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The word, unexpected, punches me, sung in drunkish unison, perhaps louder in my mind because of my history, the bluntness of knuckles and the sharp pain in my ribs, the tinny buzz in my left ear, my lost ability to read in cars, a word in my life I have come to expect, shouted from the window of a truck or whispered in plural sideways on the street, not always at me, more a stick than a stone or a chip off the bone.

There is deliciousness to the word.

The shape of it leaving the mouth, the double G and aspirant T, sharp and rebellious, forbidden, meant to be spit like a dart, a word that makes the speaker feel alive, a word that defines worlds, a word in that small canon of words that will never shake its shackles of origin or intent.

Which is all to say I understand, I understand and could even forgive, that this is a story that’s not about hate, because I see it in their faces as they sing, the obliviousness, the smacking of lips, the unconscious joy, especially in rhyme, completing the couplet like casting a spell, and, oh, of course, the taste, the taste.

Which is all to say I like the song, two people blaming each other for imperfect love, feeling trapped with and by the same person, a person you blame, and you hate, and you need, who owns the best parts of your past, who only knows how to love by tearing at flesh, by loving through words that are meant to wound.

Which is all to say if one person sang it, I would shrug my shoulders, pretend to forget, pay my tab, pretend to forget, drive the bridge, pretend to forget, climb into bed, pretend to forget, wake up to the feeling of his arm on my back, and at least for the moment, maybe forget.

Every time I hear the word, I am forced to make a choice.

The part of this story you cannot see, the shuttersnap spotlight on the place where I sit, a man on a chair, swimming in history and violence and doubt, a one man show I perform for myself, where I still don’t always know the lines, or if baring my scars is the right thing to do.

I like to think I am no longer afraid.

That I am no longer ashamed, that I no longer apologize for what I am, that after two decades of this, I know, I know, I know, but when they sang The Pogues in Aidan’s Pub, I crept back into my smaller self, sinews seized like a marionette, the memorytaste of blood.

So now I sit on a couch with my doubt, obsessing over what I could have done, knowing that, yes, there are worse things in life than a word, and that one of them is silence, the question, of course, is whose, my silence, well known, or the silence I fear, 50 people, once drunkish and singing together, now quiet with hate, not because of what I am, but who I am, the inconvenience of me, a person who wants their song to stop.

Because of a word I will hear again a thousand times before I die.

Zach Straus

Zach Straus peaked at 15 and is mostly held together by masking tape.

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