Trigger warning: self-injury
…I picked up a needle when mom went out. I ran it across my thigh. I did it again and again until it broke the skin and bled. I didn’t mean it to. I’d scratched before. But I bled. I cut myself. And it felt good. It still burns. It’s like the pain is surfacing. I almost feel better. I just can’t keep denying it. I could get addicted so easily to this. Yet I don’t regret it.
Why don’t I regret it?
“Susan, I want to talk to you.” It was mom’s voice, and she was that way again—cold, distant, and disappointed.
“Uhm, sure,” I left my room and slowly followed her down the hall. It was almost midnight, and we were the only two up still.
What’s it going to be about this time? I never showed fear. I never showed any emotions around my mom, because she didn’t deserve to see what her words would do to me, to feel triumphant at my heart’s breakage. Of course, our cold spirits battled each other whenever she chose to fight, but my resilience always protected me from the sharpness of her words as long as it took for her to angrily send me away.
When I turned the corner into the living room, I saw mom already sitting down on the couch. I didn’t join her. “Yes?”
“Take your pants off.”
I was in red, loose-fitting Christmas pajama pants, and as soon as she said it—even though she’d never asked me to take my pants off before except for when I was spanked as a child—I rationalized why she was asking me to do it.
She thinks I’m anorexic and wants to look at the size of my thighs. There had been a lot of freak-out about whether I had an eating-disorder from my parents lately. I didn’t understand why. I wasn’t anorexic, and my mom’s body-type was exactly the same as mine.
Looking back, I think—in the moment—I was drawing from a memory of a similar situation where mom had called me out to the living room and demanded to know whether I bulimic. I had spent 10 minutes in a restaurant bathroom the night before and mom was worried I was throwing up dinner in a toilet. I had told her that was ridiculous—it was—and that I’d actually been dancing around the empty bathroom because it was clean and shiny and I was in a good mood; and that had been that. Mom calmed down and we were cool. A few months later, I figured it had just come up again for some reason.
So, unfazed, I pulled my pants down to my ankles and stood there in my panties, confident that I was innocent.
What I had forgotten were the cuts crisscrossing on my right thigh.
The ones I’d made a week before that surprised me every time I pulled down my pants and sat at the toilet. The ones that ached like a bruise when I crossed my left thigh over them; the one’s that itched as they healed, and begged me to reopen them as the scabs began to develop. The ones I stared at in disbelieve and horror and wonder, and counted and traced and memorized. The ones marching in little red lines across my leg above the set I’d made just two months earlier.
My mom’s eyes locked on them, but she insisted I turn around too, no doubt to make sure there were no more. There weren’t—just the thirty-nine in the four square-inches above my kneecap.
The moment I’d looked down at my pale legs to see the misplaced scars shining pink and red in the dimmed light, I knew I was screwed. Coldness overtook me like a disease.
“What are those?” Mom pointed at the scars, and while humiliation felt like it had replaced every drop of blood in my body, I kept my cold, stiff composure and told her what she already knew.
She nodded like she’d known it all along, like this was just great, now her daughter was one of those Emo girls who wore dark eye-liner and who painted her fingernails black.
“From what?” She wanted me to say it out loud.
She rolled her eyes and I knew she was about to blow up. “Why?” she demanded. “So you can be like your friends?”
“No,” I knew it was useless to talk about it. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. I am not doing it anymore.”
Looking more devastated now, she asked, “How long have you been doing it?”
“Since November, mom, but not anymore. I stopped.”
“How many times?”
“Just twice.” I looked down at the pants bunched around my ankles and back at mom. “Can I put my pants back on now?”
She nodded her consent, so I did. I hadn’t felt violated so much physically as I did privately. Girls dress before each other all the time. I didn’t care about my mom seeing my average-looking legs. But I cared that she’d seen my scars. I cared that she forced me to give up the privacy of my pain and show her what I’d done to myself.
I remember contemplating recklessly in my mind how the hell she’d found out.
Since the weather had demanded that I start wearing jeans long before I’d made a scratch, the scars hadn’t seen the light of day, so she couldn’t have seen them. There were only two obvious options.
- Someone had told her, or
- She’d found the diary entry where I wrote about it.
I still believe to this day that she violated my privacy by reading my diary, because everyone who knew I’d cut had been sworn to secrecy, and confirmed later they hadn’t said a word.
Besides, this wasn’t the first time she’d violated my privacy. For years she’d been going through my garbage can and looking through my files for poems or notes or drawings she didn’t like. Whenever she found something, she left it on my desk “for us to discuss later.” Mom had always told me that “children don’t need privacy from their parents. There shouldn’t be anything to hide.”
I’d never quite agreed with her on that. As people who are no less human than any adult, children need privacy too; they need to know their thoughts and feelings are safe from judgment and correction. Especially once you’re seventeen years old. I might’ve been my parents “child”, but legally I was nearly an adult. I needed privacy in the rest of my life as much as I needed it in the bathroom. Why is it that physical privacy seems to be considered much more vital than emotional privacy? I think emotional privacy is just as important.
Now, at the age of seventeen, I was finally getting clues that something here was not right with my family. From that point on, I never let anyone know things about me without first getting my consent. I shredded every piece of paper I threw away. I not only stopped writing in my diary, but I hid it in the back of my closet. I didn’t write personal information down anymore, and the important papers I had at the time I hid or threw away.
Suddenly, I became masterful at keeping secrets.
To be continued.