A Ghastly Scar (Poetry)

My broken brain forced me to endure
Another one of many sleepless nights;
I rolled in bed, drenched in sweat,
Assailed by dredged up memories
And painful thoughts brought back to life

Only in such moments I recall this one girl
I briefly hung out with during middle school:
She was lanky, always wore her hair short
(It got wild when it grew to chin length),
Her eyes were too big for her face,
Her mouth puckered up awkwardly,
And when she talked, her voice sounded weird,
Like she swallowed air before speaking

Maybe because she sensed we were similar,
She attempted to become friends with me,
But she struggled to hold conversations;
All she did was talk and talk nonstop
As her words rambled around in circles
Like a child struggling to tell important stuff,
And yet coming out like incoherent gibberish;
Her speech reminded me of the sound
An old cassette tape makes when it is scratched

Whenever we met, she would act all cool,
Spouting smart talk that didn’t ring true;
I could tell she wasn’t happy,
But she kept trying anyway,
In an attempt to fool others
Into thinking she was fine

There was something desperate
About her smell,
And it annoyed me

She was falling apart inside;
This awkward girl, like me,
Was never able to fit in,
So I guess she tried to hide
Her emotional pain with fake smiles,
Because she couldn’t stand how she looked,
Or how she smelled or sounded,
Or how her brain made her feel so bad

Maybe to explain herself,
She wrote me letters on notebook pages
And filled them with elaborate drawings
Which she colored carefully
With her toxic-smelling ink pens

I’m not sure if I ever read those letters
With the care that she maybe deserved,
Because during those times I struggled
To even hold on to my sanity,
As an undiagnosed autistic teen
Who had to ditch plenty of classes
Due to anxiety, paranoia, bullying,
And a depression built into my brain,
As well as issues with auditory processing;
I felt like a wild animal captured
And trapped in a cage

I was the classic autistic case
Of a kid who does great in school
(Mainly because I spent my time
Either reading books or writing stories),
Until his peers begin developing socially;
The autistic kid’s grades quickly collapse,
Because his mind is already struggling
To process the rowdy, savage beasts
With whom he’s forced to share a classroom

I was a shy, quiet, anxious teen
Sitting alone in a corner
By a window, scribbling away
On notebooks that I hid from view;
‘Autistic Ghost’ would have been
My perfect superhero name

I’ve retained three memories of that girl:
The first one is her sitting next to me
As she struggled awkwardly to talk
(And I can’t be sure of the accuracy
Of any of the memories I’ve stored;
I read that our brains rewrite
Aspects of every memory
Whenever we access them,
So the best way to keep them pure
Is to never remember them at all)

The second memory is me standing
Close to the entrance of that school
When that girl came out bleeding
From a gash in her forehead
Which was bathing her face in blood;
She was being dragged by her armpits
By two pale-faced, female classmates

The next day I learned
That during arts and crafts class,
A well-known delinquent stoner
Had been twirling around
The handle of a paper guillotine,
Which ended up flying off
Until the blade of the steel cutter
Pierced the girl’s forehead vertically
From the hairline to the brow ridge

A different girl from the adjoined classroom
Had been taking a shower after gym class
When the shower floor collapsed,
Impaling the soles of her feet
With ceramic shards
(I was also loitering near the entrance
When they dragged this poor girl out,
So who knows how many times
Such unlikely disasters happened there)

We went to a working-class middle school
That would produce the next generation
Of retail clerks, civil servants, druggies and suicides;
A year after I graduated, a riot broke out:
The principal was beaten up,
Desks were hurled out of the windows,
Plenty of students got arrested
(I imagined the police shooting round after round
At young people in the playground)

(Why do I keep recalling
All these traumatic events?
Does PTSD work this way?)

The stoner who disfigured that girl
Was the popular, bad boy kind
That many teens were swooning over,
But I remember that he stunk like pot,
That he got arrested during a skiing trip
(I think he tried to sell hashish to the locals),
And that as an adult, he was the one
Who ripped my ticket in two
Whenever I went to see a movie;
He always hung his head low,
But I thought he was lucky:
At least he could keep that job

My third and last memory of the girl
Is glancing at her from a distance;
Her forehead was bisected
By a wide, purplish scar,
Like one left by a major operation
Where they had to open the flesh
To implant metal on a broken bone

(I imagine her,
In an attempt to hide it,
Drawing in black paint
Over that ugly wound,
Like the unhealthiest smile,
As if to say,
“See, you’re not alone”)

I don’t think I ever saw her again,
And I don’t recall any of her words;
My teen years had been so miserable
That I gave up every memento of them:
Stories, drawings, photos, letters;
So whatever this girl had to tell me
Ended up ripped in pieces
And thrown away into a trash bin

Soon enough I forgot her name,
But whenever my brain dredges her up,
Only during my many sleepless nights,
I picture her awkwardness and her scars,
Her desperate attempts to connect with others;
The pain I feel when I think about her
Reminds me how my own life ended
The same way hers did

I wish I could figure out how to google her,
To at least confirm what I always assumed,
That I would come across her obituary,
Which would be the last time
That anyone would have mentioned her name;
One day someone I have forgotten about
Will do the same for me

(Those letters are here again now,
Generated by my broken mind;
I can see that handwriting clearly,
Haunting me like a ghost

Her last letter went like this:
‘You can forget about me now,
I will no longer exist
Don’t try to reach out to me again,
Forget that I existed at all’

Like so many others,
I’m forced to remember her
For the rest of my life)

In hindsight, I wish I could have sat
Side by side with this girl on benches,
Even if we said nothing at all,
Because I think she felt the same way,
And that our pains were the same,
And that she would understand
That I wasn’t different from her

I’ve come to understand myself,
Now that I’ve gotten this old,
And I know that if I could go back
And spend time in her presence,
I would yearn to return to solitude,
Because no amount of goodwill
Has ever been able to change
What this monster demands of me

New experiences snick the surface
Of my clinically depressed brain,
Turning their memories into scars;
After I have endured for many years,
I’m left with a mesh of crisscrossing cuts,
So I can roll around in bed, drenched in sweat,
While my brain reopens some scars
To make them bleed again

‘A Ghastly Scar’ by Jon Ureña

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