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Warning to a Potential Butterfly

By , Woodbine, MD
It started with a scratch.

Not a cut. A scratch. And it didn't break skin.

What started as a scratch grew into something deeper and more sinister, as it turned into scars. But it didn't start with scars. It started with a scratch, harsher than a pinch, lighter than a cut, and not all that intimidating, though I did take it very seriously at the time. In fact, I was ashamed of myself.

I think that's what made me scratch some more.

The first time I did it was in the shower. My tears indistinguishable from the water rolling down my skin, I disappeared into my sorrow. I was drowning, spiteful, angry, not really sure what I wanted to do. All I had was the rough comfort of a piece of plastic and all the self hate in the world. I was alone, unnatural, despicable. At least, that's what I told myself.

A scratch. On my right shoulder, just high enough to be hidden by the average short sleeve t-shirt. Not that location mattered, it was January of my freshman year, and though the winter had been unusually warm it was still much to cold for short sleeve shirts.

One scratch, so innocent, scared me to death. That faint layer of skin peeled back disgusted me later, but in the moment it was comforting. Something real, something I could control. Not punishment, but redemption. I was wrong, lost, lonely, gay. I hated myself, and I hated my life, so I began to take it out on my skin.

One scratch. Two. Four. Eight. I prided myself in being creative. Bits of plastic ripped from milk jugs were soon replaced by a math compass. It became my favorite tool, mapping out paths of pain on my arms and legs. “It's okay to be a freak,” I wrote, the words rising, puffy and pink on my hip. I dug deeper. Bleed. Bleed. Bleed.

And one day, I did.

That scared me.

For a while, I stopped. I'd been reading about people with cutting addictions, I knew and loved several, but I think what really got me to stop was when the person I was dating at the time went to the hospital for it. I found a poem in the Teen Ink magazine that made me cry. “Little flowers”, it was called, and I pinned it to my closet wall. This time I dug my compass not into flesh but plaster. The poem still hangs there, singing to me of pen marks over pain, and I took inspiration from it for a while. I started drawing on my arms, wearing my feelings, literally, on my sleeve. Swirly patterns and colorful dragons calmed my nerves and took up space. How could I cut such a beautiful creature? I placed pentagrams and lizards on my hip along with the more traditional butterfly, and for a while it was enough.

Then my parents found out.

I found myself sitting across from a psychiatrist with a bottle of pills. It gets better?

Nah. Not yet.

A few months later and I'm a sophomore, and he never loved me, and they don't like me, and she won't accept me. What can I do?

One scratch. Four. Twelve.

Deeper. Deeper. Deeper. My anger grew. It was in response to a growing number of dramas, stresses, and losses. I was more than spiteful, this was what hatred felt like.


I lost my flair for novelty, falling back to scissors. I started keeping a pair beside my bed for those agonizing nights up. Sometimes, blood was the only way I could get to sleep. Just a little, nothing messy, I only wanted to see the pink under my skin.

This was not scratching anymore. This was cutting.

My friends started to worry. They didn't like this, they wanted me to stop. I wasn't alone anymore, but it was too late. I needed to cut.

Then one day, I disappeared.

That whole week, nobody heard from me. My one friend was later described as acting like a zombie, listless and lost all week. My phone blew up, but there was no one to answer it. Facebook messages began to pile, calls went unanswered, and color guard practices were missed.


The day I got back I called several of my friends. The day after that I had a color guard competition. Even though I had missed practices, my instructor let me perform, which I was grateful for. I also got to see the people I had missed.

One of my friends was busy practicing marimba with her indoor percussion unit when I walked in. As soon as she saw me she dropped what she was doing and went flying out of a rep to hug me. Her instructor let her do it, he seemed to sense something important was going on. My other friend came leaping across the room. There were tears in her eyes.

I felt loved.

That may sound so simple, but that one word, loved, holds such a heavy weight in my heart. Friendship has never come easily to me, and to have people in my life who care about me so much is just... strange.

Strange, but beautiful. And I haven't cut since that day.

It hasn't been easy. I've pushed knives into the sink fearing I might be tempted to pick them up. I've spent nights falling asleep on my mother's shoulder, not trusting myself alone in my room. There is a four letter word on my leg reminding me every day of what I have been through. My wrist still sings to me of scars.

One scratch turned into scars and torment as it continues to whisper in my ear, but I resist, if not for me, for my family and those around me. It's been over a year since that first little scratch, but I'm glad things were fast and furious. I'm starting to realize don't want these scars forever.

Neither do you. And if it means anything, I can promise you this.

You will not be alone forever.

You may not be as lost as you think you are right now.

You will find your place.

Let this be a warning. One scratch, harsher than a pinch, lighter than a cut, can have horrifying repercussions. You don't want that ribbon of pink turning into a torrent of blood.

Oh little butterfly, nothing is worth that pain.

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