My broken brain has forced me to endure
Another one of many sleepless nights.
For hours I’ve 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
(Whenever it grew to chin length, it got wild),
Her eyes were too big for her face,
Her mouth puckered up awkwardly,
And her voice often sounded weird,
As if 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;
She rambled in circles like an excited toddler,
And the little I recall came out like gibberish.
Her speech reminded me of the sound
An old cassette tape makes when scratched.
She would act all cool around me,
Spouting smart talk that rang false.
I could tell she was miserable,
But she kept pretending otherwise
To fool others into thinking she was fine.
There was something desperate
About her smell,
And it annoyed me.
This awkward girl, like me,
Was never able to fit in,
So she hid her pain behind fake smiles.
She couldn’t stand how she looked,
Or how she sounded or smelled,
Or how terrible her mind made her feel.
Maybe to explain herself,
She wrote me letters on notebook pages,
To which she added elaborate drawings
That 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.
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 beast trapped in a cage.
I was the classic autistic case
Of a kid who does great in school
(Mainly because I spent my spare time
Either reading books or writing stories)
Until his peers begin developing socially.
The autistic kid’s grades quickly collapse;
His energies are squandered on processing
The rabble of rowdy, savage barbarians
With who he’s forced to share his space.
My shy, silent, anxious self
Used to sit alone in a corner
By a window, to scribble 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,
But I’m forced to doubt the accuracy
Of any of the echoes I’ve stored.
I once read that our brains rewrite
Details of every memory
Whenever we access them,
So the best way to keep them pure
Is to never remember them at all.
In the first memory, we are sitting on a bench
And I listen as the girl rambles awkwardly.
In the second memory, I’m loitering
Near the entrance of our school,
Likely after I ditched some useless class,
When that girl comes out bleeding
From a gash in her forehead
Which had bathed her face in blood.
Two female, pale-faced classmates
Were dragging her by the armpits.
The following day I learned
That during Arts and Crafts class,
A popular, 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.
In one of the years I wasted at that school,
A different girl from an 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
While her feet left a trail of blood,
So who knows how many times
Such unlikely disasters happened there.
We attended 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
Because some guys’ pot was confiscated.
Desks were hurled out of windows,
The principal was beaten up,
And plenty of students got arrested.
I imagined the police shooting round after round
At panicked teens in the playground.
The stoner who disfigured that girl
Was the voguish, bad boy kind
That many teens were swooning over,
But I remember that he stank of pot,
That he got arrested during a skiing trip
Because he tried to sell hashish to the locals,
And that as an adult, he ripped my ticket
Whenever I ventured out to watch a movie.
This guy always hung his head low,
But I considered him lucky;
I had never been able to keep a job.
In my third and last memory of the girl,
I’m glancing at her from a distance.
Her forehead was bisected
By a wide, purplish scar,
Like the one left by a major operation
Where they had to lacerate the flesh
To implant metal in a broken bone.
(In an attempt to hide the scar,
I imagine her tracing it with a black pen,
Which produces the unhealthiest smile,
Before she turns to me and says,
“See, you’re not alone.”)
I doubt I ever saw that girl again,
And I have forgotten her words.
I had suffered so much during those years
That I gave up every memento of them:
Stories, drawings, photos, letters.
Whatever this girl had shared with 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,
Usually during my many sleepless nights,
I picture her awkwardness and her scars,
Her desperate attempts to connect with others.
When her face appears in my mind, the pain
Reminds me of 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 have been the last time
That any stranger wrote her name.
One day someone I have never met
Will do the same for me.
(Her letters have surfaced again,
Generated by my broken mind.
I recognize that anxious handwriting,
Which haunts me like a ghost.
Her last letter went like this:
You can forget about me already.
I have long ceased to exist.
You are keeping me from what I wanted,
To disappear as if I had never existed.
But 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 just to share some silence.
I think that our pains were similar,
That we would have understood each other
If we hadn’t felt the need to hide.
Now that I’ve gotten this old,
I’ve come to understand myself.
I know that if I could go back
And spend time in her presence,
I would yearn to regain my solitude,
Because no amount of goodwill
Has ever been able to change
What this monster demands of me.
I regret having missed many issues,
And about others, that I couldn’t care.
Every experience nicks the surface‘A Ghastly Scar’ by Jon Ureña
Of this clinically depressed brain,
And the memory decays into a scar.
After these few decades I’ve endured,
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.