By Nicole Kafka
Its scary how something so small and meaningless for most people can embed itself into my life, and become more important than the flesh on my body. They were beautiful, new fresh out of the package. Smooth pink handles with my initials written on to ensure safe keeping. Power that I was not permitted to posses before. I could have been around six or seven when my Mom decided it was time to move past the life with safety scissors to the freedom of “grown up” scissors, watching in amazement as they commanded the paper to separate with no questions asked. I remember sitting in my room when my emotions were unsure, cutting paper into what seemed like millions of little pieces, wondering why it made me feel so good to destroy something that never warranted my aggression.
Throughout elementary school there was a running joke about me needing to be wrapped in Charmin. How every time I would wear new tights to school I would end up falling and ripping them, scabbing my legs up once again. The nurse would always giggle as she saw me hobbling down the hall, sporting my new white tights with a fresh hole, as always. She would mutter “poor thing” as she dabbed alcohol on my open cut, and I faked an “ouch” to please the on-lookers. I never thought those kinds of things hurt. To be honest I kind of liked scraping my knee, the sting of the alcohol numbed the pain of the miss spelled word from the morning spelling bee and the giggles because I was the only girl in the class who couldn’t jump rope. Waiting patiently for what felt like years for the scab to form, just so I could systematically pick it and watch the blood. Saving the relief of pulling the scab off for that one day when it’s my turn to read to the class and the word island in my mind is read is-land knowing that the giggles would start as soon as the word slips from my lips. I spend recess sitting alone, watching the kids that laughed at my slip-up, slowly picking at all sides of the scab, until it pulls off. Then I watch the blood flow freely down my leg, dripping on my white socks. I think about the famous speech I’ll have to listen to when I get home on “not picking scabs, cause they will leave scars on your pretty body”, knowing that it was worth it.
I’m not sure of the exact day but it was some time in the eleventh grade, when I realized that I no longer could cry. How the relieving feeling of tears slowly making their way down my checks and dripping off my face no longer could numb my body like before. How I felt if I didn’t let something out I was going to implode. I don’t know what possessed me to grab those pink handled scissors; maybe I assumed I would cut paper like I always did. I guess it was probably the thought of having the power, cutting through something with ease, being able to control each movement. This time the paper had lost its effect, maybe to a six year old cutting into paper solves your problems but to a 15 year old it lacked something. Frustrated, I slowly ran my fingers over each blade, as each finger tingled I felt my body relax. I ran the blade up my arm and pressed softly, the sting of the alcohol and the numbness all came back. Only this time no on- lookers to please, no fake scream to let out, I could enjoy my time, where the reality of the world is blurred and narrowed into only the reality of my room, where my stress and frustrations can be taken out on my skin that hold it all in.
The power rested in my hands, as I gently and repeatedly crossed the blade to my skin over the same thin red line. I wait for that moment of relief to set in, while I hold my breath, just as the bubble of blood that has formed begins to overflow and run slowly down my arm. After wrapping my pink handled scissors up and placing them in my drawer, I stare into the open skin and wonder why it doesn’t hurt. I sit for hours as the blood goes from flowing down my arm to dry on my shirt talking, to who I don’t know, myself I guess. I ask myself why it feels so good, why can’t I cry, why do I want to cry, why can’t I tell them, my family and friends and finally what would they say. Its was almost as if I was trying to scream but my mouth or maybe it was my mind was incapable of opening up, so I resorted to what had worked for as long as I can remember, abusing my body, opening it up to let the pain out. I remember learning about how medieval doctors would cut a patient and let them bleed for a little while to let the “poisons in the blood” drain out. I thought maybe I had some disease, where like in the medieval times draining the blood of poisons makes the patient feel better. I would drain myself of the poisons that made smiling hurt, me hate myself, and where no one else understood; and I felt “normal” for a while until the poisons built up again.
