Content Warnings: allusions to self harm, domestic violence
"I Would Love You Back" by Cecilia W
843 words, Short Fiction
CW: allusions to self harm, domestic violence
This might be just like every other love story you’ve ever been told. Maybe. I’ve never been in love before, but most love stories seem more or less the same. There’s a meeting, a squishy fluttery feeling, a nervousness, easing into a confidence, chased by excitement, and settling into a deep comfort.
Rapidness of onset may vary, but doesn't that sound familiar?
What if I told you we never had to meet? What if I told you, as a secret, that she always knew me, but I had to discover her.
It was autumn. While the air outside was cool, my house was full of hot anger. Hurled slurs and insults launched from the mouth of my father and cut into everyone in the room, not just their target. In self-defense, my mother armed herself with the weapon of her choosing, her silence and all the noise she could make without moving her mouth from its grimace. Sloppily slammed drawers and cabinets, a plate raised over her head sent crashing down on the kitchen tile.
At one point, they had a love story just like every other love story you’ve ever been told. I’m not sure where they derailed, what threshold they reached, what plot holes they missed. In old pictures, they are wrapped up in each other constantly. Arms over shoulders, legs over legs. Now, not even their gazes touch. The unbraiding of their marriage left them both frayed. But no one likes to admit defeat, and so they stayed.
It was an evening like this when I left. Prying the last barbed words from my flesh, throwing them to the dirt, and pulling my fleece warm around me, I strode towards the woods. My hands held to my stomach, pressed the scars there back into me. Sentences scrawled across my abdomen, I worried they might show through my clothes, but also worried I might run out of space. To distract myself, usually I went to Weasle’s house, played video games until I saw my parents’ bedroom light turn off, until the back of my eyes ached from the television screen. But his parents took him on a surprise trip to Disney for his birthday, and now their house sat dark next to ours, the same two lamps lighting up on timers every night.
So, I walked to the woods.
And I kept walking.
I think I heard her calling. I heard her whispering inside of me, not in my ears, but in the pit of my gut, in my knees, in the places that kept me moving forward.
The woods were bright, which I should have noticed right away, but her voice was so lyrical. I followed it. I looked down at the hands of my watch, which pointed back at me and said, “It’s dark now! It’s late! Go home!” It was my father’s old watch, so I dropped it to the ground.
The light came from no single source. As though all the air in the space had learned to illuminate itself. I first saw her that way.
She asked me to sit, and I did. She was soft with moss and smelled of warmth across every season—the pressing, heavy warm of summer, the fresh warm of spring, the safe warm of autumn, and the heart warm of deep winter all swirled together.
She was beautiful. She saw with crisp blue skies, hair shifting with the breeze from wispy vapors to voluminous plumes and clouds. Her grip was rough across my shoulders, only on the surface. Underneath, when you peeled back the bark, she was smooth, thick, and supple. I laid my hand on her, picked away to that smoothness and traced all the sadness out of me with my finger, let her swallow it for me, felt that urge to add a paragraph to my abdomen leak away.
I looked up at her, unsure of when I started crying. “Thank you,” I told her. “I love you,” and it flowed from me like water down stone.
Her smile. Her smile came softly as I saw dozens, hundreds, of fireflies move in and dimly glow.
She loved me, too.
My eyes were heavy. The last thing I can wring from my memories is losing count of the fireflies and starting over. One, two, three, four…
They tell me they found me the next morning asleep beside a decaying tree. The whole neighborhood out looking for me. How embarrassing.
I went home and showered, and when I walked past my mirror in my bedroom I saw that she had rewritten my scars. Had spelled out newer, stronger, stunning words. Had made me as beautiful as her.
I haven’t found her again, yet. But I will. Wouldn’t you? With love like this that furls and unfurls inside of me like it is its own living being. I will find her.
When I do, it will be a love story like none of you have ever imagined.
Cecilia W is a devoted pitbull parent, Virgo, and New Yorker, who has escaped to the forests of the Pacific Northwest to write, work, and try to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.