The slicing started out of loneliness. One night she was sad and sober. She was also hungry, but she liked the hunger. She had purposefully deprived herself of food for two days just to feel the emptiness. She knew it wasn’t a good time to drink, though. Not hungry. Not alone. Not lonely. She turned off most of the lights in her small apartment and sat on the floor, back against her sofa, wondering what to do with herself. Her mind wouldn’t shut off. It was after midnight, and she couldn’t sleep. She knew if she texted her boyfriend he’d come right over, but she didn’t feel like Eric’s over-attentiveness right now.
She tipped her head back onto the cushion and stared at the ceiling, creating pictures out of the shapes and shadows she saw in the texture, trying to find some kind of inspiration to draw or paint or something. There was a dark patch in the corner that resembled a tree. A scary, leafless thing with a giant trunk, that made her think of hangings and swinging bodies. She saw the angry crowd gathering, yelling, wanting a show. This is how it was when she found inspiration. There was a story behind all of her work. This story boomed with vengeance and madness. Instead of shaking off the darkness, she succumbed. Dark and light. Her fingers twitched, itchy to start something.
“I need paper,” she said aloud and her raspy voice surprised her. When was the last time she spoke? “You’re. Going. Crazy.”
She laughed. It sounded strange. She pulled her head up and felt the blood rush to her ears. She was unsteady, liked it, and giggled a bit. She hugged her knees, then stood, pushing off the sofa with her hands. Her body felt foreign. She went to her art shelf and pulled out a large sheet of watercolor paper. The heaviness felt good, but she wasn’t sure she felt like painting. She had old sheets of newspaper and a long-forgotten sketch pad tucked away in the bottom cabinet. As she pulled them out, a small blue box fell to the floor.
She couldn’t remember why she had the razor blades, but they were new, still in the package, still wrapped tightly in thin brown cardboard. She pulled them out thinking she’d cut shapes into the paper. She was an artist, after all, might as well use this weird head space to create. She laid the paper and blades out on her drafting table and turned on her desk lamp. When she opened the first blade, the brightness of it gave her a strange feeling. Like the feeling of the first great snowstorm of winter. Like the feeling that something exciting was about to happen. Like five seconds before the first kiss. She sliced into the paper, but the feeling didn’t stay, so she opened another blade, like the little matchgirl searching for another warm moment. Her heart fluttered.
She held the fresh metal up to the light and turned it, watching it glint like a newly engaged woman staring at her ring. Her eyes caught the blue vein on her right wrist as the blade flashed in her periphery. Such a simple line. Abstract. She looked to her left wrist. The veins were so different from each other. Still carefully holding the blade in her right hand, she placed her wrists side by side, hands palm-side up. So different. The left wrist held a y-shaped vein that made her think of Robert Frost’s overused poem, which made her consider the road less travelled. She made that first cut over the vein that veered to the right. Starting from the base of her palm, she very carefully traced that blue inch. Hardly any blood appeared. Hypnotized by the lack of uniformity in the droplets, she sliced a bit deeper over the dry spots, until the red seemed even. She held her breath the whole time. The feeling was better than getting high. She went and carefully washed it with soap and water. Watching the blood reappear made her heart beat faster.
The cutting was so sensual, she texted Eric to hurry over.
“I need you.”
“Be right there.”
He didn’t mind that the gauze on her wrists was all she was wearing when he got there. As a tattoo artist, he understood the allure of sharp on skin. She was a biter, too, something else he didn’t mind. He ran his hands over her, silently glad she had no ink to break the smoothness, cleansing his palate after a long day. She was crazy thin lately. Too angular. He preferred her rounder.
“Did you eat today?”
She didn’t answer, instead moving her face to his and licking his lips as her hand reached for his pants zipper. He was instantly hard as her tongue moved into his mouth, searching for his. She moaned softly, and he felt grateful when she finally unzipped him and pushed his pants over his hips. She kissed her way down his neck, pulling his shirt over his head to kiss his chest, making her way to his stomach until she was on her knees. She pulled his boxers down. Her mouth found something else to do. He forgot he’d asked her anything as his hands found her hair.
That night, he remembered. “Did you eat today?”
“I wasn’t hungry.”
“I don’t think that matters,” he said, stroking her cheek with his right thumb as he stared at her across the pillow.
She stared back with dark tired eyes.
“You really have to eat, Bridget.” He started to get up. She pulled on his arm.
“Where are you going? I thought you were going to stay the night?”
“I am – I will. I just need you to eat something.” He saw her frown, “Something small, I promise.” She let go of his arm and sat up against the headboard. She could hear him rummaging through the refrigerator. He came back with two baby carrots. “Eat this, please.” Like a rabbit, she nibbled one as he went to get her water. He handed over the glass then sat next to her, one arm crossing her lap until his hand could rest his weight on the bed. He watched her take small bites from the tiny carrot and knew he would have to force her to eat more in the morning. She knew it, too, and suddenly wished he’d leave.
