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I could picture the conversation we’d be having. I could practically feel the words escaping my lips, and I could see her smile. Her shiny pink lips, her two front teeth with a completely endearing gap that she feels incredibly self conscious about were vivid in my mind. She would be absolutely animated about her latest poem, perhaps even reading it aloud to me, enchanting me with her words. It is likely that she would absentmindedly clean my car, playfully scolding my messiness. We’d kiss at every stoplight until the person behind us honked their horn long enough to break our spell. Oh yes, we were in love.
Except for right now, she hates me. The betrayal in her striking grey eyes was lucid. The frown that annihilated her bright smile absolutely killed me. The tears that fell in rivulets were my fault. She had said I was just like her father. To be honest, I can’t think of anything she could have said that would have made me feel worse. I didn’t want to be the equivalent of the man who had given up on her, of the man who abused her, of the man who brought her to self harm.
The first time I had seen her cuts she was sitting in my passenger seat. She was so happy, smiling every two and a half seconds; her musical laughter echoing through the car. I reached for her hand, a bold move considering we were not yet going out. Then she winced. Embarrassed, I withdrew, focusing more closely on the road as an awkward silence forced its way between us.
“Don’t you dare think that I don’t want to hold your hand,” she had whispered, focusing on the floor. In response I had just nodded, a wave of rejection rendering me completely speechless. She sighed, closing her eyes tightly.
“It’s fine,” I supplied, although it wasn’t.
“Pullover,” she commanded.
“At least let me drive you home! I promise I won’t touch you,” I snapped, infuriated by how repulsive she found me.
“No, I want to show you something.” Meekly, I obeyed her orders, feeling entirely moronic. She took a deep breath. “I’ve never shown anyone this. You’ll be the first because I trust you, and you are the absolute first person I have trusted in years. Please don’t show me that I’ve made a mistake,” she spoke in a rushed and urgent tone. The suspense grew thicker, my anxiety multiplied.
“You can trust me,” I promised, a convincing nod accompanying the words.
“Look away for a moment.” And I did. I had pulled over next to a field full of flowers. They were absolutely breathtaking, a myriad of colors forming a dysfunctional rainbow of sorts. I struggled to produce a name for them, but I found it impossible to identify them. Venice interrupted my thoughts, gently tapping my shoulder.
Some were deep, the skin split open completely. Some were barely scratches, practically impossible to see. Some were bright red, while others were a subdued rusty color. Then there were burns, the palette of red and pinks framing the cuts. They were all over her arms. Each inch, each centimeter, each millimeter was covered by her self hate. Upon looking up, I discovered she was crying; a gasp escaping her lips. “This was a mistake, a great big mistake. Let’s just pretend I never showed you,” she managed to choke out. I shook my head, leaning into kiss her. She kissed me back, but began to cry harder. So, I held her close to me, wrapping my arms around her.
“Why?” I had choked out. She seemed at a loss for words, as though the question at hand was a lot more complicated than I could ever understand; but then, it probably was.
“In all the books and movies it all sounds so simple. This girl cuts because she was raped, because her mom died, because her dad hits her, and so on and so forth. It’s not like that at all for me. I do it to feel. The scariest thing is waking up and not having a reason to wake up, a reason to get out of bed, a reason to even be alive. When no one needs you, you don’t feel alive. It’s monotony. There’s no love, no happiness, no sadness. There’s nothing. And suddenly, you’re so numb that you forget what it’s like to care. When I drag that blade across my skin, I feel everything for that one second. I’m euphoric, but I’m devastated. I’m in love, but I’m filled with hatred simultaneously. That one second is what I lived for. But then I met you.” I was overwhelmed by her words. It literally hurt to look at her scarred arms, to look at what I could have prevented if I had met her sooner, to look at what I needed to stop. Carefully, I began to kiss every scar, working my way up to her lips.
“Listen to me; you are the most gorgeous girl I have ever had the privilege to meet. You are the reason I wake up in the morning, the reason I get out of bed, the reason I’m alive. Seeing this absolutely kills me inside. I only wish you loved yourself half as much as I love you.”
Finally done crying, she looked right into my eyes, “Jeremy, tell me a secret.” Instead of denying that I had a secret or changing the subject, I told the disgusting truth.
“I deal drugs,” I slowly revealed, “but I do it for Maya. With my mom’s minimum wage pay, there’s not nearly enough for all of our expenses. I refuse to let her live a life full of poverty and hopelessness. She deserves heat and her own cell phone. She deserves to have those expensive boots that every other girl owns. She deserves so much more than she is set up to receive. I can’t let her go hungry. I can’t let her be bullied, be an outcast. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that my mother’s mistakes haven’t ruined her life, no matter who it hurts, no matter how disgusting that makes me.” Venice nodded, she understood. I could see it in her eyes. From that moment on, we were inseparable; bound by our secrets and love.
The blaring sirens were giving me a headache. I slowed to let them pass, swallowing an Advil dry to fight the pain. Then, realization struck me, pure fear paralyzing my heart. They had pulled into her driveway. There was an emergency at her house. I don’t remember arriving there or turning off my car. All I can recall is the agony that struck me the moment they wheeled her out on the stretcher; I would recognize her shape anywhere. No sirens blared as the ambulance left me standing in the driveway. Her father was crying beside me, but I was rendered completely emotionless. I had never felt so much pain that I was numb. Venice had.
Over the course of her voicemail recording, she takes three breaths, utters thirteen words, promises to call back, and apologizes for missing the call. I know this because I listened to it, expressionless for four hours straight. A bottle of whiskey in one hand, my phone in the other, I began to cry. She would never call me back. She wasn’t sorry she missed my call. But, God was I sorry that I had let her down.
I took a walk. The abrasive wind violently hitting my face, I deserved the pain. I found myself at the site of our first kiss. It seemed as though it had happened in another life. The flowers that had been so beautiful, so gorgeous were all dead; the sun had betrayed them; the icy weather had murdered them. It was only then I realized their name, it was only then I realized what they were; Godetia. They wouldn’t bloom again next season.