When your body starts to fill up with raised, red, scars it becomes more difficult to hide. Especially when in your mind there is nothing wrong with the actions you’re taking to relieve your anxiety and stress, and yet I hid them. Not wanting to share my secret with the world, the control I had over my life when I did it. I pictured people walking up to me and just knowing about my hidden world I keep in my room tucked in my drawer. I could feel them taking my scares, the sharpness of the blades, and the pink of the new skin away from me. They would be able to see it in my eyes, to read it on my face and it scared me, I had to protect it. So when I saw the wide eyed expressions on my friends and family faces when I would mistakenly pull my sleeve up too high, I would nonchalantly use one of the responses I had worked on and saved up just for this occasion. “My dog scratched me” or “I burned my arm on the stove”, no matter which one I decided was appropriate I would close promptly with “but its no big deal”, which always eased the minds of the worried on lookers that all was well. I lied to everyone. The lying hurt worst than the cuts, carving into my mind instead of my flesh. These stories I rehearsed over and over in my room trying to remember to tell everyone the same story about this cut, grew harder to spit out when the time came.
“Self-Mutilation is an epidemic sweeping the nations teens today”, I flipped channels slowly coming to a stop on TLC, this sounded like a deadly virus found in some far off land brought here by rabid monkeys. I sat growingly impatient through all five commercials to find out that I unknowingly had come in contact with one of these infected monkeys, and I was indeed infected. Self- Mutilation, self-injury, self-harm the way they talked about it sounded so negative, inflicting pain on oneself that’s how they described it. Pain, I couldn’t imagine someone “inflicting pain” as they called it, when I used my pink handled scissors it relieved the pain I felt. They had young girls on the show they called “cutters”, they used razors to cut their skins to make themselves feel better, to control one part of their lives and to release their sadness and pain, when they felt the rest of their world was out of control. When they spoke I saw myself in them, the years of rationalizing the pain and lying about the scares all of a sudden the cuts hurt. The pain from years of cuts fell from my body, as I laid on my bed and cried for the first time in three years. I had a name for my strange illness from a far off land, I’m not crazy, my friends can’t catch it, and I’m not alone.
I always felt as if I never controlled my own life, not that I was one of those kids crying saying my parents won’t let me go out, but maybe a higher power held my life captive, throwing me into uncontrollable fits of sadness, loneliness, and isolation. I searched for years looking for the cure for my secret illness, rubber band snapping, scab picking, and crying. Giving me control, even only for that moment, I decided how hard to snap, how long to let it bleed, and where my tears would fall. I needed to always be happy, smiling and joking, or suffer the agony of the questions. “What’s wrong with you?”, “You ok?”, yet thoughtful sentiments pulled at my deepest fears, that one day I would mistakenly answer truthfully, instead of my usual “Oh I’m just tired”. Showing the “real me” to the world and if I didn’t really want to be around the “real me” then what would make them want to stay? I thought maybe my act would protect all involved saving me from the embarrassment of showing the world how scared and insecure I truly was and letting me carry the weight of my pain solely on my shoulders, sparing the ones I loved from the agony I experienced in my mind.
“Where did that come from?” my mother asks me as she searches my skin with her eyes to find any sigh of redness. Wanting an explanation I watch her hands slowly clench and her teeth grind, tears building in her eyes in anticipation, as I look down and softly explain that it was a scratch from the dog. One after another I sit and explain the inner workings of my world with cutting, as my friends and family stare back at me, their eyes blank and mouths open. I answer questions like didn’t it hurt and fend off the normal criticism like its stupid to hurt yourself. Instead of the time practicing make believe stories about how I received a certain cut, I now spend that time rehearsing my speech, I started when I was 15…you don’t do it to hurt yourself, you do it to release stress and sadness and gain control over a world that you feel is out of control. Hurting the people I cared about stung more than the blade ever did. The looks from family and friends are slowly turning from fear and sadness over the truth to inquisitive looks, wanting to know more. I know still when I say it was just a scratch from the dog the, “Oh ok” and glances towards each other question its true origin. Even though the stings from those glances hurt worse than the blades on my skin, I can’t promise given the change I would take the cutting back.
I tried many times to throw my pink handled scissors away but as I watch them lay in the bottom of the trash-can with the rest of the things that didn’t have any meaning, I realized they didn’t belong there. I could see the past years laying in the trash and all the things I have learned thrown away for good. As my skin thickened with red scares my mind grew thicker, able to live and control my life without the need to abuse my body and my mind.
© Nicole Kafka