have you ever held your memories?
in my hands, they are beautiful, broken things: fixed moments with no clear start or finish.
the edges cling to my skin, as if it’s afraid to let go. bright red blurs the jagged glass, like fire whirling on clear water.
once, my mother said: “warmth fades from glass,”
my small breath vanishing on a dewy window,
yet, a decade later, the burn of their brand lingers on the shattered pieces,
i am afraid to see her, the girl i once was,
to see what she has become at their hands.
the remains of yesterday skirt around my feet and stretch into the dark horizon; a trail of
sharp crumbs. i follow my broken truths into the unknown, hoping
it will lead me
back to her.
Ten years ago, I was twelve.
I savored summer then. I remember biting into its soft, sweet skin, how it burst like fruit between my lips. Sunlight and laughter twirled on my tongue, its honeyed tang a bright rush in my belly. The warm season always brought family parties at my doorstep: never-ending nights of karaoke, poker, and barbecue.
My father is tenth out of eleven children. His brothers, sisters, and their children flooded my house every summer, submerged every room in a sea of familial cacophony. Aunts sung and slurred Tagalog classics near the kitchen. Uncles crowded a small table with cards and Coronas in their hands, howling at each other’s jokes. My cousins and I tore through the back, racing on bikes and scooters. We were inseparable.
We spent muggy mornings scavenging for seashells at the beach. We chased ice cream trucks in the sticky afternoons. We invented a pretend-doomsday world, playing for survival beneath the stars. After every adventure, we celebrated with food. We stuffed ourselves with spicy skewered pork barbecue, freshly steamed rice, golden-brown lumpia.
There was one cousin we all adored: our “leader.” He won us over with his clever humor and sharp wit. He chose the silly games we’d play and the places we’d explore. He was ours, and we were his.
Ten years ago, he was fifteen.
He was fifteen when we stared at the sky, standing still while our cousins ran after each other in a game of tag. An airplane soared in the impossible blue, its wings peeking through the clouds.
He slid his hand onto my backside, squeezed my flesh between his fingers over my jeans. I flinched, yelled at him to stop.
He looked at me.
And walked away.
I am nearly twenty-two.
I forced myself to forget it didn’t happen for years, that it never happened at all.
In the beginning, I tried to say something.
I told his sister,
and she said:
“That’s just him being him.”
I told his mother,
and she said:
“That’s just him being him.”
When I think of those summers, it tastes like rotting fruit, drenched in sick-sweet honey, laced with lies. When I close my eyes and remember, I am child once more: held captive in a prison of yesterday, convicted of complicity by silence. Those years loop endlessly in moments: my eyes wide, my body still as he plucked my childhood with his hungry hands—rubbed it, fondled it, burned it alive, while cousins whispered into my ears:
“That’s just him being him.”
When I was younger, I wanted to be so many things.
My parents filled my youth with stories of saying goodbye to their island homes for the American Dream, of struggling for success while supporting their families overseas. They taught me possibilities could become realities.
Once, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My parents bought me a children’s book, fashioned as a rich journal filled with yellowed photographs and postcards from an expedition in Egypt. I imagined my backyard was the glittering city of Cairo, often searching for mysterious artifacts beneath the calamansi tree.
Once, I wanted to be a therapist. My brother and I are exactly eleven months apart in age, yet we’ve never held a conversation. He never speaks unless spoken to, and even then, only short stilted sentences tumble from his lips. Autism. A word my ten-year-old mind couldn’t grasp. I loved watching him during his therapy sessions, taking detailed notes of the verbal exercises he practiced.
Once, I wanted to be an architect. Geologist. Animator. Interior designer. But nothing was possible without my family. My parents instilled in me that without family, we are nothing.
I believed them. I still do.
Ever since I was young, my family was my world.
And I saw that world begin to collapse every summer he arrived. He did not want to be just family. He was not content with the structure of my world. So, he broke it.
Over five grueling years, he became a teacher,
But he was my family. He became my world.
To survive, I built the only thing I could:
I am nearly twenty-two as I sit at the end of my bridge.
I began by smearing falsehoods in broad strokes over my memories. The line between intimacy and family was never blurred. That line was never even crossed. He touched me, yes. Even if I didn’t like it, it was fine. It was like a running gag in a sitcom. He’d grope. I’d yell. Everyone laughs.
So, I smiled, nodded, agreed with all my cousins. I stopped fighting as he claimed me, both in body and mind—his touch coiling around my intestines, slithering up my ribs, stroking my mind.
Because he was my family, it would always be okay, and it would never be okay.
My parents, siblings, and I—are different versions of each other; we share the same legs, same lips, same hands. But, when I look into their eyes, I see his eyes. When my body brushes theirs, I feel him.
It is my hell.
For the past ten years, I built my bridge. I pushed away my only family. I forged past my home and my city, past sweeping plains and swirling seas, beyond this earth,
and now, I sit here: my throne
in an endless kingdom
of dying stars.
I am alone.
Every day I pound my torn fists onto the bridge. Screams suffocate and tear inside my throat.
I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.
But no one knows I’ve even left.
Growing up, I buried those piercing memories deep in my mind.
Still, I could not forget his searing touch from years past—how it stretched the gaping abyss inside me. My only solace came from stories.
