I don’t remember why I stopped taking my pills. But I did stop. That was the same week I cut so deep in my leg that I could see the fat, that yellow part beneath all the layers of skin.
I remember one time when I was in pre-school, back when my belief in a boys-rule-girls-drool rivalry still existed, I was having a play-date with one of my classmates, and I showed her with a thumbtack how I could stick the needle in through the first layer of my skin and out the other side without it hurting. I’m not sure if she tried the same, but my demonstration resulted in an argument about who had more layers of skin. “Boy’s have seven layers of skin,” I would say, but then she would tell me that girls have eight and so on. I don’t remember us arriving at any definitive answer, but somehow when she told me for the last time how many layers of skin girls had, I believed her.
Looking back on that cut, the deepest I’d gone, I remember I was drunk, and because I forgot that a razor was much thinner than my grandpa’s slightly rusted pocket-knife, I hadn’t adjusted the amount of pressure I was using, and found myself staring at a kind of color I hadn’t seen before. A color that I didn’t know I had in my body. My skin though, it wasn’t like cutting into a cake; I couldn’t see how many layers there were, and I don’t know if I would’ve been patient enough to count.
Years later, a therapist would tell me that the number one reason adolescents self-harm is because of suppressed rage toward their mothers. I think I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t making everything up. I wanted the outside of me to look a little more like the inside.
I liked to cut myself in the afternoon, in the late afternoon before the sun went down, and late at night when everyone was up watching TV in their bedrooms, and no one cared to notice how long I was in the bathroom. If they did, they probably thought I was just jacking off.
The night I saw too far beneath my skin, I stayed up past the dark, and before the pale dawn became the throbbing day, I walked into the yard with my boots untied hoping the fog would last. I looked back at the house wondering if either my uncle or my aunt were awake enough to catch a glimpse of me through the slatted shades, shake their head slightly, and go back to sleep.
People are always interested in scars. Scars as memories of one-time events. Memories of childhood accidents, surgeries, or dares. But I liked my scars as reminders. Reminders of months. And years. Memories that things didn’t go wrong just once. Evidence that whatever tragedy I felt wasn’t a fluke. Wasn’t a one-day happenstance occasion. It was with me. It was with me every day. To stay. And I hadn’t made it up.
My mom always used to try and convince me that I made stuff up. One time, she screamed in my face after coming into my room and crumpling up a poem I’d been writing. A poem evidently that she didn’t like. She told me that I just wanted to be mad. To be mad at her so I would have something to write about.
When she’d calmed down the next day, I asked her where she put the poem she’d crumpled up. She told me she didn’t know what I was talking about. When I kept asking her she started to get angry, saying she wouldn’t ever do something like that, and told me she didn’t want to hear my bullshit accusations anymore, and said that if I crumpled up my own poem, I probably would’ve thrown it somewhere in my room. When I asked her what she was talking about, she got up and left. Afterwards, I found the poem in my room, torn up in the trash.
In the upstairs bathroom of my cousins house, I continued working on the reminder that I’d slowly and repeatedly been carving into my leg for a few months. I had thought of cutting yourself as delusional, if not simply backwards, a few months before I started doing it myself. The first time I did it, I used a new-age straight-razor my brother had gotten me for my birthday. I don’t think I would’ve started if I hadn’t had something that made it seem so easy. I always made sure to cut myself in places I could hide. I started on my back, just one thin long line in between my shoulder blades that barely lasted a couple days. Now I was in Maine, nearly clogging the toilet with all the tissue I was having to use to keep my blood from trickling far enough down my leg that I might have to explain why there were brown spots all along the carpet back and forth between the bathroom and where I was sleeping down the hallway.
I still worried about my mother. Whether I might get a call from someone. A few weeks after she’d torn up my poem, she let me know she wanted to kill herself, and had started yelling at me when I was trying to explain to her that maybe that wasn’t the best thing to tell her 15 year-old son.
“I was trying to empathize with you,” she had said, “I was trying to tell you that it’s okay to have suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t mean you’re going to kill yourself.” I hadn’t told her I was having suicidal thoughts. I’d just said that I felt depressed sometimes, and that sometimes I wasn’t sure how much I liked life. She’d nodded, as if to say “I agree,” but she hadn’t said anything. She kept quiet until the next day when she told me that she had often thought of walking out into the street when the cars were going by. I don’t suppose she intended to make a game of it, and challenge herself to dodge them.
Every day since then, I worried that I would come home from school and find out that there had been an accident earlier that morning on my block. But now that she was in the hospital and I was in Maine, my aunt and uncle told me not to think about her.
I never cut myself to feel more pain. I never cut myself because I wanted to be reminded of how terrible I felt. I cut myself because I felt terrible and wanted to remember why. It was the only thing that made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy, even though I probably was.
When the air was humid and my skin was pimpled with litters of mosquito bites, I kept working on my scar. It was meant to say disappear. But I’d spelled it wrong. D I S A P E A R. There was so much blood that I thought my aunt might start asking me where all the toilet paper went. I started just wiping it with my hands, and washing them over and over in the sink till the white tile had stained a little and I got tired of accidentally looking in the mirror. I didn’t like seeing myself. I looked normal. I didn’t like looking normal. It made me feel like everything was supposed to be okay.
I took the blood from my thumbs and started spreading it below my eyes. It was sticky, and hard to make thick. When it dribbled out of my leg, it came darkly from each letter, but on my cheeks it was a bright red. The red that was my brother’s favorite color. I stopped bleeding before I got the chance to look how I really wanted. But I felt much more comfortable looking in the mirror. I broke open my Uncle’s normal razor and started cutting into a spot on my shoulder that I’d also been working on for a few months. The blood was easier to access there, but the thumb-thick lines beneath my eyes still looked more like scabs than war-paint. I stopped adding more after a little while, and let the blood trickle cleanly down my arm, leaking to my fingers. I wasn’t paying attention to my cuts anymore. I was staring at my eyes in the mirror. Nodding over and over, trying to sew the image into the lining of my mind. I wanted to stall it there. The longer I stared at myself the easier it would be to remember. I must’ve stood there for half an hour. Maybe longer. I didn’t want to wash it off. And maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just cleaned up my shoulder and my thighs, and walked back to my bed, letting my restless sleep wash off the scabs on my pillow.