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The Silent Majority
Nobody knows, but I used to cut myself.
I discovered this pain, true pain, when I was in middle school. I discovered what it felt like, pristine and unadulterated, purer than anything else in the world. The pain didn’t lie to you; it told you the brutal truth, open and honestly. It didn’t sneak up on you like vicious rumors, it didn’t hide its intentions, and it didn’t keep secrets. It was unapologetic and remorseless. It just was.
Middle School was a scary place. Some people describe it as a jungle, but I don’t think that captures its essence. It wasn’t a place of feral prepubescent tweenagers clawing at each other, it was subtler. It was a place of silent manipulation, gossip, and bullying; it was a place filled with constant fear of being the next victim, and not even knowing it. You went day to day paranoid that you were the target of surreptitious espionage, terrified that your secrets would be revealed, and you would be left standing in front of everyone else naked to answer for crimes you didn’t even know you had committed.
And you did it all with a smile.
I was among both the luckiest and unluckiest of middle schoolers. I had a place, a social group. I had friends and constant invites to pool parties and frozen yogurt. But I knew that I couldn’t trust them, and I knew that they could gossip about me just as easily as I gossiped about them. The paranoia bloomed and flowered, like a budding black rose, and the fear consumed me. I wanted so desperately to fit in, and I feared so wholly that I did not.
I didn’t want anyone to hurt me.
I stumbled across my weapon of choice when I was with them. It seems ironic now. There was this island off the coast; it was a hidden gem only locals knew about. There were no houses or developments; it was just an island with an ocean side and a sound side. The island was small enough that you could walk from one side to the other. As we walked around the island barefoot with our beach bags in one hand and umbrellas in the other, we had to watch for the oyster shells that covered the wet sand on the edge of the island. I sliced my foot on an oyster shell several times that day. Each time I swore loudly, and kept walking, but secretly I sort of liked the way it felt. Before we left that day, I grabbed one of the oyster shells and snuck it in my bag when no one was looking.
I hid the shell in my room in one of the storage totes under my bed that held my old Barbies. I didn’t know quite what I would use it for at that point, but its presence comforted me, it was my guilty secret.
The next Monday, I figured it out.
The entire day it seemed as if every sly look, whisper, or giggle was directed towards me. I started tallying the number of times I feared someone was making fun of me.
When I got home, I tore through my room, and grabbed the shell. I copied the tally marks to my whiteboard. I sat the shell next to me on the side of the bed, as I searched my body for an inconspicuous spot. Finally, I settled on the side of my hip, pulling down my shorts and the side of my underwear to reveal my blank canvas.
With trembling hands, I grabbed the shell. My heart fluttered in my chest, the way it feels when you’ve done something wrong and you know you’re going to be caught. I tore the marbled gray shell across the side of my hip. The rugged edges ripped my skin apart. It wasn’t a clean break like when you accidentally cut yourself with a knife. It was more primal, shallow in some places, deeper in others.
I sucked in a deep breath, clenching my teeth to keep from crying out. Mother f*er! I thought as the blood starting welling out. I brushed my left finger across my hip, and brought the bloody finger to my face. It was cool and wet and sticky. It was crimson red, but as it dried, it got dark and crusty.
With my right finger, I calmly erased one of the tally marks on the white board. I took a Kleenex from my nightstand and wiped off the small pool of blood on my hip. I grabbed the oyster shell and carved another line into my hip.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
After each cut, I erased another tally from the board. Each cut was agonizing, but my hand became steadier, almost machine-like in accuracy. There were times when I started to get used to the pain, so I would take the shell and digger deeper and deeper. When I ran out of room on my left hit, I moved on to my right hip. I erased the last tally mark after twenty-three cuts. From then on, I knew that nothing they said could hurt as much as the sheer, wrenching, excruciating pain of a fresh new cut.
They couldn’t hurt me more than I had already hurt myself.