A sundress, a tank top....throwing sunscreen on my shoulders before I run out the door...that's when I see the scars. The thin raised lines left by a razorblade or exacto knife, they're mostly on my left shoulder. Sometimes, on waking, I mistake one of the lines on my forearm for a crease left by a folded sheet. The sudden shock that it's a permanent mark I've given myself makes my stomach turn, no matter how many times it happens.
Is it possible to explain? The remnants of some of the very worst days are etched on my body. I'm not sure which bit of the latticework belongs to the day S. died...even though I didn't know at the time, it's there, written in my skin.
It's funny. The handful of people who happen onto this bit of knowledge shudder in horror and quote Bible verses. Or shrug, depending on where they've come from. It's an almost commonplace reality for some of of my generation. What drives this? The answers aren't the same for everyone. Perhaps because of a lack of appropriate outlets to express pain...perhaps that physical pain is an endurable transmutation of emotional anguish. A fascination with pain, wounds, broken things...it can be about control, or just numbness and the need for a reminder that there is blood, that one actually is alive,a disconnection between one's self and one's body. On top of whatever else- the sight of blood provides an endorphin rush that reinforces behavior. The reasons for the scars are as diverse as the people who carry them...and the stories and explanations are bumbling and awkward, because if words had been enough, blades wouldn't have been necessary.
In contrast, there are no bounds to the creativity and articulation for cover stories- the attack of the spiral notebook,the boyfriend's cat,an unfortunate incident with car keys, tripping and falling in a gravel driveway. It's somehow strange that we daily live surrounded by so many objects with the potential for ripping through our skin. It's somehow amazing that people only see what they want to see and are capable of understanding...and deliberate self-destruction is not part of the world of the majority.
And yet for this minority...it is a very real part of life. Contrary to popular belief- we're not just angsty teenagers, much as the behavior has been glamorized by the "goth" crowd. It's yet another thing I have in common with an especially dear friend-sister - yes, in addition to being bright,capable, diligent graduate students in education-related fields. For us - and I can only speak for us, because this is so individual- this isn't a "battle" "struggle" or whatever Christianese term you want to throw into the ring. It's a reality, at times frightening, closer than we realize and further away than we fear. It's the more extreme version of a stiff drink (or two or three) when the world is insane.
Our eyes are open to the scars of others, and we know when you've seen our wounds, open or healed, even if you don't notice. We keep them well hidden, most of the time. If you know...well, either we're drilling ourselves on the importance of honesty and openness, or we trust you. And your reaction is important.
There was the time when she was in high school. One of her friends had fallen madly for a young woman who avoided her emotions, taking refuge in humor and achievement. My friend-sister was conversing with him about the situation, and explained "It's like how I deal with my emotions. Only her way is better." He looked at my friend and said "No. Your way [cutting] is better." Within a few hours she was on the phone with me, expressing righteous anger and betrayal.
A few years later....I was running late for a church thing, and threw on a shirt with sleeves slightly shorter than I'd realized. En route a family member asked what happened, and my immediate response was that I had gotten attacked by a twig when mowing the lawn around a tree in the back yard (the tree was of a height that this was feasible, and I am rather clumsy,and quite often attacked by inanimate objects so no further questions were asked). A bit later that night, my then-boyfriend asked about the scratch...then said "oh, yeah, I heard you say what happened, never mind." At the time, I was either considering or planning to marry this guy, so for the sake of transparency, I gave him the true story. Followed by a bumbling expression of regret, to the effect of "I don't get this, and I know it's not the best way to respond and..." Well, the look of shock and disgust on his face wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. And the "Do you hear me judging you? I'm not saying anything" response was nothing short of moronic.
Is there a point to this post? I'm not sure there is a point, beyond pointing out that self-harm is a real, complex issue, not easily solved or explained. Some things don't go away regardless of how much we want them to. When you notice the fairly fresh patterned etchings on the wrists of your waitress, be kind and tip well. And if you're noticing/wondering about scratches or scars on a friend....she's probably already freaked out over the possibility that you may have seen them and what to tell you-give her an opportunity to not have to lie.