Being hit feels a lot like having your heart broken, right at the moment of impact. Like the bruising sting at the epicenter of surface contact, the unexpected awakening of hibernating emotions is so powerful that a deep pain appears about six inches behind your sternum, as if all the fascia fastening your spine to your spidery rib bones suddenly pulled itself into a ball.
In the case of violence, that pain is your body’s response to the loss of control, coupled with surprise, disbelief, and humiliation. In the case of heartbreak, it’s the loss of control, coupled with surprise, disbelief, humiliation, and betrayal. That last part of the hurt is what makes heartbreak so enduring.
I’ve never felt both at the same time. But Quico has. He’s felt the withering crack of violence from someone he loves rattle his sense and reason, love and trust, all at once.
Quico is the focal point of Papo & Yo. He’s a young boy with a fantastic imagination and he scoots lithely through his shanty, exploring a playground made of tilted buildings and chipped flowerpots. His loved one is Monster – a great, hulking teddy bear of a creature. Or, he’s half a great, hulking teddy bear. He has another side, too. Monster’s other side is a violent, fiery addict.
When Monster first hit Quico my heart broke. See, up until that point, everything was gentle. The imaginations of a nine year old boy were smattered in crude shapes across the favela walls of Quico’s hometown. Spinning an ethereal, boy-sized key gave Quico greater access to the many layers of the shanty. It enabled him. Drawing a plastery staircase from the brick walls of a house was play, a new avenue for discovery. There was no violence or recourse for what would amount to a skinned knee or a splash in a pond. With the maraca-driven bossa nova scoring each ebullient leap into a new part of town, the emotional lacerations from his abusive, alcoholic father were all but hidden under a gauze.
I say “father” because Monster is the result of a child’s mind trying to rationalize a betrayal so fundamentally contrary to reason, only an adult’s mind can begin to make sense of it. His father is a drunk with a blind rage who hits him, his mother, and his sister. Fathers are supposed to love. This one became something else because a father simply cannot be that thing.
Each time Monster hit Quico, my heart broke because my sympathy for Quico strangely felt a little more like empathy as time went on. Monster’s swiping arms came down on Quico with an extraordinary violence. Each landed blow was followed by the quivering report of Quico’s pain. That small voice became echoes from my own little mouth each time I was surprised by the beast’s staccato intensity, and quietly that ball of pain nudged my spine. All those tricks and dreams I’d learned with Quico stopped being fun. They turned from conduits of exploration into coping mechanisms for a child trying to rationalize a pain in his life far beyond the realm of his understanding, and it was me setting those mechanisms in motion.
And as I slowly lifted the gauze, and dabbed at his weeping cuts, a little bit of blood got on my fingertips.
Jack Gilbert once wrote:
Degas said he didn’t paint
what he saw, but what
would enable them to see
the thing he had.
Papo y Yo is a headline title in its genre
About the Author:
James Hawkins is the founder of Bit Creature. He's a published poet, dabbling sportswriter, and former Senior Editor of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.