Questions

The Return to Innocence by Patrick Collins of the Institute of American Inidan Arts
The Return to Innocence by Patrick Collins of the Institute of American Indian Arts

When they ask what happened, learn to start with a deep breath. Begin with words as tender as medicine. Watch the way the officer, a young man who introduces himself as Dakota, greets you as if you haven’t been waiting hours. In the police station, ignore the rows of stern portraits and glimmering badges lining the wall. Think of the eight hours it took of surviving, so you can tell yourself that this five-hour wait isn’t so bad after all.

Ignore the glimmer of swords and knives in clenched hands, dancing together around his kitchen island. Remember how you wished it was an actual island with shores and tides. Imagine yourself on a boat, watching him shrink into a silhouette, until he is a memory of an island you maybe once visited. It was nice you’d say. Good airfare, plenty of souvenirs. Ignore feeling as if you were exiled to that island where you relive it over and over.

Talk about the cherry blossoms instead, and how the buds unfurled in your palm that March morning. Fix the flower in the valleys of his brass-colored curls. Tether stems into knots until you crown him with pink petals. Feel nausea rocking your body and tell yourself it is only saltwater. Tell yourself that trauma isn’t a plot device foreshadowed by shrill piano keys. Sometimes, it’s only a halo of cherry blossoms moments before he tugs it apart.

When Dakota looks at you, quell the waves. let it crest over your eyes instead, and begin to spill over. leave the rose-colored filter on the pile of cherry blossoms at your feet. Fight the fog pulling at your memory and ignore the tide closing off your throat.

Suddenly, a memory from weeks before floats up like seaweed, of him googling symptoms. It’s okay, you’d said. Your health is important. Get checked out, don’t worry about me. Focus on your health first. Watch denial washing over glassy blue eyes, a no tilting his head back and forth.

Let his denial bleed into you, too.

Laugh at the absurdity as a nurse tacks a bandage across his skin. When she leaves, freeze when he falls to his knees and grabs for your hand. Shrink from him, tell him no, don’t and watch as panic sets in. See him clattering bottles on the shelves, threatening to drink them. Knock them from his hand before they reach his mouth, promise that it’s okay, let’s get you home, don’t.

So that’s how it starts. With gritted teeth and don’t leave me punctuated with threats to jump into traffic if you leave. Make your way back to the adobe walls of his home as your car hazards blink out in hazy yellows: help, help, help.

Hear the dull smacks of his body thrashing on the dashboard. Watch as blood blossoms on the vinyl of the glovebox. look down at the bloodstains webbing shaky fingers. Wonder how you went from cherry buds and laughter…to this.

Dakota starts scribbling, hovering above you. Were there any weapons? Remember him stumbling for knives, catching the glint of metal caressing toward you before turning them on himself. Remember him pointing the machete into his belly. Run to him, tug it away, and feel him throw you so hard it still makes you breathless. Feel your mouth peeling apart screams you don’t recognize as your own. Remember your mother’s face rushing back from another time and place. It was another set of hands and floors, but still.

Remember how she’d screamed then, too.

When you’re rushed home finally at three a.m., truly believe you have survived. See yourself as a conqueror in the courtroom. Imagine the healing on your face and truly believe it will come.

Instead, realize court only mimics justice if you squinted just right. For the eight hours stolen, watch three years fall in its place. Think back on the absurdity of won’t you testify? without warning of the heaviness that will occupy every empty space in your body. That you are agreeing to miss class, miss job interviews, to see him across you in the courtroom, over and

Become overfed with questions, not realizing they’ll echo you on the journey home. Answer Dakota’s questions. under the fluorescent lights of the domestic violence shelter, answer even more. Fill out restraining orders and highlight X’s on outlines of a body that is meant to erase you. Wonder how his hands had the power to erase it completely.

A year later, after you’ve cried in bathrooms and written into the late hours, submit the broken parts of yourself to magazines. In all the waiting, a positive question lights a flame in you. Words like publish and invited to speak enter all the empty spaces he made. At the reading, bleed into the podium and wait for the light to come fluttering back into you but, instead, feel as if you’re standing in front of the judge with your victim statement all over again.

Hug crying women who echo me too and write your signature next to your printed words. When they ask where will you go? answer I can’t stay here, not with him. There’s a place in Santa Fe, I’ve always loved writing.

In the years of how did he choke you? How did he break your wrist? Did you try calling anyone? When did he start getting violent? Why don’t you move? What knife did he use? What type of sword? When he himself asks through lawyers if it’s okay to send a letter, feel the weight of it three years collapsing on you.

Suddenly, feel Alejandro’s hand slipping into yours. He has been waiting three years, tucked away in your corner when no one else was. When he opens his mouth, brace for the shrapnel of more questions, but they never come. Instead, hear two words dripping, like medicine, that you have been waiting years to hear.

“Come here.”

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