I walk into math class and sit in my usual spot. I can hear the snickers all around me but that doesn’t hurt as much as the, “Meeeee-na” whispers when I turn and am greeted with a bubblegum bubble-covered smirk and then a pop. Like my world. Deflating with each jab, I have no control of the rejection that fences me in.
Until I take the sharpened pencil and slip it under my shirt, just at the waistline. Under my desk where no one can see. With my two fingers, I find the cut, just days old, still scabbing and not healed yet. Not stupid enough to slice along my wrists. Or even on my thighs. That’s what all the predictable girls do. The ones who prefer an audience for their pain.
I trace the bumpy skin until my fingertips find the start of my newest scar on my waist, grit my teeth and poke hard. With the tip of my pencil til I feel the skin break. I’m a writer. I call it rewriting my story. With lines of pain. Just one more reason I love pencils.
My eyes close to keep from tearing up. I take the end of my thick black sweatshirt border and push on the fresh opening, the rush surging to my head. Perfectly filling the space, crowding out the voices around me.
“Sit down, Mr. Perez.” Mr. Arnot says in his no-nonsense deep, principal voice. He was once a principal. “And next time, write her a thank you letter. This is already the second time you’ve interrupted my classroom. One more time, and both you and Meena will serve detentions. Make note freshmen class. No crutches in this math class. Pun intended.”
I don’t answer Jason. I don’t even lift my head to smile. I’m in that place where adrenaline and endorphins are my best friends, and I can’t be distracted. Suddenly my fingers feel wet. On top of where I’m holding the pressure. Shoot. I’m bleeding right through. This has never happened before. I gather, fold and refold a few more layers of my shirt into the spot and apply more pressure. My head feels light and the room begins to spin. Maybe I miscalculated how much I’d bleed. And just as I start to fade, I feel the bump of a water bottle rolled from behind, stopping at my right heel. I open my eyes and glance quickly back. Jay. You’re smiling and nodding upwards, making a drinking motion with your thumb. I take my hand not occupied and point to myself, mouthing the words, “For me?”
You nod again and then look back down at your textbook.
Your first gift to me. Second, if I count the gum. But you weren’t returning something this time. Were you watching me? Can you tell I’m thirsty. For. You?
I lift my thigh to hold the spot and unscrew the cap to take a swig. Then two. The world around me unwrinkles. Fuzziness fades, clarity returning like the focus dial on a camera.
“Meena!” Gage next to me leans over, blinks extra long behind those silver specks, like he’s trying to make sure he’s not dreaming, then whispers two words I’ve been hiding. “You’re bleeding.”
I see the red droplet on the floor beneath me and when I step on it, another drips down. Right on top of my converse. Past the laceless opening. And begins to spread like an expanding flower on my white sock. Except no flowers will grow where my foot is planted. The very sight and scent of blood makes me queasy and now I have a witness.
“It’s nothing.” I whisper back and then, “Leave me alone.”
“Meena.” Mr. Arnot again. “Report to detention after school.”
“But sir, she was just drinking water.” Jay says from three seats behind me. What are you doing? Why do you care?
“If you want to join her, all you have to do is ask, Mr. Perez.” Mr. Arnot places a pink slip on my desk first, then walks past me to give one to Jason.
The bell rings after twenty-three more minutes of silence. No one else tests the water. Mr. Arnot makes his point. He’s not in the mood.
I lift my hand from the spot it hasn’t left since class started. Finally. No more drippage. I scuffle out the drop under my shoe and give Gage a death stare. Read my mind: If you tell a soul, I will make you pay for it. In blood if I have to.
Gage just shakes his bleached-blond head with that same look I get from half the student population. The half not laughing at me. The half that gifts me sympathy stares. I can work with that if it means he can keep a secret.
I wait for everyone to exit and wipe down my hands with a hand-sanitizing wet wipe. Then I conveniently drop it near my foot and use it to wipe the tiny blood stain on the floor. Can’t do much about my sock, besides pulling my pant leg a little lower so my jeans cover the spot.
“Ready.” Jay says from behind, putting his books on my desk and hopping back on his good leg to get his crutches. “I guess we’ll be spending lots of time together.”
“I guess.” You have no idea how much time I already spend with you. In my head. In my dreams. Day and night. Night and day.
You know I like pencils. Pink. Gum. And water. You quenched my thirst for you today. And you seem to want to spend time. More time. With me. You seem to care. Do you?
Just another day of me. Meena. Just me.
Know anyone who cuts? How do you deal with your own pain? Where do you go when you’re alone and the world seems to crowd you in? Ever heard the song by Plumb, called, “Cut.“ Super-powerful and beautiful sounding. Honest.