You put on your headphones and the world is ten per cent quieter. Ten per cent is not much, your mother will say when she hears about climate changes because who has the time to worry about that. You. You do. It is your reality and your children’s reality if there is someone who loves you. Is there someone who would ever love you? You don’t know.
You walk in a room and dad does this dance around you and you think it’s not intentional. But he used to whip you down with force until your blood bruises, so now he tiptoes around the hurt in case you break open in his arms. You will never break open in his arms again, you know because you swore the first time he ever hit you. He doesn’t know because no one will ever tell him of this fact, but sometimes he dances around the kitchen tiles when you’re cooking and you think he does, to an extent.
You don’t feel pretty. Glimpses of bathroom mirrors and the blurry reflection on your windshield. Then you do and you’re reminded of your body, of the thing that can grow inside and bloat you up like a human submarine because soft curves are non-desirable unless you have another body inside your heart. And you don’t feel pretty, again.
Mother likes to tell you that you only inherited ten per cent of her beauty because her mother has done the same tactic to her. She likes to tell you these things more than pointing out what she loves about you, which is never enough to chalk up to any per cent. It’s because she knows you and she birthed you and you were inside a submarine and you couldn’t swim. No one will ever tell her this, but you know and she knows and they all know that you won’t swim.
Someone once points out that you refer to her only in formalities and him in casual passings.
It’s funnier to think he caused your first panic attack and she would immediately disown you over your last one.
You meet a boy. Or he meets you because there is nothing wrong with having fantasies and wanting to be rescued like a damsel in distress. Jake Gray has a policeman for a dad and a beautiful blonde lady for his mother, and he doesn’t refer to her rigidly as mother — and this is something that will immediately draw you in.
He is not your first kiss but you are his and it feels. Good.
It feels good to have control, once.
He’s funny. Hilarious. Carries your bags, just cause, and he doesn’t point out how your headphones only have ten per cent of sound blocking whenever you put them on his ears before you tilt your lips up to meet his.
There is no difference to his ears when you are around.
Puberty has a certain quality to it. It makes you feel invincible when you two do adult things like holding hands and kissing and cursing him off over mundane things like your mother does to dad, even when you don’t know what you’re responsible for. He also doesn’t but he listens and stops kicking at grass when you tell him this is not how dad would react.
The first time you ask Jake Gray to hit you, he pauses the faux-family games for good.
You’d do this if you love me, you argue and he stares blankly, why?
At this, you don’t know.
Mother leaves when you’re fifteen and she doesn’t take her insecurities with it. These are yours, she blinks because the wallpaper is peeling and the skirts you wear are no longer long enough to hide all the imperfections. These are yours forever and you deserve it! You don’t know if your body is good enough to be a submarine.
You’re a slut. Well, someone has to be in the high school friend group because Conrad is drooling after pornography (in character to the very pathetic nerd) and Jake is the jock. He is not the jock because he hates attention enough to not try out for anything, but he carries most of your shits throughout middle school so, duh! Slut!
(But you didn’t always want to be a slut. You had other plans. Better plans. Plans that didn’t involve skimpy outfits and underage drinkings from seniors who looked old enough to make every glance they sent your way — extremely illegal. But to not be a slut meant being a Saint and you lost your purity somewhere the first time mother forced you to swallow the Bible’s skin.)
I don’t like when you call yourself that, Jake says because he has a moral compass and yours is crooked. Jake says and he leads you in the backdoor of his bedroom, where he sleeps on the floor and you sleep the day away from the wolves with teeth and a college sweatshirt. He doesn’t touch you even when you beg because God knows you did. Down here, burning all over in the oversized shirt he slips onto your other clothes, you begged for him to get into these sheets and he doesn’t.
And nobody will ever love you because he clearly doesn’t, mother says in your head like a prayer.
It’s too bad how good you are with reciting her words despite the ten per cent of false echo.
Please, please let me have this, you cry at sixteen because your older prom date ditches you for someone who can spread their legs without crying. He also tries to feed you something through your nose and you thrash and you bite on blood and please, you beg your best friend.
Your body is not big enough for a submarine, you decide because it pains you greatly to even spread your legs.
Jake loses his virginity at sixteen.
You go down a slope. It’s not gradual anymore but you go down a slope. And sometimes you hear dad prays to whoever is on the other line of his prayers — to bring back the little girl God has blessed him with. And you laugh about this to Jake and Conrad because your parents ruined a perfectly good thing.
You laugh so hard that you cry, and Jake brushes your hair until the panic eases into something else.
