If This…

by | Feb 3, 2023

If This is a Life-threatening Emergency Please Hang Up and Dial 911

Later you’ll say, Let’s pretend this never happened. But now you grab the belt again. Buckle high and ripe. Swinging for the fences. For young skin. My step-sis. My step-brother. Splatter of blood like a shock of ladybugs dotting the side of the wall. While I grab your leg, thick as a tree stump. Shouting for you to stop. Which you don’t. Sweat falling from your forehead to mine. A hot trickle of evil. And then there’s the cacophony of screams. Unhinged bedlam. Who knew children could shriek like that, like monkeys run through a band saw? Children hanging onto the dark sheet of a new day. Children grown into adults. Trying to explain to a wife. A husband. A therapist. An empty bottle. Or needle. What those moments were like. And how we made it through them.


  1. Dominique Christina

    This was swift and crisp and brutal. Thank you so much for trusting me with it. I relate in more than one way to the experience articulated in this piece. You write the shrapnel so well. Because…you let shrapnel be shrapnel while also letting a splatter of blood look like a shock of ladybugs. You have a really deft touch. It’s shrewd and haunted. And honest. It’s the kind of writing that grants a person permission to bleed out loud. To name. And to heal. Thank you.

  2. Meg Tuite

    Hi Len,
    such power and mastery of the words “Splatter of blood like a shock of ladybugs dotting the side of the wall.””like monkeys run through a band saw””Children hanging onto the dark sheet of a new day” (WOW)! This is phenomenal and each line embedded in its own part of the bedlam. Brilliant! LOVE!

  3. Karen Keefe

    Such an intense capture of the violence of this experience. Time is so swiftly moving and so very slow. The forever haunting of it. The writer directly and quickly gives the measure of the impact of these events. The need to explain, the explanation bringing no end to the impact.

  4. jennifer vanderheyden

    The first line is so spot on to set the scene, Len. And the ladybug line…who thinks of pairing these cute, innocent (though annoying) insects with splattered blood? And it’s so powerfully effective when you end with the adult child trying to explain what is unbearable. If I can make one suggestion, it would be to change the lines: “Which you don’t. Sweat falling from your forehead to mine” Omit “which you don’t” and begin the next line “Sweat falls from your forehead to mine” followed by something to indicate that he doesn’t stop. So gut-wrenching and brilliant writing, Len.

  5. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Len, this is exceptional, so raw and visceral. Poetic prose, and deft touch. Love your use of rapid fragments to encapsulate the fear, and violence. This is ready to launch, and as commented, will help others to see their own possibly hidden, shameful childhood experiences.

  6. Sheree Shatsky

    “Children hanging onto the dark sheet of a new day.” It’s exactly what so many do and did and will. A difficult topic written with respect and reality.

  7. Julia Bouwsma

    The juxtaposition of the imagery does so much to heighten the chaos and violence of the situation described. Even the almost-comic superfluousness of images like “monkeys through a bandsaw” just serves to amplify the visceral effect. And that rhythmic swinging of the short sentences!

  8. Francine Witte

    This is so powerful, Len. Raw and violent and real. And the language does not hold back. The children hanging on to the sheet of tomorrow, the ladybugs. Brutal and skillfully written

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