I’d do it again and again. Soar, then scar. The summer of keyturn roller skates and my metallic blue ten speed. Arms outstretched, hair whipping my face, handlebars twirling like dragonfly wings. I’d race down our street’s steep arc from the very top. Once, I hit gravel; spun, crash-landed hard on the hot black tar. A rock sliced my knee open. Broken tooth, taste of blood. Our neighbor, Mr. Lawrence—my hero, the fireman—bolted. Left his beer on the front step to pick me up off the pavement and carry me home. My dad, the first aid man, recommended stitches but I, propelled by speed, by dreams of flying, was scared of needles. On another afternoon at Shelley’s house, physics finally met ignorance. The two of us tried coasting our bikes down the abrupt bank of her front yard. When tire hit cement my pelvis flung forward, banged against the handlebars. I knew about boys; you kicked them between the legs if they tried to touch you. I didn’t know I could feel sliced in half, tiny pins radiating from my core out along every nerve. Invisible sound waves; my legs, a tuning fork. Mute, shaken, I pushed my bike home, one slow step at a time. No one told me girls could feel that way, such unspeakable pain. I resented that.
In the closet my mother whispers to me about sex. Sin and secrecy. The Scarlet Letter sat dusty on my shelf but I didn’t need to read it. I already knew about shame—what it meant to fall, what fallen meant. I got pregnant in college. No one knew; the baby lost. The boy, a year later, fell, gripped by a seizure in front of my house. We were arguing about speed; fighting about death. The way he raced recklessly down the steep hill. My dad, the first aid man, checked him over. Told him to call his parents, stay overnight in the hide-a-bed. The next morning I crept in beside him, not yet dressed. My mother saw. Cups banged in the cupboard; a door slammed shut. “Do you think I’m stupid?” I asked once he’d left. She turned toward me like a blade. “Do you think I am?” Her face, plastic; a stepmother doll. Once, for backtalk, she slapped me so hard across the mouth I tasted blood, my cheek sliced by my own sharp teeth. I did it again and again. In the basement, the car, the midnight parks. I flew up, up, up—then fell. “Boys only want one thing,” she told me. I resented that. Thought, “No, they don’t—at least not from me. And what about what I want?”
Nicole Breit is an award-winning essayist and poet. Her work has been featured in Hippocampus, Room, Fiddlehead, The Puritan, Pithead Chapel, Event, carte blanche, and After the Art. Her lyric essay about first love and loss, “An Atmospheric Pressure,” was selected as a Notable by the editors of The Best American Essays 2017. Nicole teaches CNF’s genre-bending forms online at www.nicolebreit.com.
Photography by: Aryan Singh