Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Cutting


Does the service station attendant wonder, in the long hours he must have available for wondering, why that guy needed to buy a packet of razors at 10.30 at night? It’s gotta be suspicious, right? Is there such a thing as a late-night shaving emergency? Do these things cross his mind? Does he suspect the worst? Was there anything in the customer’s demeanour that might have tipped him off? I never really know how I come across to people – when I’m buying the razors I feel pale, wild-eyed, shivery: I feel like everyone within a three-mile radius must be able to see me shaking, vibrating, jittering with fear and loathing and bent almost double from the ceaseless gut-punches of panic and sadness that pound me even as I pass the razors across the counter.

But nobody sees that. I’m not pale, I’m not shaking, I’m just a guy in a service station and I doubt the attendant gives me a second glance as he swipes the packet and takes my money and says his robotic farewell. Does he even know what I bought? That’s doubtful in itself. He’s seen a million people buy a million things, and he’s probably conditioned to pay no mind to the details. If he didn’t notice which porno mag the man before me bought, why would he notice the razors I’m buying now? And why would he devote even a second of his life to caring about why I bought them?

And so I’m back in my car, sitting across the road from the servo, feeling a bit stupid. I don’t know how you’re supposed to do this. Are you even supposed to use disposable razors? I should have a knife. I have a knife at home – for work – I should make sure I have that with me next time. Yeah, definitely – because this is the kind of thing you really plan in advance, isn’t it? Idiot. I don’t know how to do this. Disposable razors feel wrong, but what else am I going to use? Service stations don’t sell straight razors. They don’t sell kitchen knives. I could have bought a newspaper and tried to give myself a papercut: but I feel like that’d be even wronger.

I rip open the packet and take out a razor, and I almost feel like laughing it’s so stupid. What am I doing? What’s the point of this?

Later on, more than one person will ask me why: why did I cut myself? What did I get out of it? What was the point, what was the purpose? And I’ll stitch together an answer, from what I remember, from what I think I was feeling, from what I’ve heard other people say about it, from what I feel like I should be saying. It was because I just want to feel something. It was because physical pain helped block out the emotional pain. It was because drawing blood felt like a release of the pressure. It was because I thought people would understand better if there was a tangible wound to show them. It was because I’d heard that’s what depressed people do, so I thought I’d go along with the crowd.

All of these explanations are absolutely true, and not true at all. Afterwards, when the fog had cleared and I was actually thinking, actually using my brain the way I knew how to and the way it’s supposed to be used, I could really only give an approximation of the reason why I did what I did. It was like trying to reconstruct a dinosaur from a thighbone and a tooth – I can do it, but I’ll never be sure if what I’ve built is really what was there at the time. And my memory of what I was feeling at the time aren’t exactly clear, because nothing was exactly clear. The closest I can come to a concise summation of the driving force at that moment is: I just need to find a way to make someone care.

And there I am sitting in my car, and the radio is on but I don’t know what it’s saying, and I’m thinking nobody cares and I’m thinking I’ve got to make someone care. And this will, right? Everyone’s got to care about blood. Everyone cares about wounds. This’ll be an injury, it’ll be real, and it’ll be a clear, obvious, blaring, broadcast-quality signal that this dude is seriously fucked-up. I just have to convince people of that, and then everything will be…

Everything will be…

I don’t know what everything will be. OK? Better? I guess so. It has to be better. How could it not be? So come on, let’s do this.

I don’t know how to do this. How do I do this? Disposable razors are not actually made to cut – that’s kind of the point. I guess I just sort of...slash.

I roll up my sleeve like I’m about to take my blood pressure. In a way I am – HA! I take the razor and I push it down onto my skin, and draw it, fast, across my arm. It kind of stings, and leaves a stark white line on my arm. I don’t see any cut though. I try again, pushing down harder. And again. And again. I can’t see any blood – it’s not working. Goddammit, it’s not working, and I’m angry, because I’m doing it wrong, and I start slashing. I whip the razor back and forth, criss-crossing my arm, hacking in like my arm’s said something rude about my mother, and it’s not fucking working I can’t –

And then.

The blood. It starts to well. The white line of my first cut turns red, and the blood oozes lazily out of it. Then the second, and the third. And suddenly the whole untidy mess of slashes is a thick welter of red, trickling across my skin, congealing and turning the hairs sticky. The sting of the cuts intensifies – they burn, and my arm starts to itch. I scratch, and smear the blood across, blurring the wounds into each other.

