The reality of what I have done only presented itself in my unreality.
How awful I am, to not have thought about the children once, when I was so busy hating myself that I forgot how much I love them. I only think in moments, in minutes, because I have no future, no promise of life beyond the next hour. “Tomorrow” isn’t guaranteed for me, tomorrow isn’t even welcome. But these two beautiful little souls who have magically come to be related to me, who I am so privileged to know, they are full of promise and dreams and laughter. They have a million tomorrows between them. Just because I don’t have a future, how dare I risk ruining theirs?
But still, as I hacked away at my arm, hack hack hack, until I could no longer see for the blood in my eyes painted my world red, I did not think about my gorgeous little munchkins even for a second. So obsessed with myself was I that I didn’t even notice the spatter on my favourite framed photo of my nephew and I in our football shirts, all smiles and sweetness and fun and love. Their paintings tacked to the fridge-freezer, the stray piece of jigsaw puzzle, the almost-empty pot of bubbles, the stickers they put on my notebook, their favourite cereal in the cupboard: none of this stopped me from destroying myself, none of this told me that by hurting myself I was also hurting them, hurting their current and future well-being. But somebody as bad as me would argue that their future would look a lot prettier if I wasn’t part of it. After all, what kid would want their crazy auntie waiting for them at the school gates?
They’re getting smarter by the day. One day they won’t believe my story that a cat with super-sharp claws attacked my arm. Unless you’ve experienced destructive impulses as ferocious and impossible to fight as these, it is hard to understand why or how, in the moment, you simply cannot think of anything or anyone other than the task at hand. The urge to self-destruct seems logical, sensible, the only way, the only thing. It’s blinkered and brilliant and terrifying and essential. It won’t stop growling until you’ve fed it. Then it’ll curl up beside you and, out of sheer relief, you’ll drift off into a satisfied sleep, knowing that you’ll feel worse later but for now, you’re safe and that is the best you’ve felt in a while.
Of course, my guilt has to manifest itself somehow, somewhere. Where better than in my safe, relieved, drug-addled sleep? If my conscious mind is too broken to process something, it’ll turn up in one of the more latent layers, somewhere where it cannot be ignored or watered down or argued against. My dreams, my nightmares, my thoughts that only make themselves known when the rest of the city is asleep or dead-drunk.
She had bought a packet of temporary tattoos, you know, the ones you stick on your skin and dampen with a wet cloth and then slowly peel off to reveal the image stuck on your skin, the kind that pisses parents and teachers off because they stay for about 2 weeks, gradually wearing away to a non-descript grey splodge that takes more effort to scrub off than it should. Anyway, she likes my real tattoos and loves having fake ones because they look cool and she can show them off to her friends. She asks me which one I want. I say, for reasons unbeknownst to me, that I’ll have the blue and gold pineapple tattoo and she can put it anywhere on me apart from my face. She is delighted and sticks the pineapple tattoo upside-down on top of my foot.
She asks if I can help her to put this big sparkly mermaid tattoo on her because “it’s a bit tricky.” She says she wants it on her arm and rolls up her little sleeves. Her skinny, tanned arm is covered in dark red welts.
“What on earth is that?” I shriek, holding back on the profanity.
“What?” she says, all cute.
“That. Your arm. What are those marks? How did you get them?”
“They’re just like yours, auntie!” she says, smiling through her wobbly teeth.
“No. Tell me. Now. What happened? Who did this to you?”
“I did it to me! So I can be like you!”
“Oh my God.”
“Don’t you like it? My arm looks like yours now! We’re twins!”
“No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be happening. Was it one of your dogs, did they scratch you? Or was it someone at school? Are you being bullying?! Oh my God.”
“No, auntie, I did it to me! So I can be like you! It hurt at the start and I did cry a little bit but I was really brave and now it doesn’t even hurt at all, look! Just like you!”
“No. No, this can’t have happened.”
“Don’t cry, it doesn’t hurt really.”
“Are you sad? Tell me, are you sad?”
“No I’m not sad like you, auntie, I just wanted to be a grown-up like you so I can have my nails painted and have tattoos and have a boyfriend and drink wine and have my own big bed and eat pizza for breakfast and ice-cream for dinner and write stories all day and get my ears pierced! But I won’t be sad, I promise, I’ll be really, really happy if I can be a grown-up.”
“NO. No. No. Please baby, we have to make these cuts go away, I’m going to fix it, I promise, I’ll take you somewhere and they can make your arm back to normal, okay? You can’t be ruined, not now, not yet, not ever. I’m going to fix it, okay, I promise, baby, I promise.”
“Why don’t you get fixed then?”
“Because I can’t.”
“But why not?”
“Just because, baby.”
“Then I can’t be fixed either,” she says defiantly, peeling off the mermaid and sticking it wonkily over her cuts.
And I woke up crying like a foetus that wasn’t ready to be born. My arm was stuck to the pillow, all yellow and red and bits of skin hanging off and chunks of skin totally missing. The knife was tucked in between my thighs and my stomach. Ripping my arm off the pillow cover was agonising. I always forget how the Afterwards hurts a million times more than the Doing. I screamed as they separated. Then came the blood. But first, the guilt. What have I done? What am I doing to the kids? I grabbed my stitch kit and my self-harm teatowel, the one that’s every shade of blood and none of the original green. I do my own stitches (I would never go to hospital for self-inflicted wounds, that’s just not how I roll). As I began the operation to fix myself I thought about the bambinos. I wondered if they’re frightened of me. Kids are more perceptive to human emotions than adults are. Kids see things that adults miss. Do they look at me and see that I’m sick? Do my scars scare them? Do they know that I’m not like every other adult they’ve encountered in their little lives? Do they know about me? I think that they might know me. I fear that they might just know me.
I vow that I’ll never cut again. But it’s always the last time. This is the last time, I swear. It’s always the last time. Last cut, last drink, last line, last pill, last shot, last smoke, last one-night stand, last overdose, last relapse, last admission, last resort. And though I love those kids more than anything in the world, when my nurse friend comes over to drop off some more skin closure strips she asks me for the knife, saying she’ll look after it, keep it somewhere safe because she knows it’s my special knife, a fat fuck-off hunting knife that weighs a ton and belonged to my dad, and I said, “No need, my brother’s already confiscated it off me,” and she squeezed my shoulder and said, “Good. That’s one step closer to getting better, pet,” and she beamed at me, instilling more guilt in me because I know the knife is still at the back of the kitchen drawer, wrapped in the teatowel, wrapped in a plastic bag, ready for next time.
Because even though I love them, I love them more than life itself. Which isn’t difficult because I don’t love life even a fraction. I don’t want life. So it’s easy for me to give it up in the hopes that they’ll have a better one, a real one, a proper one. I don’t care about life. That’s why I do it. I care about them. That’s why I hate myself even more for doing it. And that’s why I’m a terrible person. I hate myself more than I love them. That is how fucked up this sickness is – there’s no cure and only one way out. I can’t have them become the collateral damage of my demise.