I’ve been with you from the start. From the moment one ecstatic cry met with another and two bodies flowed together, shuddered, and fell apart. I have grown with you, curled up inside an ocean at your side, dreaming as one of the day the world would start. When the dam broke, and we rode the crest of a painful wave into cold air and light that cut us like knives, it was my mouth through which you screamed your fear, and my breakable bones they swaddled to keep us safe.
You suckled through my lips, saw through my eyes, and reached for the things you wanted with my warm and grasping hands. Whatever you desired was what I needed, too, and I was only too happy to oblige. I forgave you for the skinned knees, when your excitement over-rode my muscles’ warning that begged you to slow down. I forgave you for the broken finger, snapped during a careless tumble and a rush down the stairs towards dinner. (You always were ruled by my stomach, after all).
The trips and falls, the breaks and scrapes, I have forgiven you for them all. And each time you broke me I did my best to survive. I bled to wash the grit from our skin, dripped tears to save our eyes from pain, and gifted you with a runny nose to trap the infections in. My singular heartbeat powered us both, and in return you ignited our spark. I always wanted the best for you, your thoughts roaming ever further from the interior of me. But still, there were things I didn’t always understand.
The years you left me hungry, ignoring my insistent pleas for you to eat. I confess I hated you then, but only for your disdain of me. I heard it in your thoughts, and twisted my own lips in rage against what I couldn’t be. I wasn’t thin enough for you, nor strong enough. At least, that’s what you said. Did you ever think that it was my strength that kept you on your feet? Burning through fat and into screaming muscle, my agony silenced by your iron will. A strange thing, you must admit, to deny a body the chance to feed.
Your drinking, too, gave me pause for thought. An exchange of joy for misery that grew ever more one-sided. And while we’re on the subject, smoking – what was all that about after all? I confess that I, too, grew used to the cigarette in our grip, but my lungs aren’t pink and soft anymore, and if you could look inside you’d see the scorched earth you unleashed in me.
No matter, though, it’s done. I can’t change what’s already been. We stayed close to each other over the lengthening years, even though you were often disappointed in me. I’ve been there for first kisses, last kisses, and new regrets. We’ve fucked together, slept together, laughed and cried together - and above all, you know me.
But now, I can tell, I’m disappointing you again. The days of your disdain for the way I look are long gone, and these should be the years we enjoy together as one. But I have always been the silent partner in a two-person race, unnoticed and unremarkable, until I start to fade. You can feel me, now, growing weaker every day, and I can hear your frustration, but I can’t change what’s happening to me.
I have tried, above all else, to keep the two of us safe. In the face of drink, and drugs, and smoke, I’ve kept us on our way. I thought we’d have a lifetime of dancing; of climbing mountains, running fast, and skinning knees. No-one ever told us I wasn’t as strong as we believed.
The aches and pains you feel now have been building every day. And as the silent partner, I couldn’t make you listen to me. I knew – I must have known – somewhere in my cells, that we weren’t destined for pain-free walks, for long days, or nights, or weeks. There’s something wrong, I know you know, and I can’t stand to feel you cry. But I’ll still do my best to keep us alive, even though you sometimes don’t want to be.
I’m sorry I’m not as strong as you thought. I’m sorry there’s no mountain I can climb. I’m sorry we’re in pain every day. I’m sorry I make you cry. I’m sorry you can’t walk for long. I’m sorry we haven’t danced in years. I’m sorry I’m not the body you want. I’m sorry that I’ve become your worst fear.
But remember, please, when you feel all alone, that it’s always been me by your side. Remember how I powered you on, through the days when you starved me and lied. Remember that we once danced all night, and remember the days when we ran. Remember we swam in the ocean for years, remember when we sunbathed on the sand. Remember I carried you through clubs and bars, remember you loved me then, too.
Remember, please, when you're angry and lost, that I am only as strong as you.
I forgave you for everything, and now I beg you to please forgive me.
Remember that I didn’t want this either. So please be kind to me.
Laura is a twenty-something disabled writer and journalist. Her short-fiction has been published by Strix Magazine and Rhythm and Bones, and she hosts the monthly politics and disability podcast, Visibility Today. You can find her screaming into the void on Twitter at @TinyWriterLaura.