By A Thread
by Sarah Clark

(CN: SA)

The first time a man strangled me, I figured he'd let go. My back hit the ground, I spit out most of my air. That's cheating—like a cousin sneaking up to dunk your head in the river. Give me a chance to fill my lungs, and you'll be surprised how long I can last. He let go.

A different man held my throat all wrong. Straddled, I kicked up between his legs, like usual. He lifted my throat to slam my head on the floor. Said something about how I didn't think he was a real man. I couldn't tell him he was fucking up—you can't press the carotid like that. Google "coup contrecoup," my dude. There's strangling, then there's strangling. I passed out.

Waking up was like a reset, seamless resumption. He'd do it again, over weeks, knee often on my diaphragm to keep my legs in check. I was never sure if he'd kill me from carelessness, or if that's what he was hoping for. Sometimes, when I'd wake up, I'd feel waves rushing against my body. Cold pinpricks across my thighs and face, nerves waking up.

If you didn't guess, I have PTSD.

I picked up The Flame in the Flood, because it had a dog. That's it. 

You need to eat, sleep, stay warm, and not die.

There's a river, and you have a raft.

First playthrough, I had a panic attack. I died. Dehydration. I thought I could steer past islands, get farther faster: make it to the delta at all costs. I forgot my virtual counterpart's body wasn't for trade.

My playthroughs got better. I hoarded jerky. Never rely on what won't last.

Back then, I lived off granola bars, pop tarts, and the liquor he'd sometimes let me have, as long as he was drinking, too. I looked great.

More than one night, I ran from his place, barefoot. To my housemates: it was a good party. Real good.

More than halfway through, I'd die of exposure. I'd drown, knowing I could swim. I was careless.

One morning, my partner realized I hadn't gone to bed, still sailing. I needed hardware. I needed my own shelter. She asked if I was okay. I tricked a bear into mauling wolves until I could be warm.

I was suicidal every day that summer. Not even afraid—resigned. I was comfortable with death. I threw myself at this river over and over. My girlfriend made breakfast, bandaged me, got me medicine—and I didn't understand.

The Flame in the Flood should have been traumatic, a reminder of how arbitrary survival is. I said I was fine—this was a reminder that I knew how to take care of myself. She'd watch my breathing when I'd drink enough cough syrup to pass out.

Meanwhile, that sonofabitch glitched on my final trophy.

That river really was healing, gave me a place to put the sharpness in my head. But she's the one who kept me alive.  ◒

 

Sarah Clark is a queer two-spirit Nanticoke editor, writer, and consultant. They are currently Assistant Editor with the VIDA ReviewCo-Editor of the Bettering American Poetry series, and Managing Editor and Features & Reviews Editor at Anomaly. She curated Anomaly‘s GLITTERBRAIN folio and a forthcoming folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms, and was co-editor of Apogee Journal‘s #NoDAPL #Still Here folio.