“I love you, you know,” he said. She nodded as she chewed. He touched her thigh, tracing an imaginary vine to her knee, looking away from her as he talked. “I love your oddness. How you get excited over forgotten hopscotch games. How that poem we saw on the parking meter written in Sharpie made you smile. How you thought the water pattern on the side of that wall looked like a Chinese painting of cherry blossoms. I love how you interact with every kid we see. I love all of that. I want to love all of that for a long time. Maybe forever, even. That long time goes away, if you can’t take care of yourself. I’m afraid you’re slipping away from me.” There was more that he wanted to say, but she wasn’t usually one for romance. It was a big thing that he was able to share this much. He wanted to tell her that he held his breath when she laughed. He wanted to say that finding a strand of her dark hair on his pillow at home made him miss her. He wanted to tell her many things, but he couldn’t. She wasn’t good at digesting this kind of information.
“Thank you,” was all she could say. “I love you, too.” He knew it wasn’t completely true.
When they met last year, things were different. She was softer and seemed eager to be in love. She was just divorced after a very short-lived military marriage. He was attracted to her sense of responsibility and her innocence. She had only ever been with her husband. This appealed to him, though he could never explain why. Before her, all women were of the freak variety. He imagined them born without innocence. Even now, as fucked-up as she was, he knew she was cut from a different cloth.
She was just sad. He knew she still loved her ex. He had searched her journals one day, looking for hope for himself. Instead, he found pages and pages of letters and poems to her ex. He knew they texted and emailed still; he had looked at her phone. He saw such emotion in the words they sent to each other: “I never stopped loving you,” “I touch myself and think of you,” “It’s still only you in my heart.”
One email from her ex filled him with fear:
I’m coming back for you. This time apart…all it’s doing is making me realize how much I always loved you. It’s always been you.
It cut Eric’s heart in half to see those words. He read her reply, sick with worry:
You bastard. You’re such a dick, Michael! How can you write these things to me? Is it your ego not wanting me to move on?? I have, you know. I have someone in my life who treats me with respect, with dignity. You could take lessons. You broke my heart. I’m broken. You chose her and then – suddenly – realize I’m The One? How convenient. How fucking convenient after I’ve already changed my name, after I’ve started over, after I’ve seen the darkness and know I’ll never find the light again. Fuck you.
Instead of leaving, he vowed to love her more, be there to nurture her, make her love him. He vowed to earn her. She was different – soulful and kind. He felt obsessed as he looked at her. Streetlight filtered through the blinds, casting lines over her face. “You’re like a doodle on ruled paper, the way the light is lining your face. You’re unreal…” It was almost a whisper. The look on his face was of pure longing. It made Bridget feel uncomfortable and almost angry. She looked down as she plucked lint off the blanket, wondering why it pissed her off to have someone love her.
Eric knew it irritated her. He did love her. He also respected her talent. Her work was rawer than even the edgiest he’d seen back in art school. She painted these elaborate watercolors - dark and sinister with themes that worried him. Such a light medium; such a harsh presentation. The contrast matched her: Sweet and bright, perverse and dark. He never felt steady with her. He would stare at the large, elaborate pieces she was working on and know that his art would never compare, though his earned him a substantial amount.
“What were you working on when I got here?”
“I’m thinking I want to move away from painting, get into papercutting. I want more texture than watercolors can offer.”
“What about other paints?”
She shook her head. “No. I want to do something different.”
He ran a finger over the gauze on her left wrist. She pulled it away, crossing her arms around her ribcage. She turned her face into the darkness. He kissed her cheek.
“I’m going to hop in the shower. Want to take a walk after?” She nodded.
She waited until she heard the shower door shut, then went into the kitchen. She stuck her finger down her throat and threw up into the garbage disposal. Then she opened the freezer, took out a bottle of vodka, and drank straight from it.
It was fine. She wasn’t alone anymore.
“Hey, Bridge? I forgot a towel!”
She gulped down two more burning shots and returned the bottle to the freezer. She popped open a can of diet soda and rinsed her mouth. “Okay!”
She grabbed a towel, went into the bathroom, and felt the warmth of the alcohol lighten her mood. The towel went onto the counter, and she slipped into the shower.
“Hi,” Eric smiled.
“You seem better.” He started soaping her shoulders. “See? Food is a good thing, Bridge.”
She smiled, “Okay.”
His heart beat faster. He loved when she was in a light mood. He moved his soapy hands to her breasts, watching her nipples harden as he ran his thumbs over them. She was always receptive to his touch and this gave him hope that there was something to keep her with him. He bent to kiss her and tasted the diet coke and a hint of alcohol. There was also a metallic taste that saddened him. She had thrown up again. He moved from her mouth and kissed her cheek.
“I’m getting out. Still up for a walk? I know it’s after one.”
