The scent that permeates the air in my home has a hard edge to it; on it, a name teeters dangerously. It swings back and forth, threading between two truths, and threatens to tip over into an endless abyss. This is where tears go when we swallow them behind our lids, and where my mom goes when I refuse to say I love you. Match in hand, cylinder mistress in the other, she seals her fate in the shapes of gray clouds; a pill, a Bible, a man. This is what love is, and she exhales. The smoke obscures her face and sinks into the walls. At night, when I sleep, the scent slips into my pores, nestles beneath my skin, and follows me outside.
The day after is a battle against my body. My words are delivered with the smell of tobacco. When I touch, discolored fingertips pinch skin like a freshly lit cigarette butt. Crooked, my stance is a matchstick burnt too long, and where I walk, a trail of ashes follows. Just as I cannot hide my disjointed origins, I struggle to rid myself of this acrid aroma.
In the stillness of the school bathroom, where the air is crisp and sterile, I rush to clean myself. Tucking toilet paper beneath my leaking arms, I count: One. Perfume, deodorant, and antiperspirant to get rid of that disgusting odor. Two. I drown my tongue in white mints until it bleeds crimson. Three. Scented wipes are tucked into the extra space in my shoes, numbing my toes. Four. I pull my hair back into something gentle, unassuming. Five. It smells awful.
When I’m finished, I can barely breathe, barely feel, barely smile; I am hardly alive. Still, it is better than the alternative — knees out and neck exposed like a big, red sign pointing to a stinky girl who smells like midnight arguments and disappearing dads; who smells like her life is defined by the gap between her parents’ hands and half a presence. Staring in the mirror, I practice my laughter. If I cannot hide the scent, I can at least conceal the stain of an imperfect family.
In my reflection, there is a dark divide between my lips. It’s a thin line — an edge — that’s broken open only by the name of the past; I let it grow ever older, sharper until its corners bite my tongue. If I forget the way my dad held me, I won’t need to remember the days he’s left me. On this dangerous boundary, the name sways through two realities. My mom has fallen into one, and I am tipping into the other, where plastic hips and empty promises frolic in fields of syringes.
The bell rings and the name falls. The moment comes to put my methods to the test. When I step into the hallway, the crowd scrunches their noses.
Florianne Che is a high school Junior located in the Chicago area. Each day she is moved by the articulate and impactful words of the novels she reads, and through constant trial and error, she hopes to one day write in a way that moves her audience to the same extent. For now, she settles for half-baked thoughts in the margins of her notebooks and whispered rhymes when no one is listening.