It’s the middle of summer, middle of the day, on an open dirt road in the middle of nowhere no one cares about and I have a brand new razor blade in my hand. It’s a week before Thanksgiving and there is a circular room with many doors, doors opened according to the behavior of the patient within. Shut if the room is vacant, cracked if the inhabitant is docile, wide open if the inhabitant is disruptive or dangerous.
My arms crave the metal the most. Within that month, I did it four more times in that exact same spot, keeping the wound fresh, discouraging the scab that yearned to close me up and protect me. But scars on my arms get in the way. Once, I cut so deep the blood gushed from me like a fountain. It jet forth from my veins like breast milk, hot and natural and sustaining. It soaked into the earth, cradling the seeds that had been sewn. I mothered a forest that day. Whole rows of pines and a grove of mulberries. It’s like punching a hole in a garden hose and turning the water on. A jet of black crimson squirts from the cut. I shake my arm up and down at the shoulder, and more leaks from me. I put my blade back in, make one more slice. Like an underground spring, the water knocking loose and bubbling up from deep within the ground, pure and fresh and new. I again move my arm and discover I can manipulate the stream, shooting it up in an arch to strike the dusty road. The heat turns my blood red, but the stream is black. I’m sitting with my right arm out straight, giving blood - maybe there will be a sticker and a can of soda at the end - elbow in my left hand, propped up on my knee, watching the black stream, occasionally pumping my shoulder to increase the flow.
I am running uphill. This is not a metaphor. I am willingly running up this hill and halfway to the top, I cannot see through the full body pain. But my legs remember forward. Focus on the gravel just beyond the toes of my shoes. It all looks the same, looks like I’m getting nowhere, when suddenly, I am at the top. This is not a metaphor.
I can’t write about the hospital anymore, but I can dream about it. I hated running. I hated the anxiety attack pressure on my chest before each race. I hated the tunnel of screaming coaches and parents and fans, flanking both sides of the path. I hated the acid burning in my muscles as I pushed pushed pushed to pass her then her then her. I was never good enough. There was always someone to catch. I could have beaten her. As I lay there, my cheek sweating onto the fake grass of the golf course where the race was held, I could still hear her labored heaving as she puffed through a side-stitch, the pounding of her footfalls, perfectly offbeat with mine.
There is always hydrogen peroxide, always a locked door, sometimes music. If the silence is deep enough, I can hear the sound of my flesh dividing. I can hear it sigh. It was the only time I had not finished a race. I had been running cross-country for four years, two years at a varsity level. This race was the second in my fifth year and my body was choosing now to shut down. The year before, I had hit my ‘stride’. I knew every inch of my body, every muscle, tendon, vein, weird skin tag. I knew how to focus on my breathing to relieve the tightening side-stitches just underneath my rib cage, felt like an inexperienced nurse was inserting a dirty needle over and over again – “yesterday I was doing this on a grapefruit” – twisting and pushing in search of the vein she’d missed the first dozen times. There is a nurse standing over me and all I can see are the undersides of her fleshy breasts. They jiggle beneath the unflattering shape of her scrub uniform – pastel daisies - as she asks me why I started harming myself. Lavender and salmon and rose colored daisies falling, her hefty bosom baring down on me, rumbling violently, “Think! You’re suppressing what really happened. Now, think! Who touched you? Did someone touch you? You can tell me if someone touched you.”
I didn’t notice I was bleeding just that I had ran my best time yet. But I was bleeding. And as I fell to the grass to remove my running spikes, a few drops of red splattered onto my legs. Then the pain. My left shoe full of blood, tipping it over and striking the heel with the palm of my hand; more blood. My sock sticking to the large blister covering the entire area of my arch. I wondered how sick I was as I marveled at the amount of blood and I didn’t want to clean it up. But I had been draining my body of its life fluids for months now. I wasn’t eating like I should. And I was running at least six miles every day. My body said enough and I could not push it any further. It insisted on collapsing on the side of the path with less than a half-mile to go, being passed by the girl who had been on my heels since the first half mile.