The heart betrays its host at the sight of another host — meaningless and lost and not found.
He decides to decline with you because he loves you, though this is not what love should be in stories and books and poetry you have learned about. But he decides to decline with you and the tale of your life is a slick black of tar and charcoal aftertaste where he lets you sleep over and you reach and he never turns you away.
Being inside of you feels like infinity, he murmurs into your shadow before falling asleep, and you drape an arm over his torso.
This is the closest you can get to a love confession.
It’s the little things, you decide.
He doesn’t put gel in his hair like the rest of the boys in your grade. He doesn’t have a specifically nauseating odour that he labels his scent. But what takes the cake, really, is that he uses recycled paper. It’s so minimal and stupid. Completely missable if one blinks. You normally wouldn’t even notice this because you don’t copy from Jake’s notes to avoid the obvious Gray’s tone where he lectures every single authority figure in his life, but the bender takes you blue and you realise he uses recycled papers when you trace his writings onto your brains.
What the hell is this shit? You laugh when the words bleed onto another side. Wordless.
Someone I know was a little too concerned with climate change.
Cheeks blushed. You thought your obligation as a slut was to reward him with touches — but he folds you a mauve coloured rose instead of sinking in your skin.
Your first job waitering, you smash about ten glasses and four dishes with and without food because you can’t walk in heels with your body at sixteen. It isn’t empowering, you think when your skin is pricked and there is another hour of cleaning up by yourself in exchange for the giant loss you’ve caused. The matte magazines have lied or maybe they didn’t because you never finished reading them without paying. But this isn’t empowering and you feel so shitty, you could crack like porcelain.
You were horrible, Jake’d try to make a joke when he carries you home on his back, wind flowing against the fresh cuts on your feet. But you did good for a first day and I’m proud of you.
On and on and on and on and forever where the moonlight drapes his hair and you count every I love you unspoken, it’s sad and ugly that he’s still not tired of trying to glue beautiful words onto your doom.
He’s twenty-one. Someone should tell him to stop letting the town’s slut into his bed and get like, real sheet or something because no girl would ever love him with his whole ordeal of old posters and gigantic DVD shelf of systematic abuses in our society. Don’t talk about yourself like that, he kisses you and you try not to, but on most days you don’t catch yourself with this language and he tells you, again and again and again. Does it even remotely change anything, you don’t ask because you like the way he kisses you without touching you further. Like the way Jake has always treated you too much to ever ask him rhetorical things.
You talk to his mom every two weekends when you both visit her at the centre and she smiles and touches your hair. Dakota, you’re the prettiest girl I have ever seen, she’d say and sometimes you internalise the words enough to wish that they were mother’s. But you have a good way of pretending things so this is a possibility in the making.
There is this one time you slip and call officer Gray, dad, and you almost burst into tears. Yet Jake is the one with awkward, non-negotiable facial expressions when he corrects you because there are different implications in claiming someone else’s father as your own and this is one of them: Dakota, you’d need to be a Gray to call him dad, you know? He exhales and his fists are in his pockets and his cheeks are rouge.
Oh. You blink. Oh.
This is the closest you have ever gotten to a proposal.
You remove your headphones and the world is ten per cent more lively. Ten per cent is not much, your mother would have said but she’s not in your life anymore and darling, you look stunning, your new mom will say. This is now your reality and your children’s reality because there is someone out there who loves you dearly, and there are people inside this room who love you too.
You walk in a room and dad links his arm around yours because it’s intentional. He has been practising this for the past month because walking his only daughter down the aisle probably means more to him than you can understand. You will never break open in his arms again, you know because you’re not his child as much as you are the Gray’s too. And he knows because everyone tells these facts to fathers with children, and you feel his palm quivering when he hands you to the groom.
You feel pretty. More ethereal and beautiful, which are the words you never think you would ever be aligned with. Glimpses of the ceiling lights and stained glass windows where your dress is an add-on to how radiant you are, you’re reminded of your body, of the child that is growing inside and blooming because you’re in love with the man and the body inside your heart. And you feel pretty when the baby kicks, too.
Mother liked to tell you that you only inherited ten per cent of her beauty, but you have done more with the rest of the ninety per cent of ugliness than she has ever done with the first part of your life. No one will ever tell her this, but you know that she knows and they all know that you won’t swim on the same curse line she’s thrown you into.
I love you, Jake says before exchanging any of his vows and the crowd is ecstatic.
It’s funnier to think he has completely blanked out at the first sight of his bride.