you know, i am lucky because my mother prays for me
— mustafa hashim
dateline. forty-eight hours. oprah. twenty twenty. my mother watches as the television wails with stories of kidnapped children. assaulted teenagers. murdered babies. none of them hers, but all of hers in danger. she turns to me. says: adam, if anyone hurts you, please tell me. please. i say: of course, ummi. of course. i keep my lips a thin valley. i don’t show my bloody teeth. i don’t tell her what happens on the schoolbus. in the hallway. behind the locker room. how a child’s greatest threat can be children. anthony shattered my glasses with one punch, so i asked her for contact lenses. hayden’s hands grip my throat in the back of the bus, so i asked if she could pick me up from school. jordan waited until the teacher left class to show me how his father taught him to fight, so i stayed in my room all weekend. i suffer quiet to keep the suffering small. contained. out of the way. how’s school, my mother asks, and i speak soft again. how do i tell a woman who left a war ridden country that even in her sanctuary, we are not safe. better to smile through the fever, i think. better to not add my haunting to her daydream. months later, in the principal’s office, she learns of my suspension. how this time, i fought back. nick and his blue eyes fucked with me one too many times, and ended up on the floor. he had backup. i didn’t. why didn’t you tell me, she asks. they could have killed you. i nod, eyes fixed to the table. swallow blood. pull broken teeth. hand my mother my childhood. watch as it slips through her fingers. an hourglass overturned. her child, a child no more. i open my mouth to say: you cannot protect me unless you make me disappear. i catch my tongue. say instead: i’m sorry, ummi. it won’t happen again.