I once loved a Disney princess because she was everything I wanted to be: tall, beautiful, beloved. I loved her because she too was isolated from her family. She, too, was broken in her near-inescapable slumber.
There are two endings to her story. One is classic happily-ever-after: a gentle true-love’s-kiss on her lips from Prince Charming. The other, the real ending, is often left unsaid. It paints human cruelty with piercing pigments not meant for happy endings, where merciless wolves come guised as handsome princes.
But, like Aurora, I didn’t know. Like Aurora, I waited for my prince to save me with a kiss: one tasting of starlight and sugar, filling me with love until I was weightless, floating free beyond the reign of the world.
My first kiss happened near midnight almost six years ago.
I was sixteen. was eighteen.
He took my hand and led me into his aluminum carriage, pushed me flat onto the backseat. I closed my eyes as his lips trailed my shoulder, grazed the curve of my neck, and
he kissed me.
It tasted not of starlight and sugar, but, of caramel and cannabis. My heart felt light, his kiss marking the dawn of a new world—one without scorching summers. was my first; I was not his, but still. He meant everything to me.
I saw almost every day after that night. At school, he treated me like a stranger, which wasn’t new. In the backseat, we became more: a feverish tangle of limbs, lips, skin, and teeth. I saw us as secret lovers, our after-school trysts a dizzying adrenaline rush. We never went further than kissing, my body wanting but afraid to yield. Every time I said no, he’d peel himself away, his frustration palpable.
The last night we were together, I hugged my knees to my chest after what happened, asked if this was something, if we were more than friends.
He was quiet.
I still remember sitting on the cold pavement, watching him drive away, away, away,
the red brake lights
fading into black.
When I was younger, my hands became wild animals in the dim light.
I often snuck into my parents’ bedroom while they worked in the evenings. Soft light spilled from the dusted lamp in the corner. I would hoist my small, round body onto the bed and sit on a swollen stack of pillows. The space became my stage, and I the conductor.
My fingers shaped the shadows into dancing beasts upon the wall. Shifting creatures soared and sailed against the light: from crocodiles to cats, birds to bulls, snails into squirrels.
It was an imperfect world, frail and beautiful, like fluttering moth-wings.
And I could call it mine.
Almost six years ago, I shared one last night with .
The fairy tale bled out in little time, but still, I tried to believe. The aluminum carriage was no longer a carriage, but his mother’s car. A stench of old burgers and skunk hung in the air. Crumpled wrappers littered the once-clean floor. He took hit after hit from his bong, as I waited for him to finish. Being high felt like lead bloomed in my limbs, like the world moved through a thick glaze. Moments were minutes, minutes moved as hours.
First, he climbed into the backseat. Then, me. Lips touched, backs arched. Repeat. pulled out his dick, whispered on my neck what he wanted. I sat up, my chest tightening. I didn’t want to be a prude. I didn’t want him to leave. I asked him if he had a condom, unable to hide the tremor in my voice.
He said: “Condoms are for pussies.”
pushed me onto my back again, his body over mine. His hands reached for my underwear, trying to pull it aside. But I didn’t want it. He grunted, instead placed his uncut cock over my cunt, thrusting over and over into me, his round tip beating into the faded fabric. I gripped the elastic band, white-knuckled as I held it up.
Shadows loomed over his back—unforgiving, protruding shapes.
And, for a moment, I could call those shadows mine again.
I reached for the carpeted ceiling,
but it was far. It was so far. And my arm was so heavy. And he was so large. My hand fell to his back, and I clung to him.
This was love, I had believed. This was all I had left.
my hands weep with red from my memories,
& over the horizon, i find her.
she is always twelve. she is always sixteen. she is always the prize in their conquest of flesh.
i am strong, stronger than she ever was.
the girl is small, a whisper of myself,
but i cannot pull her up.
“it’s time,” i whisper. “it’s time to go home.”
i see her: blank eyes, cracked lips, scabbed skin quivering at my touch. don’t hurt me, her voice hoarse. don’t hurt me.
she remembers everything. i remember everything. the weight of our truth wrenches me to the floor, setting me ablaze with shame. “i’m sorry,” i cry, holding her limp frame. “i’m so sorry i couldn’t fight harder for us.”
i take her pain, our pain, and make wings—woven with bruised colors, broken flesh, torn dreams. i give it to her, all what was left of me. of us.
“i’ll wait for you,” i promise. “when you’re ready, i’ll be here.”
i do not know if she ever left.
but if i’m hopeful, i imagine
she flew high over the backyard from that summer day, through the car and away from that long night—her body somersaulting in the open air, shooting higher, farther than the human eye could see.
i imagine her swimming in moonlight,
playing hopscotch on countless constellations.
i imagine her asleep, nestled in her cradle of clouds, dreaming once more.
she dreams of sweeter summers past, she dreams of our faraway bridge, shattering swiftly beneath her palm. she dreams of our family. she dreams of our dancing animals, shaped from shadows and lamplight. and, still, she dreams of love. she dreams of what it could be.
and, in time,
i hope she will come back to me.
Gianne Braza is a Filipino-American writer, hailing from Oxnard, California. She is currently an undergraduate student at California State University, Northridge, studying creative writing and journalism. In her free time, you can find her watching anime or playing with her two dogs, Lucky and Sasha. This is her first publication.