How can you not return?

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Isn’t it just the truth that the places you ought to stay away from are the places you have loved the best? Ancient ruins, abandoned forts, haunted houses, and people. Some places you simply must not return to.

Yet, return you do.

It’s an itch you need to scratch. A boil that beseeches a bursting. A scab that begs to be picked; never mind it is half healed. You’re nearly always half healed, but that becomes the way things are. You don’t know what it is to be whole, complete, unbroken. This is fine the way it is. You live with the cracks in the walls, the potholes, the menacing belly of the ceiling. You are your house. I don’t mean your body – that’s a shell – I mean you. We are, millions of us, walking past each other every day on the street, and we are all undone in some way. It is a miracle we don’t see the missing parts of each other when we sit on the metro face to face. It’s astounding. We brush shoulders with people who come away like crumbs. We don’t smell the decay, the greying hope. It is unfathomable that others could be as emotionally deformed as we are.

Like underground bare-knuckle fight clubs, there are places that exist only to rupture and fracture our fragile put-back-together selves. A bottle. A needle. A woman. How can you not return? These phantasmagorical seductresses that pull at your clothes and beg to be ravaged. It can’t hurt. It won’t hurt this time, I promise. One shot. Just once. I won’t look more than once. Once. One. It won’t hurt.

How it hurts.

The we is now I and I cannot tear myself away from her. Admitting a weakness does not make you stronger. It only makes you more blatantly aware of how bullet-ridden you really are. I look for her everywhere. I hunt like a hyena. Cowardly and shameful; happy to scavenge. What little I find makes me sick. Photographs. Smiling, always smiling. “Everybody looks happy in photographs,” she’d said. I believe it and don’t believe it. I want to believe. I don’t trust anything she says but I built my joy on her every word. She leaves. I leave her leaving. We are soon so estranged there is no footprint left in the sand. There are no breadcrumbs, Hansel, the forest eats it all away.

No way back, and still I return.

What am I? I am a snake that lives on its belly – empty, and dragged across the ground. Searching and hunting become synonyms and I make for old spaces to sniff the ground where I knew she was just yesterday. But the days accumulate, and then I am not so sure. I feel old, trickless. I’m losing the ways. Call me Hansel again, and this time I will answer.

Snake, dog, or hyena, I am lost. You are lost. There is nowhere to return to and my freedom looms darkly over me. I scratch the itch. I pick the scab. I burst the boil. Nothing. I’m here. No closer. No nearer to you than the day you went.

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