Wounded By Words

Johnny looked down at his feet, up at the ceiling and then back at towards the ground. The one place that he didn’t look was at the computer screen.  Not that it mattered, he had already read the email and seen the words on the page.  They were words of hope and words of hate. Pain and joy intermixed and intermingled ran through his mind. Fear, uncertainty and anger welled up behind the walls that he had established. Whispers of insecurity laid siege upon his defenses and left him staggering.

The attack was swift and without warning. It was unseen, unexpected and unfair. Had it been physical it would have been considered the equivalent of a sucker punch. He would have welcomed that not because he enjoyed pain but because the response to that was far simpler. It was a matter of fight or flight. If you didn’t get knocked out you cleared your head, assessed the situation and then made a split second decision to run or kick, bite and scratch. If you knew Johnny you knew what his first choice would be…fight.

His friends didn’t tease him about having paws or meatclaws for hands for nothing. He was of average height but with broad shoulders and greenish-hazel eyes. A low center of gravity and natural strength coupled with fierce intensity and moments of ferocity had always made it inadvisable to anger him.  If you poke some people they bark immediately but never quite make it to bite. That wasn’t Johnny. He rarely said much about being irritated, at least not verbally. It wasn’t like he didn’t give off any signs or indications of anger.

To those who knew him well his feelings were always obvious, he wasn’t gifted with a poker face.  His brow would furrow, a vein in his forehead would begin to bulge and his fists would clench and unclench. If you knew him well enough to recognize those signs you also knew that when the fists and vein began their movements you only had moments. Johnny didn’t risk getting hurt easily. If you asked him he’d tell you that he understood the risks and that if he was going to take one than he would earn it. It was his way of saying that if fists were flying his goal was to disable his opponent quickly while causing maximum pain.

Physical pain was simple to him. He didn’t like it, want or desire it but he knew what to do about it. Mental and emotional were more complicated or should he qualify it by saying heartbreak. Heartbreak was complicated.

Johnny was guarded and reserved with his feelings. He didn’t give his heart easily, although he sometimes gave off the appearance otherwise.  More than a few women had complained about his reticence  to show them his true feelings. He was very good at making them think that they had gotten somewhere. It wasn’t because he intended to be duplicitous or a jerk.  Some of it could be attributed to his ability to communicate more effectively than most men or at least in a way that resonated with women. It complemented his ability to draw them in and make them feel secure.

Blame it on having grown up with a ton of sisters and their friends. He was protective of women and they noticed it. He had presence. Presence…what a silly, self congratulatory kind of thing to say. But there was truth to it. He didn’t have trouble meeting women or finding a date. His problem was with heartbreak or maybe it was that for a long time he didn’t know that he had a problem with it. A woman had come into his life and turned it upside down. He recovered from it or so he thought and then came June.

June came long after the ones who had taught him about heartbreak. Unseen and unsought she had maneuvered her way into his head and his heart. It was a fairy tale romance that had surprised them both.

She didn’t look very much like the women who preceded her. From time to time she would question him about it and he would laugh. He would tell her not to ask questions that she didn’t want to hear the answer to because he would tell her if the jeans made her look fat or if he thought someone was pretty. After a time she relaxed and understood that he didn’t spend time comparing her to others. Besides, he didn’t look like the men she usually went for either- the stupid blond guy. He laughed thinking about how it used to irritate her when he said that, but she had her own description of the women he had been with.

The little barbs that sometimes were slung both directions really weren’t meant to hurt the other. They came from a place of frustration. They knew that they had something special and were sorry that they hadn’t met when they were younger.

In the darkness of the room the flickering of the light of the monitor distracted him from his thoughts and he found himself staring at the screen again. Several emails were open. Words told him that they had been to hell and back and that she would love him forever. They begged him to never go away and to promise to ignore any protests to the contrary. Other words more recent than before said that they were done and that they were friends. The other letters shared other thoughts that conflicted with the two that he had just read.

He shook his head and stood up. It was time to get some air. Outside in the cold he found himself staring at a harvest moon and wondering what he was supposed to do. She had never completely shut the door on him but she hadn’t gone out of her way to encourage him to follow either. He sighed and thought about the sucker punch again and wished that this were as simple. She was too important to just give up on and so he hadn’t. He had fought her decision and told her that he wouldn’t accept it. That only went so far, because he couldn’t force her to give in nor did he want someone who would just say yes any time he asked.

The decision didn’t make any sense to him. It wasn’t logical or rational, no matter how much she protested otherwise.  But he had made a point of giving her space…grudgingly. Contact had ceased and as time passed it became easier- at least most of the time it was. Little moments like these emails made it clear that his feelings hadn’t changed, but he couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps hers had. Was absence making the heart grow fonder or was it making it ache less. He really wasn’t sure. The waters were too muddy to see clearly.

He looked up at the moon and wondered if June had stood outside thinking about him or if she missed him anymore. Was he just some guy who she had once loved or did she love him still and secretly hope for a way back. For the time it didn’t matter so he walked back into the house and towards the computer.  For a moment he stared again at the letters on the screen. There were words that wound and words that healed. Time would tell which side she would fall upon.

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  1. Kelly K February 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I really enjoyed the story, and found the first part very strong.

    I also loved the line “Whispers of insecurity laid siege upon his defenses and left him staggering.”

    Toward the end, the line “That only went so far, because he couldn’t force her to give in nor did he someone who would just say yes any time he asked.” was a bit awkward, and it drew me out of the story. I think you might have missed the word “want” or similar word…

    Also, at the end, I was confused. You spent the beginning telling me what a fighter Johnny was, albeit with his fists. The power of the opening was so strong, I found myself disagreeing that Johnny would just sit by and twiddle his fingers after a sucker punch – he’d want to force a confrontation and have an answer – no more middle ground.

    So kudos in creating a piece that in short time made me feel like I already “knew the character,” even if I felt the writing at the end wasn’t true to that character. 🙂

    Great job in the story telling.

    • Jack February 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Thank you for mentioning the typo and the criticism. You are correct, it tapered off a bit at the end. I’d like to blame it on a crying child but I think I just got tired. Been working on/with Johnny for a long time and I think that he needs to be fleshed out some more.

      Your words help with that. Thank you.

      • Kelly K February 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm

        The “Crying Child” syndrome is why I try to write most posts at night after bedtime. It causes tapering off, switched tenses, typos from a child somehow managing to bang your keyboard, words that shouldn’t be there because you dared “speak while typing,” and missing words you thought you typed, but were interrupted on before your fingers could follow through.

        Really, the writing was beautiful. My issue was plot uncharacteristic to perceived character – but I have always had strong opinions. 🙂

        • Jack February 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm

          That is a sensible way of doing it. Nothing wrong with strong opinions. If you enjoyed that you are welcome to sift through the Fragments of Fiction archives. There is a link a the top of the page. I have this plan to tie them all together and create something larger. Just have to make the time to do it.

  2. J. DesRochers February 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    This was written extremely well with so much emotion. This stuck with me throughout the whole story: “Whispers of insecurity laid siege upon his defenses and left him staggering.” I think that just shows how strong of a writer you are.

    Great work, I can’t wait to read more.

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