February 2024

Broken Bones

Holly Hagman

Play Audio
read by Rachel Wixom

art by Ludi Leiva

A monarch butterfly lands on the azalea bush near the pool. It flaps its wings while I kick my feet, dive down, reemerge at the shaded end of the backyard, pretending to be a mermaid as I practice opening my eyes underwater. The chlorine burns the insides of my nostrils just enough to send me back to the surface. My uncle, who is outside taking care of the garden, catches a fly between his fingers and walks over to the fishpond to feed the koi. I want to see them swarm the rim of the pond, watch the ripples in the water as they flop for attention. I climb the ladder, dripping both with water and childlike excitement. The water puddling between my feet and the wood below eliminates friction, and I slip. The acacia-colored deck comes toward me in slow motion. I land partially sideways, most of my weight crashing on my right shoulder.

I hear the crack, feel the throbbing radiate throughout my body, the pulse of the ache in my ears tonally similar to the swishing of my blood. I don’t remember how, but I stand up off the deck and head inside. I cry to my mother about the pain in my chest, the inability to move my arm, that rhythmic jab biting my nerves in consistent intervals.

On our drive to the hospital, each crack in the pavement causes a wave of dizziness that threatens to knock me out. I stare out the window, unsure of how she got me out of my wet bathing suit and into dry clothes or how we put on my seatbelt, but certain that something inside me is broken.

After the x-ray, the technician notes that my collarbone has shattered. Pieces of the bone cross over one another on the backlit display creating a treasure map, my broken clavicle marking a pirate’s paradise. Nothing is buried in my chest except perhaps stray bone shards. Mom and I share a glance, her eyes wide, as she listens to the doctor’s instructions for how to help me heal.

When I run my fingers over my clavicles today, I feel a large lump on the right one where the pieces of bone fused back together. The left is straight and smooth like molded ivory, the right an uneven arrangement of callous and cartilage. It’s not noticeable in photographs or when I wear tank tops in summer, but the bone fibers ache slightly when it’s about to rain. In the shower or sitting on the couch, I find myself massaging the area, a twinge of dull pain radiating outward from the pressure of my fingers. I find an article that says it’s very common for a lump to remain on the collarbone after a break, everlasting evidence of a long-healed wound.


I open my eyes and only see the knees of the people around me. I turn my head upward, but the lights in the kitchen are blinding, almost fluorescent. I am aware that I have a migraine radiating down to my jawbone. The taste of iron fills my mouth, and I cannot speak. I blink, and I am floating through the kitchen, now the dining room, and the living room where the once distinct television and wall décor dissolve into watercolors in front of me. A voice I recognize squeaks a muffled “goodbye.” I blink again, and I’m traveling backwards down the orange brick staircase watching red-and-blue lights flash rhythmically against the early evening sky. The word ambulance enters my headspace.

This time, it’s a seizure. I know I have epilepsy but something of this magnitude has never happened before. I hear voices – doctors, nurses, my parents – discuss new treatment options, an increase in medication, more testing. I feel someone put a cold IV in the crook of my arm; the icy liquid travels through my veins, and I wonder what it would look like on an x-ray. The next day, I’m home somehow. I look in the mirror, take stock of my injuries: the nasty bruise on my chin where it hit the kitchen table on the way to the floor, the chunk bitten out of the side of my tongue like a slab of meat, the subtle ache in my arm from the IV needle. I stare at the person reflected back at me, the gaps in my memory leaving me feeling less than whole. 

I imagine a mark on my brain – scar tissue on gray matter, a speck of evidence between my frontal and temporal lobes that proves something inside me was once broken. I imagine it sits next to my missing memories, lives with the stolen moments it refuses to return, things I know are there that I’ll never be able to find. I press on my right collar bone until the pain returns, and I imagine the nerve signals that alert me of my pain dancing with the neurons that misfired, spinning in a rhythmic two-step, twirling and twirling to an unlikely harmony.  

About the Author

Holly Hagman is a teacher and writer from a small town in New Jersey. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in creative writing and an MAT in secondary education. She also earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairfield University where she was an assistant editor for Brevity and the nonfiction section editor for Causeway Lit. She is a former nonfiction editor for Variant Literature and the current nonfiction editor for Porcupine Literary. She teaches high school English at a therapeutic school for students with emotional and psychiatric illness.

About the Reader

Rachel Wixom is a voice actor based in New York City. When she’s not recording, she spends her time
practicing her samurai sword, gleefully imagining vanquishing greedy dragons and other ne’er-do-wells–stitching up holes in the multiverse with her knitting needles, finding herself challenged to staring contests by the stray cats who’ve managed to wriggle up to her lofty window, and immersing herself in all the stories that the internet has to offer.

About the Artist

Ludi is a Canadian-American interdisciplinary artist with roots in Guatemala and Slovakia. Working primarily across drawing, painting, installation, and text, her work is mostly figurative featuring whimsical human shapes, dreamscapes, and delicate line and brushwork. Through her practice, she explores identity, spirituality, migration, gender, and the landscapes of human inner worlds.