them either. You must punish yourself. For the real crimes, the inability to be what you wanted to be, what you thought you should be. For not being good enough, for not being strong enough. For not being able to love. For not being able to stop.

I must punish myself. No one else seemed willing to do it. I had to do something. I couldn’t blame it on anyone else. After all, it was I who had thrown my life away. It was I who’d broken the hearts and shattered the dreams of my loved ones, few though they were. It was I. The others, they found it within themselves to give me chance after chance. Try though I did, I could not take them. I felt undeserving. Maybe I have too much pride. Maybe, not enough. Did I deserve forgiveness? I don’t know.  It’s irrelevant now. There must be consequences or it would all be meaningless.

There was no trial. No lawyers, no courtroom. They weren’t needed. You knew you were guilty. And once you sentenced yourself, you knew what to do. Shot after shot, you carpet-bombed your flesh, until the highways were obliterated and all the trees turned to ash. Still, you kept on, wandering from place to place, burying land mines, planting pockets of black tar heroin, dope to be detonated at a later date. You buried them in the muscle, in the flesh. You dug deep. They did not dissipate and go away. They sat there like markings, give-aways, tattoos but deeper, of the thing you truly were. Black. Shapeless. Permanent, like ink. One day it will bubble up through your skin to the surface and someone will use it to write your fate on a scroll, to be read aloud in the public square on the day of your execution.

And now it is over. The sentence was real aloud and carried out. It was not as severe as I had expected, merely to live with the destruction. I have paid. Maybe, a little too much. Maybe, not enough. Only time will tell. I paid a pound of flesh from one side of my buttock, and another pound from the other. Just to be sure I took some from both arms and both calves as well, along with a few shards of bone for good measure. You always felt like an open wound, unprotected, vulnerable, and so it makes sense that is what you became. What remain now are scars, where the cavernous wounds once were. The things I will have to live with, fragile, delicate, ugly. Bloodless tissue, shiny like plastic. My hip is damaged, the bone dissolved from infection, one leg now shorter than the other and my hands don’t function correctly, the wires severed. This is my punishment. And yet it did not end me, as I had thought it would. I am still here, wondering why, and how.  Playing with words instead of smoke. Hammering with a hammer called hope, trying to break into my heart.

I write a letter to Nikki, in my diary, each time the doctor takes a scalpel and carves out another mole.

He takes nipping strokes through my epidermis, dermis, and down to the fat, and drops the tissue—suspect for malignant melanoma—into a vile that’ll go to some lab in New Hampshire.

He climbs my stairs like Tigger, full of bounce and light.

I’m waiting in the kitchen drinking wine, the ceramic tile smooth and cool under my bare feet, the anticipation of him hot and prickly.

He grabs me roughly and we kiss until our lips throb. He gets a hard on, steps back for assessment purposes.

Nice, I say sincerely.

Like that? he asks.

Of course, I reply. It’s so difficult to find a guy with a big cock and a big vocabulary.

He spits out a laugh. Is that right?

One or the other is easy, I explain, pulling him by the belt buckle toward me, but not both.

Not both? he echoes, suddenly kissing me too hard and pinning my spine too tightly against the kitchen counter. I push him off to breathe.

Don’t, I protest. We have reservations.

He sighs, retreats and cracks his knuckles. Where are we going by the way?

Aldo’s. Does it matter?

Absolutely not. You look incredible.

So do you.

I can’t wait to fuck you.

Can you not say that? It makes me feel pukey.

Who says pukey?

Plenty of people, I play along, stuffing an ID, debit card and lip gloss into a clutch.

Preteen people?

We jostle each other down the stairs.

At the end of creme brulée he confesses, I’m having feelings I’m uncomfortable with.

Everything you feel I feel, I breeze, pouring a last glass of wine.

I don’t know if you do, he says doubtfully, throwing his napkin on the table and settling back into the shellacked rattan chair.

I swirl cabernet and sigh. Yes you do know, because I’m telling you. And isn’t that the best part? How mutual this is?

Satisfied with this, he smiles at me. For me.

It is.

He beckons for the bill and pays. He always pays.

I’m having a traffic jam in my mouth, he says hoarsely. I have so many things to say and they’re all piling up in there.

I gnaw the insides of my cheeks.

You’ve taken over every inch of my heart. And you keep spreading.

Genuine or not, original or not, this kind of talk has a narcotic effect. I reply by ardently initiating the baptism of my new sofa.

When the tempo becomes unmanageable he rises from the sofa, stands in front of me and holds eye contact as he finishes himself off, cups it.

Through the sliding glass door comes the cheap tinkle of my next door neighbor’s windchimes, melodic for the first time.

I detangle knots from the shower while admiring the juxtaposition of his summer tan, his freeweight hardened body, against my multicolored butterfly sheets.

A dirty sort of pride fills my little black heart.

I turn back into the bathroom, catch myself smirking in the mirror.

Every day at least twice and usually more people ask about the scar.

His flat, white, ear to ear, not aesthetically displeasing scar –

The sandwich artist, the valet parking attendant, the bartender, they all want to know what happened, how you can be walking around with a scar that says you really shouldn’t even be walking around.

It’s rowdy, that scar, impossible to disguise with a hat or bandana. It invites inquiry, almost begs for it.

Not my scar and not my story, yet one side effect of being his sometimes companion is that I am constantly irritated at humanity.

How casually we risk hurting others with our reflexive curiosity.

We are not boyfriend and girlfriend.

So kissing him goodbye or not is a constant dilemma. One generous morning I am leaning down and he stirs, pulls me back into bed.

Call in sick, he pleads, yanking the covers over us despite my work clothes.

I never call in sick.

Exactly! All the more reason.

I can’t.

Why not? We can stay in bed all day and I’ll make you scream like you were screaming last night.

That’s not going to happen. I can’t drink this early in the morning.

He smiles, half-annoyed and half-amused, and yawns. Oh, so it was the booze?

Pretty much. I’m going now.

Sucks to be you.

Thanks. Have a great day too.

At first I am impressed: he never deflects, never shrinks from the curiosity. He tells the scar story with verve, with flair, with all the hideous details. He never gets tired of the territory, never grows bored of the repetition.

But I do.

I think you actually like the attention.

Like the attention? I went through five fucking years of surgeries. I’ve earned the right to talk about it. I’m not embarrassed.

I’m not saying you should be embarrassed. I just would not enjoy telling the story twenty fucking times a day.

You know, I’ve met some amazing people because of my scar. It’s the best conversation starter ever.

I see that. But how about, just once, saying ‘I’d rather not talk about it’?

Because I do want to talk about it. It’s part of who I am.

I would just get tired of the story.

Well. That’s you then.

Yeah. That’s me.

Like most informal relationships, our affair ended quickly, irrationally and with bad feelings on either side.

And so it goes.

The scar from our parting is much smaller than the one he has to wear forever, and in all likelihood it will fade until neither one of us remembers ever having it.