The words of every argument we ever had were carved into the visible skin of her arms and legs with ink made, in part, of her tears. Each word barbed with anger left a bright sliver of red that ballooned maroon and trickled down, pooled up on the floor or counter or on bed sheets below the affected area. Each real apology or phrase bathed in honest truth became a salve, closing wounds slowly as the blood was sucked back below the surface. Each phrase devoid of honesty spread each wound a little wider, split closed ones back open, she biting her lip to keep the screams from coming.
Bandages soaked through quickly, I'm ashamed to admit. So many articles of her clothing became ruined, spoiled by stain. She tried to fill our closet with clothing only made of darkest red, but still the stains remained visible and embarrassing. We then filled the racks with clothes all black and found this to be sufficient until we could figure a way to make the bleeding stop.
I even took on a vow of silence, writing down or typing out my parts in conversation, only to find that the wounds didn't care; they opened, spread, and bled the same as if I'd screamed the words direct into her ears. I duct-taped my mouth shut and tied my hands to my sides so I could assume complete silence, but even a single shake of the head in disagreement gave way to her wincing in pain.
We ate in silence every night until I'd finally had enough, had finally decided that this new normal of ours was unacceptable. I stood up from the table, gathered my few belongings, kissed her on the cheek, and simply left. I walked down the block to the bus stop. The sky taunted rain, sprinkles dotting my shirt and hands as I waited for the next bus to arrive out of the darkening evening.
My pocket vibrated over and over, but I couldn't yet bring myself to answer the phone, much less look at it. I imagined my voicemail filling up with rage-filled litanies of anger at my leaving, the sound of all the life we'd created together being thrown around and broken in the background. I imagined her voice as black tendrils snaking out from the receiver and into my ear, wrapping around my brain to strangle it tight.
Eventually, the bus arrived (so, too, the rain shortly after). My pocket continued to vibrate until I took my seat and allowed myself time to adjust – to my wet clothes, to the slow, lumbering jostle of the bus, to the reality of what I’d just done.
I pulled the phone out of my pocket and stared at the screen. Fifteen missed calls, thirty-three new texts, four voicemails. If I responded, would I put her in more pain? Were I to break my silence, how many places would her skin break open in protest? Rather than call back, I decided listening to the voicemails would only cause one of us any pain – me.
Where have you gone? What have you done?
Please, M., please come back. I don’t want you to go.
I understand why you’ve left, but please come back to me.
I would rather have you silent than not at all.
*the entirety of the message is a string of breathless, weepy “I love you”s.
It is a sonic wall of regret and anguish that cannot be ignored.
The phrase is repeated over and over again until the message finally ends of its own accord;
the mailbox is full.
It is the final message that ruins me the most, I can almost hear the panic in her heartbeat, a sound that thrums beneath her voice like the morning drums of war, gearing up for battle. My heart swells and my face crumples into an ugly thing fraught with pride and sadness. To return, to ask this bus to stop, to let me off, and to march back to her in the rain, while romantic, takes every fiber of my being to fight against. To return would be certain pain to her, morning to night, every day. I would be the cause, no matter how hard I fought against it, no matter how many precautions we might take. It is as sure as death.
I could no longer be the cause of every wound, old or new, exploding open in new pains, spreading out from healing skin. Surely it would be better for us to part, to find ourselves on opposite sides of the world, never to stumble into each other randomly ever again. I could not return purely to re-experience the feel of her hair tickling my chest as we slept through the morning. I could not return to try and embed that memory more deeply than it already was. I grabbed what I could, memories and all, knowing full well what had to be done.
I put the phone back in my pocket. It continued to vibrate. The rain fell harder outside; the streets glistened in neon and stoplight. The slow, lumbering jostle of the bus took me to the city limits, took me beyond the city limits.
And still, the phone vibrated.