First, it’s getting passed that obnoxious epidermis, obnoxious because none of its five layers contain blood vessels and therefore no blood can be drawn. I can get to the dermis in the second or third swipe, depending on the sharpness of the instrument. That day, it was the second. The uppermost layer of the dermis, the papillary region, is basically pesky connective tissue, which like the gristle of a steak, just gets in the way. I’m tired of writing about the cutting. I’m tired of describing the sharpness of the knife biting my skin [and how I must always use ‘biting’], It’s the fourth cut and I’m onto the second dermis layer, the meat of the skin. As the blade begins to devastate this region, it severs sweat and sebaceous glands, hair roots, and most importantly, blood vessels. I begin to bleed. I’m tired of envisioning the blood [and how it is always ‘crimson’], And by cut six, I’ve hit the nerve receptors. My body is thrown into a panic at the opening of the skin, the loss of blood, the agitating of the receptors. It screams at my brain to beg my hands to stop. But they won’t and it’s cut seven and I’ve reached the hypodermis, the layer just before muscle.
I know the cut is deeper than normal, the bottom half of the blade disappears as I press it into the incision, deeper and deeper…. I begin to worry, but continue to cut. I can tell the razor is cutting a layer I have never before felt. It’s thinner, it moves. When I press, that large blue vein running down my bicep jumps slightly. …how I used to run my fingers through it, smearing it all over like a healing lotion. I poke at it a few more times, pressing the tip into the wound full of blood. It’s splashing over the sides like waves breaking the deck of a ship. When I cut, I go much slower, slicing laterally. There is a popping rip as the blade breaks the thin connective tissue and smooth muscle protecting the vein. I pull back, removing the blade completely from the wound.
It is that their eyes are ever roaming. The way they linger on the flaking purple of a fetus scar. Less openings, less eye candy. I am a turtle, returning to the same place to give birth.
I knew to save that last little burst for the final 800 meters. That pocket of adrenaline building since my foot behind the starting line, accreting in my chest these particles of dust and gases and loose rocks, the materials used to make new worlds, spinning faster and faster till I’ve conceived Venus, then let it loose. And when I let loose, it was like opening my skin. My arms crave the metal the most.
There are gnarled scars cutting up and down brown arms from glass liquor bottles, lamps, drunken father fists, abusive boyfriend knuckles.
I knew that to keep myself going past that midway point in a race when every muscle was telling my body to ease up, to quit, to collapse, I knew to focus on the motion of my hips. The delicate cradle pumping my heavy legs back and forth as my feet, now numb and moving strictly on instinct, picked over uneven grass and gravel. I could imagine the muscles stretching, reaching further and further out with every step, opening my pelvis like dancing, like sex, when going down hills, picking up speed, propelling forward. My hips widening like birth, birthing a new found energy. Under dirty tee shirts Native girls hide three-month lumps from dad’s best friend rape. And scars from earnest knives digging to find that bastard child growing. She is razor blade thin from the coke and she is pregnant with her second child. She is starving her bastard baby. They think it’s something mental, anorexia. They don’t realize it’s less painful than the knives. I offer to push her down the stairs. She looks at me, eyes full of tears, “Could you?”
There is an unrivaled strength at the end of the six miles.
In a feverous attempt to strengthen my body, I instead made it weaker. How far can I go?
Shirt soaked through, inner thighs chaffed from the sweat and the wind, throat dry and spitting dust, this layer of crust coating lips, leg muscles unsteady and loose, ready to give way but you don’t as you walk it out, hands above your head. There is the popping and fizzing of alcohol working its way inside new wounds. It turns frothy on the blade, like a head of beer. The burn of peroxide is just as real as my even-keel breathing.
