Butchering the Owl

I was walking with Stefan, whose wide unblinking innocent eyes evoked his playful label “The Owl.” We were coming up with a new nickname for something or the other (we loved making pseudonyms, for we felt everything and everyone had the wrong name) while simultaneously trying to endure the icy chill consuming the air. The wind was blowing harshly, though still not strong enough to muffle my ranting but powerful enough to mask Stefan’s words, which seemed to become wisps of dead air, floating without purpose or meaning. Wondering why Stefan was so uncharacteristically uncreative with his sobriquets, I turned to him and unexpectedly encountered a skittish look of anxiousness occupying his pale face. Out of curiosity, I urged him to tell me what was on his mind, knowing that he wanted to divulge something of great importance.
“Come on, just tell me—it can’t be that bad. I am your best friend.”

“Well,” he said hesitantly, “just don’t tell anyone. Ever.” He rolled up his sleeve and revealed his pale milky white skin engraved with reminders of his misery. An abstract array of red scabbed over slashes occupied to majority of his tender arm. I looked up into his large, frightened, owl-like eyes from his mutilated forearm, knowing he was wondering whether or not telling me would be a decision to regret or one to commend. I looked away, unable to comprehend the enormity of the situation.

“So,” I breathed, “you’re cutting yourself.” My whisper escaped with the wind, seeming like a perpetually foreboding obstacle separating Stefan and myself.

“Yes,” he meekly replied, uttering the word that served as the final piece of proof that shattered my delusional hope that this was all a mistake, that my very best friend was not performing this self-harm. Such self-induced injuries shouldn’t ever have to pose a problem in the life of a simple girl like me, for cutting is a matter of stories, it’s a taboo portrayed in cliché movies. It’s not my life. It can’t be.

He softly began to explain why he was driven into this self-maiming, and a scattered stream of words bombarded me in my state of shock: “bad grades,” “low self esteem,” “being in control of pain.” A world of thoughts occupied my mind, raising so many questions, making me wish that the answers were clearer. Why had high school and life teamed up to unleash their fury upon the person who I most cared about? How could I accept and deal with the hatred Stefan felt towards himself when I could barely handle hearing the truth? Should I let him go and let someone else clean up the mess, playing it safe and looking out for myself? Or should I be the one who pieces him back together?

His explanation finally subsided and we somberly continued the course of our path, roaming about the school. My thoughts were preoccupying me, making me distant. There was a debate transpiring within me—one side urging me to ensure my peace of mind by walking away from Stefan’s convoluted problem and the other fighting for me to stand by him and stick it out to the end. I had to weigh the positives and the negatives of both situations. Using consequence based reasoning to determine the outcomes, the impacts of both alternatives seemed equivalent in both benefits and harms. So it all came down to either turning my back on a friend in need, which promoted my conceitedness but also ensured my own psychological well being, or channeling compassion towards my hurting friend, a more emotionally taxing process. I sighed, dispersed my contradicting emotions, and honed in on my decision.

“Okay, Stefan. We need a plan. You need to tell me everything, everyday. You need to not reject the idea of talking to an adult, and I know someone who is nonjudgmental and will help you through this.”

“I can do the first part, but talking to an adult, I’ll need some time. I’m really glad that you’re here.”

New thoughts flooded into my mind, casting an image of the consequences of my actions. The moment I decided to support and help Stefan, his old liveliness replaced the disappearing shadow he had become. As he slowly started to regain his original and lovable composure, I knew that the decision I had made was the right one. Despite my intuition begging at me to abandon this dangerous cause, I knew that if I had pushed him away, the cutting would only get worse. By taking the frightening leap into the world of suffering he was living in, I ascertained so much about not only my despondent friend but also about the integrity of my being. Rejecting Stefan’s plea for help would have only resulted in my conscience being consumed by guilt and shame, leaving me in my own world of misery. My inherent disposition is to help those I can even when the task may seem daunting, it does not particularly favor my narcissism or disloyalty. I’m the type of girl who feels compelled to support others. When someone falls down, I’m the one who helps them up. When someone is not having the greatest day, I’m the person who goes to give them a hug. For me to feel complete, I had to act upon my indwelling obligation to pull my drowning best friend out of their sea of depression. I need to be there, not just for him, but also for me.

After grasping the intensity of my brief epiphany, I descended back down from the world of profoundly esoteric thoughts to my current situation, which I had finally accepted. Stefan sheepishly murmured something about giving his cutting a code name, because that is what we do, Puja and Stephen, we make code names, even for cutting. We were back on the road to normality.

“You know Owly,” I laughed, “that might actually be a good idea. I have the perfect codename too.”

His eyes lit up. “You have a name for my cutting? Oh man this ought to be good.” I chuckled trying to hide my overwhelming gratefulness for his return to amiability.

“Butchering the owl. That is what we will call it.”

“You’re sadistic, you know.” He grinned and a newfound sparkle of hope glistened through his gaping owl eyes as he said, “Thank you.”





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YODO said...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm

REALLY GOOD, AND SAD!

only feedback is that the ending was a tad too cliche, it doesn't ring with the rest of the piece [it doesn't sound like YOU in regards to your other work]

 
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