Welcome back to Friday Fiction! Crush Me began almost seven weeks ago, in my attempt to introduce myself as a YA Fiction writer. Not just a writer of whimsical events in my daily life. With my debut novel launching in June, I want to give you a taste of my fiction voice. To be honest, Meena’s story in Crush Me is new for me each week. I’m discovering it only days, sometimes hours before you read it. So bear with the rough edges. And, if you’re stopping in for the first time, take a short detour to the start of Meena’s story and I’ll meet you back here in a few! Thanks, always, for reading.
The first time. Nothing like the first time. Once in a while something triggers and I remember the first time I cut like it was yesterday.
As I bypass the girl’s restroom, widening the distance between Gage and me, wishing foolishly to return to the time I didn’t know. Couldn’t tell. Hadn’t seen. His feelings for me. That look in his eyes when he said, “I care about you,” and opened Kermit’s heart, punctuating his find with “It’s broken,” he let me see him. A peek into his own heart. And I wasn’t ready. Never asked. And now I’m wondering if he thinks I wanted him see a part of me. My cut. On purpose. An invitation to share a secret? But does it matter anymore? I can’t undo the day. Just like I can’t undo the first time.
I veer down the hallway to the back doors. The ones I scouted out and determined as the only exit the staff don’t guard with eagle eyes. Simply because it leads to a completely fenced in area on campus. The metal green dumpster is about the only notable item on this small patch of ground. That and a splattering of cigarette butts from staff and students skirting the no smoking policy on the concrete ground.
So lost in thought I forget to wedge the door open with something. Darn it. Now I’ll have to bang to get back in. So much for my stealth escape. I should just bring a pillow and blanket to school with the speed at which I’m racking up detentions.
Sleep. Now there’s a word that hates me. I pull on the handle, wishing for the impossible. Nope. Locked. As I turn to embrace the wind and a few minutes alone, I accidentally kick a Diet Coke can someone couldn’t be bothered to walk a few steps further and put in the trash can. I imagine Mr. Moore gulping down soda in an attempt to mask the smell of Marlboros. Try pouring the can on your sweater next time. As I pick it up to do my good deed for the day, my finger fiddles with the tab. It hasn’t been removed. One little twist and it’s mine. Out I toss the can. In the palm of my hand rests my diamond find of the day.
Ever since the first time I got busted cutting, mom stopped buying canned soda. Like her small boycott could magically eliminate my chances of encountering another can in my life. Ever. I think she felt bad. Or maybe it’s an Indian parent thing. When they don’t know what to do, they have to do something, and the first option always seems to be get rid of something. Throw it out. The age-old, “When in doubt, cut it out.”
Well, Mom, I guess I agree. Been trying to cut out my pain ever since. The night of my first cut started a few hours back, before the can incident, in the bathroom. The one time I forgot to lock the door.
Bang, bang, bang. Mom at my bathroom door. “Get out here Meena! I’ve screamed your name one too many times! Dinner’s ready, and now it’s cold! You ungrateful, little—”
“Just a minute.” I don’t really need to hear her calling me names.
“That’s what you’ve been saying for—” and the door knob twists open, and when I see the look on her face, I instinctively drop the needle. Right into the sink. It makes a faint tinny sound before rolling. Right into the drain. Leaving a red trail of evidence. That would be my blood. From my ear. The ear that still doesn’t have a hole in it.
“Meena! You are in so much trouble, you have no idea!” Mom has my ear now, pinching the very spot I attempted to self-pierce. I numbed it with ice cubes for what seemed long enough, but it took me so long to gain the courage to push the needle through, it thawed and I chickened out. And the needle made it only halfway through.
“Mom. Do you really have to pull my ear? That is so old school. We are not living in India, if you haven’t noticed. Here in America, kids get grounded. Not pinched.”
“Enough lip, Meena. You are this close.” She holds two fingers millimeters apart. “From getting on a one way plane to the old country, you hear. I’ll send you to India if you keep this up!”