Find the bones. [I can hear them whisper to me. They beg to be free.] To, like a moth, chew away a hole in my sweater of skin, tastes like wool and tendons, and knock on the white of a rib. I’d wrap two fingers around it and stroke the itching in my bones. Their undying desire to arise, to surface, to breathe this air the blood rumors about. A magic that turns black to red. There is a boy who does not know his real father, who cuts himself to numb the pain of mom’s boyfriend beatings, who smuggles plastic utensils from meals and sharpens them in his room, who cuts himself right on the wrists to be found out. He wants to be found out. He gets more freedom in a place where he isn’t allowed to wear shoes than he does at home.
I’ve had it in my mind long before I took up this blade. It’s been wrapped around my bones all day.
He will do anything to stay and I look at the cut on my forearm the nurses told me should have had stitches and hate myself even more.
I had to learn to stop fighting against my body, to instead find a unity with my skin and blood and bones. But not then.
I have this undying desire to see my hipbone. I take up the sharpest kitchen knife I can find in the drawer. Touching each metal tip to my index finger. The blade smiles at me as it glides the length of my finger. Not that one. Not that one. This one.
I was worried as I watched the puddle fill to a lake, worried as my head became light, wondering if my mind was making up the black dots behind my eyes. I did not stop it. And it flowed for about fifteen minutes when finally the blood pooling in my wound began to clot.
My uniform showed every fresh cut. The other girls began to notice. They didn’t say anything, but they stared. It scared them. So I moved to my hip and stomach during season.
With one swipe of the blade pressed against the skin pulled taunt over my hipbone. Lift the blade, and then again. And again. Until I’ve dug a trench and it begins to fill. Soon, it will bubble over, making a river down my thigh. It will reach ground. Once, I saw my soul in these crimson puddles. She was screaming. Like my flesh. And yet, I was more surprised to find her a ‘she’.
When does one’s habits become them?
It’s killing me. We have to cut it out.
The vein in my right bicep screams for it.
I carry these two steaks, between my shoulders and hands, for this purpose only. They were made for cutting, soft flesh like ice cream, like butter, like cow meat, tender and rare, still bleeding.
I’ve learned that I am not the knife, the knife is not me.
I’m still bleeding. I’m always bleeding
The depression is not me, I am not the depression.
Always imagining the black path my life with take, sliding over soft butter flesh.
If you give it a name, if you give it status, if you let it run wild like a dog off his leash, he will defecate all over your front lawn, he will bite small children, he will do what he was made to do; to destroy.
It told me to walk to the Ace on the corner.
I have learned you can train him, if you get one of those chain collars. You can teach him heel, teach him stop, teach him stay, and he will listen. But one night, he will remember he is wild, he will hear the howl of a coyote, he will dig a hole under your fence, and he will run and he will keep running and he won’t come back.
The click of the switch being flipped in my brain. Now the coarse is set. There is no turning back once I exchange three dollars for five new blades.
The loyal friend who once sat docile with lolling tongue, stretched out at your feet, now hunting down cattle and barn cats.
Then, it was a game to push my body to extremes, running and lifting and cutting to increase the stream’s strength, to stretch it’s reach, to lengthen the amount of time it flowed. I also started getting colder faster, eating less, and tired sooner.
There is me crying softly into a pillow I wonder how many girls before me have dampened the thing case in this same way. I wonder if they cried softly too so the others wouldn’t hear, call them a weak white bitch in the morning. And were they crying because they knew their life would never get to the point where they would throw chairs just to stay in that place for a few more days? Crying because they knew they’ll never stop bleeding? They won’t stop because it’s the only thing they can do right. They won’t stop because it is the only time they feel their strength.
That’s not a part of me anymore because I won’t let it be. But it is because I still do it. I do it because it makes me feel strong. The first time I ever cut to the vein was more euphoric than any drug high. It was my right cephalic vein, the vein that runs down your bicep. I was a runner. I was lean and muscular and my veins like boiled broccoli had risen to the surface of my skin.
I don’t need water yet, just this.