“I want to walk. Let’s mix drinks to go,” she said as she quickly washed her hair.
As he was getting dressed, he wondered, “Why does she pretend to care?” He pushed the thought quickly away and went to mix their drinks.
As if hearing him, Bridget imagined what life would be like without Eric. She didn’t like what that would be. She did love him, in a way. Michael still kept attendance in her daily thoughts, but he was cruel and she wanted badly to hate him. Eric was sweet and kind. She wanted badly to love him more, to have him push her ex-husband aside in her heart. If she just gave it time, she believed it could happen. Why not? Eric was an artist, too, and understood her. Michael told her that her art was “embarrassing” and “kind of weird.” Eric told her it was some of the best he’d ever seen, and he had an art degree. Michael had a few stripes on his dry-cleaned sleeve and he barely earned those. Eric worked hard and had a great reputation for his tattoo work. He was the best in town. He earned well over $100 an hour and was still very humble. Michael had been thisclose to being kicked out of the military once and was a total ass.
Why couldn’t she let him go? Her practical mind knew he wasn’t worthy of her; her heart didn’t care.
It made her sick.
“You weirdo,” Eric interrupted her thoughts. “You didn’t grab yourself a towel, did you?”
She laughed. “No,” and turned off the water. She popped open the glass door to find a blue towel outstretched to her.
“Why, thank you.” She stepped out into the fabric and let him dry her. She knew he needed her to be light and flirty. He deserved it. With some more vodka, she would give him what he needed.
She used a fresh razor blade each time, not only for the thrill of new metal, but because she worried about germs and infection. She also wanted the cuts to be very thin to prevent any noticeable scars, so a dull blade was a bad idea. She always cut over a vein, too – not because she wanted to kill herself – no, she wanted to live a long time, actually – she cut over the blue to add to the camouflage.
She never did it when she was drunk or stoned, either, only when she was totally sober. Well, maybe the weariness made her a bit groggy at times, but really when was she not tired?
Precision was important. She didn’t hack away at her wrists; she cut very short, very shallow, fine lines into her skin. She didn’t want anyone to notice, after all. She also waited for the small cuts to totally heal before she cut in that spot again and she liberally applied antibiotic cream to them immediately after. So far she was the only one who could see the faint marks. Really, she didn’t scar easily from the cuts and the few tiny silver lines she could find gave her a small thrill.
It was something just for her.
So far she’d only done her wrists. Because of this, she limited her cutting to once a week, sometimes going even longer to give her skin time to heal. Her willpower amazed her and filled her with pride. It was even stronger pride than when she went without food. She barely thought about eating now, but she would stare at her wrists and run a finger softly over her veins at odd times throughout the day.
“What are you working on lately, Bridget?” her boss at the art store asked one day. Carl was fifty and liked her new bony look. It reminded him of a heroine-addicted actress he once dated in the early eighties. He touched her wrist lightly while smiling at her. She felt nauseous.
“Scherenschnitte,” she said, pulling her hand away, pretending to need it for stocking a shelf. She didn’t want to offend him. She needed her $9.75/hour.
“You own an art store, Carl. Why don’t you know anything about art?”
“That’s why I hired you,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder as he stood a little too close to her. He leaned in and smelled her hair. “New shampoo?”
She started with the simple straight edge razors, but soon graduated to a high-end German craft knife. The point allowed for a more precise – and thin – cut, both on paper and her skin. Whenever she opened a new blade, she made a ritual of it: removing it so carefully from its gift wrap, introducing it to its new home in the knife, and softly tracing a vein.
She would start with a picture in mind and flesh it out, sketching it to life on paper before she ever started cutting. She drew with a soft blue-leaded pencil and sketched on taupe paper, trying to duplicate the high she felt when she carefully sliced her wrists. She always finished her pieces with vibrant color in the negative space.
“I need bigger paper, Carl.” She was learning to give him just enough attention. She made sure Eric visited enough to remind her boss that she was taken, but a bit of flirting got her a better discount and a dollar-an-hour raise.
“Okay, baby. Just add it to the order,” he slapped her ass, and she laughed outwardly, while cringing inside. Bile backed up in her throat.
She bought bigger and bigger paper to slice, making her boss special order pages that sometimes overlapped her drafting table. He finally insisted that she hang them in the store so he could see them, so she brought in eight. The first day after installing them, a gallery owner came in and asked to show them for her. Two weeks later they were hanging in his gallery and printed on the cover of slick brochures and three weeks after that, all eight had buyers willing to pay at least $1000.
She had never made that kind of money. The gallery owner was so excited, he commissioned her to make a dozen more, so she worked out an idea where the twelve together created a story, but apart they would still be fantastic. Her boss, wanting to keep her happy, gave her a key to the store and full use of a large table in the lesson room. She sketched out her story and noticed a bit of a tremor in her hand. When did she last eat?