The record skips. You’re nine again. Your brother is twisting your arm behind your back and the pain feels so close but still so distant, as though it’s happening to someone else. He calls you a little shit for snitching. Then you’re on the ground and the too-familiar taste of your own blood fills your mouth like molten copper.

And the record skips. Your cheeks are wet and your eyes are blurred and puffy, and all you can see is how beautiful the sunlight is coming down through the treetops. It could be a beautiful day, you think, as he drags you behind his bike down the path that cuts through the small patch of woods behind your house.

And the record skips. This time he is the one crying. You’re 16 and he’s 20 and you’re both beyond drunk in his dorm. Your head is swimming from what he just told you through tears that must have been stuck in his eyes for a decade at this point the way they just keep coming. You can feel the shit beer and whiskey and weed pulling your head toward the pillow, but you know it won’t take. Looking up at the bottom of his bunk, you silently trace the wood’s grain with your heavy eyes. You’ll both pretend not to remember much from that night, but you’ll both carry the weight of his secret where it sits hot and heavy in your heart, and when you’re older you’ll touch that hot stove in your chest. Just every so often. To feel its heat; to feel again.

And the record skips. Your phone is sitting on the table in front of you and you are watching it as each buzz of vibration makes it dance in a long, slow spiral. You know it’s him. You know why he’s calling again and you hate it. You hate the tinny quality of his screamed expletives through the earpiece. You hate that he can somehow still take and take and devour all your energy, all of you, and make you feel so small again.

And the record skips. You’re down. You’re down and he’s on top of you and the cuts in your face from his ring are pouring blood. You can’t see through the blood, and you can’t feel his fists anymore, but you feel the way the bones in your head are sliding together and you know it’s almost done. You hear the tail end of your favorite saxophone solo as he shrieks and slams you against the cabinet, and the record skips, and skips, and skips.

And the record skips. You’re nine again. Your brother grabs your wrist with a look in his eye that is cold and void and every you that ever was and ever will be and ever couldn’t be all stand in opposition. A chorus of you pours out of your mouth and the weight shatters him completely. And finally the record keeps playing.  v