All Roads Lead Back
by Silvia Kundera

There are words you say over and over, until they blur into one great long line of static, because if you didn't, if you just thought for a second, you might notice that they ceased to mean whatever you once intended them to. You might realize that you don't remember what you once intended them to do.

You might notice that you're babbling air. Sanded down sentences. You might say, "But we're-" and


Rewind for a second.

check: what is a best friend and what do they have to do and when and how, and what is the line that keeps them in, and do you fade gently back or does the line have to be severed, and how is that better than a friend friend -- who is not best, not anything out of the ordinary, not that one pure connected special person who changed your life in an instant the moment they said hello, but just. Friend.

You might think.

You might start to question, and look where it got dad and his bared up freedom and martyred wife and daughter who will never forget him and that's maybe not in a good way. Probably not.

There are words you say, and some of them are, "We can't risk this, do you understand?"

And you believe them like Sunday scripture, when mom still made you all go. There was this gloss on the back pews. They glinted in the ten am sun.

Every Sunday, with donuts afterward. Because she was your mother, and you could listen, you could just do this one thing for her. She hurt so bad and her eyes looked not right, they had for a while then, but oh, she would smile for you, when you came back reciting pieces of sermon.

"Young lady," she was known to say, in that firm, solid voice, even when every other part was crumbling to pieces, "don't you take the Lord's name in vain."

And you never meant to, but: your mouth. It had, has, this way of darting ahead, like some headstrong hunting dog. And you were so angry, furious with everything, and it always seemed to happen. And it feels, it almost feels sometimes as if you've kept doing it, and you never mean to, you don't. But.

There are words you say over and over, and he says them back. Like some cheap, rickety plastic-legged table ping-pong tournament, except this is your life.

It's not hers, and that's how you've let this go for so long, because if she--

she's not

--and it's yours, and you keep promising to start living it one day or another.

"You're not trying," he says, and you've been angry like that so you get it, but he's wrong.

You are, you were, but there are words you say over and over, and you can't keep them from spilling out.

You say, "I love you, do you know that?" and you mean to mean something just that simple, but what you are saying is:

"You are IT, you are the sweet, thick in the throat taste of pancakes in the morning, the way Brodie makes them when he's hurried, which is nearly every morning but holidays -- half cooked. You are the paste in the center that sucks at my mouth and crams between my teeth and melts slow and rich on my tongue, and I wondered when I was twelve if it would hurt when you first fit yourself in me, and I had some idea that it would be like shamrocks and glitter."

You think about pancakes, hot off the grille, because if you don't, you think about: his new hair, and you hate it; the way he takes his hash browns, you've forgotten; your jokes, he never quite gets them; the fact that maybe everything wouldn't be so messed up, if only those words you say, over and over, had the slightest shred of truth in them.

No, that's a lie again.

There's a shred, there's: Kissing him has always been like rushing against the current, upstream. Like breathing fresh water into your lungs, sharp and liquid. Wet, wet mouth, and you had thought it was wind blowing off the creek, creeping in through cracks in the windows, but even in Boston there's that scent, a sticky green snapped-branch smell. It's like he's soaked in it, like he sweats your childhood, damp and pungent and pouring down your throat to slosh about your insides.

But otherwise, otherwise he pulls up a chair and sits like he always has, and you don't even listen because you imagine you've never needed to, and you're so used to not thinking that you don't. You're tired, just so ridiculously tired for only (all you ever hear is "only") a sophomore -- tired like maybe college is taffy, stretching out and out and it will never end -- and his fingers are so hot on your arms.

He fits into that place you've kept waiting for him. He's so warm, warm, and you hitch your legs and your lungs, scrambling into it. Thick fingers that never touch you like they could have hit all the right places with eyes closed, and you had thought, at first, it was because he was young, because it's you and him and that has to be special, right, but then years and years and he's fucking you, and who knew he could fuck you, because that's what the other boys did.

Clumsy, and fingers clutching too tight at your shoulders, and arms weak and shaking, and he comes too soon, and he was fucking you like he could just fuck you. Like you're nobody, nothing like best. Like you're just some girl, an easy lay he met in a bar after a bit too much whiskey, and you'll feel dirty and used, because you were, weren't you, but give it some time and some space, and maybe another drink, and this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Like it could be just that simple.

And maybe it is.


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