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Like Drowning This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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He kissed me black and blue.

No, literally. My mouth was bruised and swollen, and I had to lie to my mom when she asked why. I told her I hit my lip on the car door, and she believed me. I mean, why shouldn’t she? People don’t get ink-blotted lips from snogging, like they’d been chewing on a pen and it exploded, or they’d been punched in the face. People who have been sucking face usually have pink cheeks and bright eyes and giddy smiles. But not me.

The kiss wasn’t romantic, and it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. He tasted like cigarettes and hunger and revenge. It was the type of kiss that feels like being smothered. And I was. I struggled to draw in a breath, though my mind was silent. There were no fireworks, no butterflies, no internal music floating through my chest. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t breathe. Like drowning.

But what was worse – worse than the black and blue lips and the struggle to breathe – was the shrieking silence that hung between us afterward, almost like a third person. It loomed in the classes we had together, leering at us both. Like a parasite, it seemed to feed off our averted glances and cold shoulders. It wallowed in our awkwardness and refusal to talk about or even acknowledge what we’d done.

So we sat there in those cold plastic chairs, the three of us. Him, me, and the silence between us. And though there were no kisses to smother me with, no acknowledgment of even my presence, I was drowning.

It wasn’t all his fault. He’d shown his regret as soon as we broke apart, immediately asking me not to tell anyone. I’d nodded, unsure what to say. But they stuck with me, the bruised lips and cold air of that day.

He’d offered me a cigarette after – a Marlboro from a beat-up pack he had in his shorts pocket. I’d declined. Cancer runs in my family. He knew that too – not that he’d ever asked if I wanted to talk about it.

He’d shrugged, then just stood up, tucking a cigarette behind his ear and not bothering to tie his shoelaces. They had come undone.

“I … should go,” he murmured.

That was when that awful silence seeped into the conversation, slowly at first, then all at once. I waited, hoping he’d speak or change his mind or say anything to make it better, but the wordlessness remained. It lurked in the corner, gloating at me and reminding me that I deserved this. I deserved the silence.

I cleared my throat after a while and anxiously tugged at my blonde strand of hair, like I always did when I was uncomfortable.

“Yeah,” I said. “You should go.”

Honestly, I didn’t love him. I didn’t even really like him. And at that moment I didn’t love or even like myself much either. But as I watched him leave with that stupid cigarette tucked behind his ear and his stupid untied shoes, noticing how my lips were swollen and tender, I felt the crushing weight of disappointment settle into my chest, and my breath felt as though it had run out. I was struggling to gulp just a mouthful of oxygen and failing as I sank deeper and deeper into a place I didn’t know existed. Like drowning.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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