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Another day. Another class. Another teacher explaining a point with excruciating slowness. The others frown, brows wrinkled, erasers scrubbing. Why don’t they get it? It’s so clear. Why is it so hard for them and not for me?
I shut down, go on autopilot like I do most of the time. I used to drift off into far-fetched worlds, incredible fantasies. Now I just sink into the buffer of nothing that separates me from them.
Finally, a challenge. And possibly, an equal. This club thing I’ve been dragged into – it’s challenging, interesting. Almost fun. And that girl! She was so normal – nothing to me, nothing. Now I really see her, and she is everything. She is rage and joy, all shining fire eyes and brown hair flying as she speaks as rapidly as possible. Slowly, something in me that has been asleep for a long time is stretching, sniffing the air.
I remember now why I let that part of me go nearly comatose. The pain – the pain! I suffer at the smallest things. Every emotion is too much. She smiles at me, I rejoice. She scolds me, I despair. I was wrong – she is not my equal, my match. She is much, much more.
Another day. Another spectrum of feeling, brighter and sharper and different than the day before. Now, though, I have my own antidote. Ironic, how I block feeling by causing myself pain. For a little while it obliterates everything else, and the only things that matter are the cold edge of the knife, the pull of my flesh that is somehow not mine, the delayed burn and the shining red that swells up in a crisscross web. Shining. Her eyes shining. My eyes well up and over, the hot liquid no different to me than that dripping down my fingers.
She’s been looking at me differently. Appraising, interested. Like she’s just noticing. Like it must have been like when I had just noticed her. A little fragile shoot of hope blooms in me, but the new monster I’ve created squashes it, drowns it in a flood of…
She asked me to go ice skating with her and her friends. They’re the kind of people I sort of know, sort of talk to, sort of like. Not close. Am I close to anyone? Not now. Not for a long time.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. Why am I doing this? Because hope springs eternal. The monster in me couldn’t kill it this time, not when I found out the others in our little skating group were two of her friends and their boyfriends. Meaning, she intended me to be there with her. Like, really with her. And even the cold cynic in me is extremely, shallowly pleased by that.
Ok. Ice skating. I can do this.
I haven’t cut myself in weeks, not since she first asked me to come here. Now we’re skating along – space between us, sure, but comfortable. I can do this. I can do this.
S***. I can’t do this.
The blade of my skate runs into a rut, throwing me off balance and onto the hard, cold, unforgiving ice. My arms ache from the old wounds. My ego – what’s left of it – hurts even more. I can’t do this.
She laughs as me. Is she that cruel? She skates back and holds out one black-gloved hand. I don’t understand. She’s helping me up? That five-foot waif? Helping me up? I’ve got to be at least six feet by now. I don’t understand.
Sure enough, pulling me up throws her off, stumbling towards me. I catch her and she catches me when I slip. I let go, not used to such closeness. She smiles at my bemused expression, white teeth glinting in the cold.
Even when I let her go, she kept hold of my hand.
Her breath is sparkling. Her face is flushed. Her hair is windswept. Her eyes are shining.
Where is the pain?
I feel no pain. Only pleasure that seems to spread from the hand that touches hers. It’s like I have never known the urge to destroy myself, one shining drop at a time.
She’s let go of my hand. Why did she do that? I feel empty – but still no pain. Just confusion, maybe because she is grinning broadly at me.
“Let’s see how fast you are,” she trills.
Before I can register what she means, she takes off in a flash, skating like fury. Then I realize I’m supposed to go after her. Still getting used to these strange games….
I start off hesitantly, wary of the tracks made by other skaters. But my need to be near her is too great. I go fast. Soon I fall into a nice rhythm that reminds me of running: push, push, glide; push, push, glide…. I speed up confidently. I know I’m going to pass her, even though her legs push so furiously that chips of ice fly up towards me. I brush her shoulder uncertainly as I come by, not sure what else to do.
She grabs my coat and we shuffle to a stop. She nods approvingly. I feel like I’ve passed some sort of test. Then I notice she’s got both of my hands in hers, and her sweet breath is condensing into moisture on my face – she’s that close.
And I take the initiative, for once. I kiss her.
It’s not like I’ve had a ton of practice, so I don’t try anything fancy. For me, it’s perfect bliss, the farthest thing from my burning nightmare but also somehow connected, like at any moment she could turn on me and cause me greater pain than I’ve ever caused myself. But I’m okay with that. I’m okay.
Her lips are cold, but getting warmer every second. My eyes are already closed, but I can feel her eyelashes fluttering in surprise against my face. Then she twines her fingers more securely in mine, and I can feel her smile.
The kiss brings an onslaught of emotion, but no pain. I am still expecting the pain, and it’s just not there. Like the dark half of the spectrum has vanished, leaving only light.
She is my light, shining terrible and lovely, for weeks. The gap left by the pain is filled with my efforts to remember everything about her: the many tones of her voice, scolding-loving-laughing-impatient; the endless expressions on her face; the infinity that is her eyes shining.
Still I hide my scars under button-down dress shirts or sweatshirts. She never comments on my wardrobe, which must seem odd now that it’s getting warmer. But sometimes she’ll stop her chattering and go silent, watching me curiously.
During one of these moments, I ask, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
She says, “You’re so quiet. I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”
“Right now I’m thinking I’m feeling self-conscious, since you were looking at me like that.”
“Don’t be silly,” she admonishes, smiling anyway. “It’s not just that. I get the feeling that there’s some part of you I’ve yet to find. And I feel like it’s extremely important.”
I look down at my arms, safely enclosed in blue sleeves.
“Well?” she says quietly.
“I think,” I say slowly, “you are very perceptive.”
“I know that. I need you to tell me what it is I’m perceiving.”
“I think you already know.”
“You need to tell me yourself.”
My fumbling thin fingers unbutton the sleeves without conscious direction from by brain, which is protesting weakly. I gasp within myself; I haven’t really looked at my arms in weeks. I try to imagine how it must look to her – the half-healed scars, so obviously self-inflicted, and deep.
I hold out my arms and let her judge me. I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid. I will…
She takes my left arm, the more heavily scarred one. She bends her face over it, fingertips running lightly over the area, her shallow breath warm on my damaged skin.
I squeeze my eyes shut, ready for the worst. Nothing happens except that she lays my arm back down. Finally, I can’t bear it – I open.
She is looking at me with grief in her eyes, shining now with tears. Her pain for my pain. My pain because I didn’t know how to handle happiness. And now, my pain for causing her pain.
She stands up; the pain sharpens. I imagine she is about to leave me forever. But she wraps her short little arms around my bony shoulders, and I shrink and shrink until she encompasses my whole being. She holds me steady as I am about to fly to pieces; she holds me together.
And I find the balance. This pain is great, but it will be balanced. It will consume me no more. My spectrum will be level, the pain forever present on one end, she with the shining eyes on the other. Forever. Healed.