I was young then when my mother was a social smoker and my father a jovial alcoholic. They called me Karina because it was short for Karen, though it really wasn’t. The first time I saw past their plastic smiles, I was bleeding all over newspapers in the backseat of my father’s car, having fallen – or been thrown off – the bed at two-years-old, too young to understand their fighting, but not too young for the sudden awareness of the counterfeit faces they now wore; and I quickly realized that the deep gash on my leg had not been the only part of me bleeding.

Tell it to my future self when the heart bleeds deeper than a wound, and the wound cannot heal itself for when the heart breaks it leaves fragments of shrapnel embedded in the soul like the bullet my father still has in his leg from a trip to El Salvador and can no longer remove because he waited too long to see a doctor (did I wait too long to love you?). I learned early on that the ocean does not want to swallow me up; that life on shore had already successfully done that; that crab-hunting had become a customary bullying that I had enjoyed for longer than I had stayed, where pain was most forgotten when I inflicted it instead of garnered it in my bones.

Love was a golden word that looked more like bronze corroded by time rather than a shiny band around my finger. It was no more a halo that sealed my faith than it had become a dagger under the breast, where my heart pumped too close to its blade, and so silenced itself to stealth mode, evading the enemy within. Not that my family did not love, but simply that they had been bruised one too many times under the skin where no one could see the contusions that branded them with family members’ names so that their own reactions to love was abrasive and swollen much like being welted with my father’s belt, the one with his name branded onto the leather strap and beaten into my skin.

Having lost my voice within a sleeping bag that had time-capsuled abuse, I found it lingering in the halls of my high school that first friendless year. It was casually perusing through the pages of my experience where I first fell in love with words and they bookmarked me, where they became a reflection of my emotions, echoing in the journals that still hide between my mattress and the box spring, seeping into my dreams like ink onto parchment to remind me that my heart still beats in my chest though no one hears it, that despite the invisibility that followed me in the shadows of disillusionment and struggle, I was still alive, blood pumping through my veins with such vigor that cutting them only made them breathe life into another’s soul.

That was when my wanton affairs began, novels shamelessly dancing naked in my head even as I read them to no one; poems struggling to escape the shackles of poverty and the Welfare system that wrapped its stubby fingers around my throat but could not strangle the words within, an underground railroad having been carefully built to escape the master in a labyrinth of other people’s words, other people’s dreams; love letters left unmailed to a lover unknown but who would come to me decades later in another chapter with no name. I had cheated life by fighting back and he despised being cuckolded by one so young so he bound me in the chains of conformity and pietism, numbing the poet I had become, but not killing her for God had made him promise to not lay a finger on my soul. But somewhere in the expanse that had become my small world, something died and left a fetal corpse in my womb, calcifying it there forever until the weight of it brought me into a darkness from which I never really recovered.

And so the pills filled the cracks in the sidewalk, grouting me until I lay flat under everyone’s feet, pretty but unstable like rotting wood under a platform made of marble. Years of psychotherapy and experimenting with new drugs fused into my being like too many mixed drinks at Donnalee’s party when I had to be carried down the stairs and taken home in a dream I can’t remember, though I do recall being sober for a year after that. I had lost a battle with Fate, and she stitched a new dress for me made out of my own synthetic synapses and the heartstrings that had once played music for the Muses, a blue one that wrapped around me so tight my breath came in shallow puffs, a Victorian queen in modern-day America. And as the poems within my rib cage threatened to implode, I heard the whispers of requited love hovering near my ears where the buzzing of self-doubt tried to drown it away in a cynical grave of despair, but only managed to make it swell until it filled my head with confidence like monarch butterflies until the poetry burst forth in cascades of beautiful knowledge mingled with experience, once again filling the sponges of my dried soul.

So I wrote, and I wrote until my heart bled on each line, until each word was bloated with emotion and I trembled with desire, until I convinced myself that my words, though unread, held the golden love I’d always yearned, the truth I always sought, the acceptance I thought I needed. I wrote until I was loved with such radiance I could not see it at first, but felt it all around me in wind-swept chasm, penetrating my beliefs with such honesty I knew I was being seen through the blinded eyes of a seer, who told me that my destiny was to know that I am loved but never to own it as mine. And I dared, I tread through the unknown like a Joan of Arc into battle, wielding the double-edged sword that cut with words and lay open the rawness of my heart, my soul, my deeds. For it was that brilliant love that helped me see beauty even in the darkness of a world not my home, and that told of secrets whispered only to me, to tell no one and everyone at once.