broken

There are truths that you know, and there are truths that you learn.

I’ve always known I had words inside my head. I remember laying awake in the honey-colored home, under the winter quilt and with a secret stash of lemon heads tucked between the me-sized mattress and the wall. I watched the dark letters careen across the swirling cosmos under my closed eyelids, writing and re-writing themselves completely of their own accord.

It was much past my bedtime when Dumbledore died. He must have known all along what was coming, but I never was good at guessing endings. He just fell. And kept on falling. And left me there, in a world without him. My little feet reached the hardwood floor, and I padded down the hall, out into the honey room where the promise of nighttime smelled like granola in the oven and the soft, warm light of working past midnight.

Three-thousand miles away in a corner restaurant, I didn’t want to leave the pile of untouched rice on my plate. It didn’t seem to matter that I had brought an entire bag of molding carrots to the trash pile on the corner of Buenos Aires and Tacagua earlier that week. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Anyway, I don’t really remember what I was thinking, but it seemed like the only thing to do.

On a tattered blanket across from the supermarket, the cholita sat, wrapped in layers of wool sweaters, skirts, and stockings, sorting empty, plastic bottles into piles. I wasn’t exactly new in town. Not anymore. I think I remember feeling a twinge of apprehension, almost as if I knew I shouldn’t. But I knew I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t. So I did.

This is not a story of conflicting dichotomies, good and evil, right and wrong. This is not a story that has a moral, at least not one that I have come to know yet. Nothing is simple about this story. I was cursed at and spit upon in the street, and still, I cannot forgive myself for the kindness I intended.

I saw her sitting there week after week for months. I looked at the uneven cobblestones every time I passed by. I didn’t have to see her face to know the deep lines that creased her dark cheeks and forehead, the grey lips that huddled together for warmth. I knew her face so well, and I can still see it when I close my eyes. I saw that face everywhere I went, on street corners with outstretched hands, tucked under long strips of cardboard, and sleeping in ATM booths.

And then, once when I was passing by, she just wasn’t there anymore. Week after week, her claimed space on the sidewalk was empty, and, once again, I looked straight ahead as I walked.

What have I done?

I guess that is what I am still learning and probably something I will never know.

How have I broken?

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