And as I stare at the pain angrily dripping out of my arm, I suck in air, hard, through my nose, and all of a sudden I’m less pale, and I’m not shaking, and I blink away my tears and I can see the dark shiny night in front of me. The muscles of my face are twitching, and I’m sure this is my last night on earth, but I’ve taken some decisive action.

I’m bleeding, and that’s better than nothing.


Suz said...

Oh Ben. I care. And I think you are amazing. I don't know what else to say.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why we do it either.
I have about 40 keloid scars on my thighs from eight years ago, in my teens. I wanted attention but never told anyone about it because I was embarrassed to need attention.

I hope you are doing okay. It's really good you are talking about this. Cutting is so common but hushed up or dismissed as a cry for help, not recognising the seriousness of actually crying for help.

Thank you, Ben. Insightful as always.

Jess said...

You are so incredibly articulate about an issue that is so hard to define.

Thank you for having to courage to write this, you are undoubtedly helping others with your writing.

LiteraryMinded said...

'All of these explanations are absolutely true, and not true at all.' I've never written about my history of self harm because I find it so hard. Bic razors, a blunt stanley knife... matches and candles. I just want to thank you for writing about it and expressing something I can't. That many of us can't. You're not alone. And we do care. I'll never forget the times I tried to reveal 'the urge' to someone and they didn't understand (maybe that's why I still can't seem to write about it). Those are some of the hardest moments, right? I haven't had 'the urge' (I don't know what else to call it; blue, seductive, surprising) for a while but I think it'll always be there. Sometimes reading books or watching movies where people cut helps (a kind of recognition and a replacement in the imagination of the real thing--a delay at least). I recommend Victoria Leatham's 'Bloodletting', Susanna Keysen's memoirs (yes, the one Girl, Interrupted is based on) + (this is hard for me to admit) a certain scene in The Royal Tenenbaums. I also remember a scene in this (probably crap) Sandra Bullock movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0191754/. And there's some good stuff on YouTube. Thank you again, Ben. x

Unknown said...

Compelled I lit a candle, somehow hoping that would help. My thoughts are with you good Sir.

Harley Warren said...

Wonderfully written. A subject matter that I don't know a great deal about but I can certainly understand the need, for who hasn't at times felt like inflicting a little pain on themselves? Punishment, feeling, or the calming clear mindedness that it can bring. Thank you for sharing.

Jo said...

You articulate the inarticulable again. Magnificent.

Chris said...

Ben, it broke my heart, and it was true, and it breaks my heart because it's true, because it's terrible, and it is so unbearably lonely.
I do not know whom it is I am caring for, but I want you to take the little I have to offer.
It is probably not enough, to know a stranger cares, but I have hope you find joy in your sisters, who love.
Please, keep breaking my heart so that I may continuously pray yours is whole.
Please, please be whole and happy.

Shell said...

>>>HUGS<<< I'm past all the bad stuff now, but wow this is close to home. I never ended up cutting myself, because I hate physical pain, though I wanted to badly and played with razors a few times. Several times i bashed my head against a wall, just to get my ex to realise my pain. It seems so inexplicable when you feel like that, that you can walk down a street and feel as if your face must express your complete anguish, despair, lack of will to live, deep blackness, just complete and utter never-ending emotional pain... and yet why doesn't anyone see it in your eyes? How could they not?! Why does no-one rescue you or at least come and hold you?? I'm glad I've survived and found a much better place. Hope you're ok too Ben.

Jeremy said...

Oh, Ben. Thinking of you. You are awesome and I wish you weren't going through such horrible things. All my best.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read this, because I still can't read writing about this, even though I haven't cut for a few years, it's better off staying out of my head even on a sunny day like today. But it can be hard to write about, but so very important for the person doing the writing - and for the people who feel like they're all alone out there struggling with this. Well done on writing it, on hitting publish, and on surviving that day, and all those other days.

Anonymous said...

I had to try so hard not to laugh out loud Ben.

. It kind of stings, and leaves a stark white line on my arm. I don’t see any cut though. I try again, pushing down harder. And again. And again. I can’t see any blood – it’s not working. Goddammit, it’s not working, and I’m angry, because I’m doing it wrong, and I start slashing. I whip the razor back and forth, criss-crossing my arm, hacking in like my arm’s said something rude about my mother, and it’s not fucking working I can’t –

And then.

That's me all over. Except with a pair of paper scissors.

Thank you for being open enough to talk about it.