Aside from the astounding array of vocabulary with which we’re presented, one of the things I love about the English language is the delicate layers of meaning like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The English language is nothing if not subtle. These shades of meaning–including homonyms, -phones, and -graphs–make it difficult for non-native speakers to truly master English, but if Joseph Conrad did it, so can we.
Perhaps it was the very nature of his outsider’s perspective that allowed such proficiency–the forest for the trees and all that–but Conrad understood English better than I could ever hope to. I’ve been speaking it since I could form words and I still don’t feel like I have a firm grasp on it.
Broken and break are words with many meanings depending on context. You can break a horse, which is generally considered to be a good thing, though I think it’s sad, because it means a horse is no longer wild. You can physically or figuratively break a leg. You can verb, adjective, noun or adverb. You can even colloquialize it with ice or banks.
Me? I’m a horse and a heart and a record.
I was broken shortly after birth. Meningitis killed me a few times. If not for a persistent pediatrician who never left my side, I wouldn’t be here. I would be a statistic on infant mortality. Instead of death, I got hearing loss and ever-present headaches.
I don’t think you–nor I really, since it is my only reality–understand what I mean when I say constant headaches. It’s not really headaches plural; I have essentially had one long headache my entire life. When coworkers call in because of a headache, I scoff.
You’ve had a headache before, no? Imagine that forever, though it’s not always as bad as it sounds. Most of the time, it’s a faint buzz that I can force out of my field of view. Sometimes, like this morning, it is a dull roar, which can’t be ignored. Occasionally, it is debilitating and I am unable to get out of bed. It’s the price I pay for having survived a disease intended to kill me.
Regardless of how often I am able to ignore the side effects, Meningitis has greatly informed my life. The aftermath is a big part of me, even if I was too young to remember the event itself.
When I was seven, I was broken like a horse. A pedophile put a bridle on me and walked me around the pen for a year until I stopped kicking. I feared that no one would save me from that bridle and no one did, not even my family after I told them what he was doing to me. It was then that my faith was broken, too. My faith in family, god, the goodness of humanity. I never found it again, not that I tried.
I started a decades’ long mission to break myself. I passively tried to end this stupid life by putting myself in harm’s way. A massive drug addiction, prostitution, homelessness. I wanted to die, but not consciously and not by my own hand. It didn’t happen. No matter how low I got, and I got very low–lower than most people survive to talk about–I did not die. My continued existence was like some sort of sick joke.
A second monster put a bit in my mouth, and for eight years, I was broken. Broken teeth, black eyes, split lips, strangulation marks on my neck. I wished for a quick death. I wanted him to kill me, because I couldn’t see any other way out and I couldn’t live with it anymore. Even then, with his hands choking me to death, I surmised that the only way justice would be served to him was with my death. I was right. Still, I did not die. My faith in the so-called justice system did.
Sixteen years ago, I met someone who saw through my façade. He saw through my fierce exterior to the scared little girl with a bit in her mouth, and he removed it so slowly that I didn’t even notice until a chunk of my heart was filled with love instead of hate and bitterness and fear. Last year, he died and he took my heart with him. Still, even without a heart, I did not die.
My continued existence is certainly not the result of my own actions. I have never fought for my life. Even when I was a homeless, drug-addicted prostitute, I stopped because I couldn’t be a party to a life where a child could be sold into slavery for drugs. I didn’t stop through any sort of selfish motive like wanting to live.
Even when I called the police to stop the monster from killing me, it wasn’t because I was fighting for my life. I called the police because the monster attacked my friend. Had my friend not been there, had a man not walked by and stopped him, the monster would have killed me and I would have let him.
Even now, with Male’s death, I’m not fighting. I don’t know how to fight with more parts broken than not. Even if I were to fight, I don’t think there’s a way to beat it anyhow. I can’t call the police to come and take my grief away like I did the drug dealer or the monster trying to kill me. There’s no one I can call bring my heart back to me, broken as it is.
People say I’m strong, and perhaps I am to have survived everything I have, but I don’t see it that way. My continued existence isn’t a sign of strength. Though I have never, nor would ever attempt suicide, I am still alive through no fault of my own. It’s simply a matter of luck, timing, and strange circumstance.