Tallies on the Walls

by Kaitlyn McNab

The day you break up with me, I am 22 and living in my parents’ house. I am sitting on the floor with my back against the dresser when the edible kicks in, when you text me, we need to talk. The high stops me from feeling the ground break beneath my tailbone, softens the landing when I fall through the floor and into the Sunken Place. We become instant horror movie classic, I become unwilling final girl. There’s devastation on the walls, shattered webs of glass leading my bare feet across the floor like bloody forks in the road. But I don’t need these signposts of my pain. I remember the way to the pulpy middle from when we broke up the first time. I find myself here, again, in the same spot, the dirt still wet, still fresh, still dark brown like your skin. The soil sticks to my hands. I toe the dirt. This, what I’ve sown. Spiteful seeds that burrow into the ground. They say sunflowers grow towards the light. My love shies away from the sun, a plant of Draculaic proportions, a Nosferatu mask on a child’s yearning.

Five days after you break up with me, I am 22, showering in my parents’ bathroom. Without warning, I remember the way you would forget to rinse the back of your left arm and the way you held your bath towel and the way you would talk to yourself as you washed your face and the way you would dance with no music playing. I wonder if you’re crying in the shower, too, bare ass on the wet floor, gripping the side of the tub. I wonder if you’re in pain.

I am sleeping in my full bed, in my own room, 22, across the hall from my parents, in their house, when I wake in the middle of the night. I see pitch. I close my eyes, and like those stupid Internet tricks from when I was 12, I see your features in the negative space. You are inverted, a ghostly white, your eyes black holes, your mouth a gaping crescent like the arch of a spine. Leering, leaning. You invaded my dreams, and I can’t help but start crying. On my back, I stare up at the ceiling and imagine the life we will never have. 

I am 22, sitting on the back porch of my parents’ house when I dive into my first foray of autocannibalism. I eat my thumb first. I taste your cheek, sweet caresses in the middle of the Flatiron District. I eat my index finger next. Against my tongue I feel the warm nape of your neck, pyrotechnic foreplay in the dark. Then I bite into my thigh and taste the sun, taste the January tan I got from our vacation in the dead of winter. My teeth sink into my shoulder and I taste metallic, frenetic, briny. I taste the first panic attack you anchored me through, when I felt like I would combust in the middle of my NYU dorm room and you pressed your body against mine until I could no longer tell where my hysteria began and your love for me ended, until my anxiety could no longer fight back, smothered by your bony chest, your heart beating through your thin skin so hard it bludgeoned my fears to sleep. 

Four months after you break up with me, I am 22 and sitting at my desk. My fingers find their way to the search bar on Twitter and type your name in, the most wretched form of muscle memory, I am the modern masochist. I scroll through your tweets and your media and your likes until I can find something that hurts my feelings, until I can find something that will prove we were not a fever dream, that we were actually the future you dreamed of when you lay your head on my lap and I stroked the coarse hairs of your beard. I search for something that will hurt me, that will make me feel that old familiar pang in my gut; because I miss you, and the same way one misses being held, missing you means missing pain. Means missing the overthinking and paranoia. Means missing the anger and blind insecure rage that would fill every vessel in my body and have nowhere to go instead of back around the looping race track of my arteries, a NASCAR race of scorn, a volcano with no top, the most massive whale in the ocean with no spout, like a shadow on the lung of the Earth, a sickening, drowning, free-falling feeling, a feeling like being pulled to the bottom of the ocean with an anvil shackled to my shin — the feeling of knowing that you did not love me anymore. That I was never enough. To miss you means to miss the constant reminders that all the things God made me were none of the things you wanted.

Six months after we break up, I am 23. I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my parents’ house with my back against the dresser once again. I’m starting to forget the sound of your voice. I think about how the ebbs of loss kiss the foundation of my sandcastle now and again. I wonder how long it’ll be until this void fills. How long it’ll be until I have a different person who knows all that I have been through. Whether I’ll ever feel safe enough to crack open my stomach again, to hand someone the dregs of my essence and watch as they try to find diamonds amongst the soot. Because you may not have loved me, but you mined me for so much. It is so quiet in this body without the sound of your pickaxe. 

I can hear my voice again.

Kaitlyn McNab is a multimedia storyteller. She holds a BA from New York University with a self-designed major titled ‘How to Tell Stories While Black.’ You can find her on Twitter @kaitmcnab, or visit her website to read more of her work, previously published in Teen Vogue, Allure, and EBONY.


Photography by: Tianqi Zhang