It’s not your fault that I always dress like I’m going to a funeral. My fists are caked with blood that isn’t mine and my feet drag like a pair of junkyard dogs slinking through an alley for something to eat. You loved the idea of me, but couldn’t conceptualize the person I am—guts, tears, and fire. You said I was perfect. I laughed in your face.

A man with that kind of Odysseus charm could get away with anything. It’s true that I never had to buy a tube of Maybelline concealer to mask my wounds like a sheet over a crime scene. Then again, you made sure no one could see the bruises you left behind. They appeared in subtle ways, spring buds rather than summer blooms pressed up against the glass. Isolation was the first to poke through the soil—or was it manipulation? I’ve tried to forget, but even Jesus wasn’t allowed to hold my attention longer than you.

When I pried away, you clung tighter. You came with a pitchfork and matches to burn me alive and snuff out any flames that you didn’t light. I remember your hands, harsh and greedy, sliding along the slope of my waist like I was one of your Batman comics and you just couldn’t wait to fold all of my corners. You whispered that my body was a church steeple and took my silence as an invitation to pray there.

After I left you, roses showed up on my doorstep each day for a week. My mother would fish them out of the trash and say all the wrong things, mistaking my tears for mourning. He loves you, honey, she said. It doesn’t have to be this way. Her hand felt like sandpaper against my back while the roses glared at me from the windowsill. Their blood-red blossoms would end up eaten by my garbage disposal.

A deluge of apologies could never suffice. I blocked your number; you bought a new phone. You told me my heart was black and swollen. I agreed, and blocked you again. My therapist told me I owed it to you; that you didn’t hit me, so it wasn’t real. I sent her number careening into the void.

Ticking clocks waxed and waned. I’m more tears than guts, more candle than fire, and my grief remains unchecked. Do I piece it together like a ship in a bottle? Do I auction it off to an interested party? Do I swallow it like a sword and pray it won’t slice through my organs? Do I bleach it? Do I launder it? Do I hang it out to dry?

In the end, I cracked it open like hot bread and shared it with anyone who cared to taste it. The friends you once kept caged from me came back, piece by piece, like a swarm of monarchs returning home. They drained pressure from the swelling and pressed lips against my bruises.

For I may have survived, but I had not been spared.