You are born with twisted feet
and a pockmark on your chest.
Your poor mother is drenched in sweat,
straining to breathe,
thanking God that it's over.
She cradles you in her arms
and kisses your forehead with curved lips.
Your father reaches out to hold you
but has to pause because
your mother will not release you yet.
The family pays a visit,
hovering in awe, praising, laughing.
You look around for someone to blame.
When you learn to write
you use all the wrong letters
because you feel sorry for the ones
that get left out, like X and Z.
And you wear mismatched clothes
because you don't like the idea that
only certain colors "go together."
The first time you are punched
in the face it is by a girl with pigtails and braces.
You're sitting on a swing,
digging your toes into the dirt,
when she approaches
and says she thinks you're weird.
You tell her she's even weirder, and her fist
goes sailing into your jaw.
You're red and sore for two days.
You meet your first crush
on bleachers that overlook a baseball field.
He's not a ballplayer,
but you wish he was because
you want to see him swing a bat.
You want to see him score a home run.
But he's not an athlete, he's a reader.
His nose is in a book.
You want to talk to him, but can't find
the right words.
So you silently watch him read.
He never looks back at you.
When you are thirteen
you walk in on a girl slicing her wrists
in a public restroom.
You don't know how she could have forgotten
to close the door, but there she is
for all to see, slumped against
the toilet seat as though
waiting for someone to pull her up.
But you're not there to be a hero,
so instead you sit down beside her
and ask, "Can I try?"
Your mother has to hide
all the kitchen knives from you
and it makes you sick. You sit up all night,
restless and nauseous, clawing
at your healing skin.
When your parents tell you
they're getting divorced, you don't say a thing.
and you want them to be happy.
But then they make you choose between them
and when you don't, your mother decides
for you and your father empties
a .38 into his mouth.
He's kind enough to leave a note.
It says, "I love you. Goodbye."
And you're sure it's to you
because it's signed "Dad."
Your second crush is much older
than you and that worries your mother.
He smokes and drinks and gambles.
He wears trench coats and sunglasses and drops
the f-bomb more than anyone else you know.
You tell him about your father.
He tells you about prison.
Your mom walks in on you
when he's in your room. You're naked
and so is he. He freezes,
his hand just inches from your chest.
Your mother's scream vibrates the whole house.
He grabs his clothes and leaves.
You know you'll never see him again.
That night you wander into
your mother's room and sit on her bed.
You try to slap her, but she catches your wrist.
So instead you lie down, curl into a ball,
and pretend to be dead.
But she knows you're faking
because tears pour from your eyes,
and dead bodies don't cry.
You leave home
as soon as you are old enough,
but there is nowhere for you to go
so you come back.
You pick up drinking, drown yourself in the glass.
No one is there to catch you
when you topple over.
No one is there to watch you
rise back up.
You spend the next couple of months
on your knees, cleaning the poison out
by leaning over toilets and retching.
You miss your crushes,
and the girl who punched you in the face,
and your mismatched clothes,
and your father.
You read his last letter to you,
trace your finger along the lines
scribbled on the page.
You start to cry, and you're so grateful
for that because it means you're not dead.