“Oh, that again. Can’t tame the American teen, so now we have to wrap her up and ship her back to the village where they still beat the kids with chapals on their backs and rulers on their hands. Give me a minute to pack. When’s the flight? I’m ready when you are…”
“Oh God, Meena. What did I do wrong? You are such an ungrateful, disrespectful, rebellious child, what will it take for me to teach you the right way?” Mom rubs her forehead like she’s massaging a migraine. Probably the one I caused. “If your father—” You stop.
And I stop too. Because that’s a cut that still too fresh for me. And you. I don’t want to talk anymore. I don’t want to be here. We’re sitting at the kitchen table now, and I’m squeezing a paper towel around my earlobe, waiting for it to clot. “May I be excused? I’m not hungry.”
“Go. Go now. Before I, before I…” And mom rises from the table to fill her wine glass.
From the sight of the half empty bottle on the counter, refill is more like it. Great. Mom, you drink. I’ll be in my room. Playing with my hair to find the best way to hide this mistake.
“Here.” Mom hands me a Diet Coke can. Her peace-offering. I hate Diet Coke. But you say that’s the only option that won’t get me fat. Geez. Thanks mom. Not only do I have to bathe in yogurt to lighten my skin, now I have to keep my tiny waist in check so when the time is right, a good and suitable boy will take my hand in marriage. Would help if he were a Harvard grad too, right?
You never respected my privacy, but this time you not only overstepped, you stepped on me. With your words. Your threats. Your disappointments. In me.
I swipe the can like she’s forcing my hand and run up the steps back to my room before tears escape. I hate crying. I hate being seen crying more. As I twist the top off the can, my blurry vision can see only one thing. The coffin. Dad. Disappearing under the earth. Gone. The tab flips off and I imagine Dad’s hands. The only picture no longer fuzzy. Over the past year, even his face appears like a water-color painting. But his hands, his fingers, holding his favorite silver fountain pen he wrote with. They remain defined. Like the perfectly stroked letters he used to write.
Dad was a writer, and he loved outlining his stories on paper before he transcribed them to his Mac. “Like blood in my veins, my ideas pulse through as the ink flows out,” Dad used to say. The soft pattering of the keyboard distracted him. He needed silence. And the freedom to scratch out his ideas, just enough to still see them.
“Some of my best ideas emerge from under those lines, Meena. Never throw away your thoughts too quickly. Some are meant to be stored. And find a home in another chapter. Or the next book.” Dad didn’t save things, but he saved words.
Dad! Why couldn’t you save yourself?
Without my knowledge the twisty top thingy I’ve been tracing on my hand, imagining it was the pen Dad wrote with, slices me. Right across my palm. Another line of life written. As blood seeps out and hides all the lines written before. And then it happens. I feel pain. I feel dizzy. I feel so much. I forget about Dad. I actually forget he’s dead. And I like this place.
I can’t stop staring. At my hand. More and more red. Like a painting you make in Kindergarten. Swirling here and there. And I’m holding my pain in my hand. And I’m in charge. Of how much more blood will spill. Or if I’ll stop it. As I cup my fingers to keep the tiny river from slipping over the edge onto the hardwood floor below me, I imagine the river turning into a pool. And I’m standing on the tip of my thumbnail, deciding when to dive in. I want to swim a few laps in the blood. In my pain. Do the backstroke to my own island. Drifting. Drifting…
A knock at my door startles me out of my journey down the Nile. “I’m sorry.” Mom on the other side. And then she does it again. She opens the door, and I never said, “come in.” And then the gasp. Followed by a scream. She thinks I’m dying.
I’m living, Mom. For the first time, I think I know how to live with this. This pain. This person. Me.
She pushes her shirt into my palm. Now that was stupid. Her white blouse is ruined. Forever. And then she snatches the tab from my other fingers. “Never again.” She declares. “No more soda for you.”
And she drags me to the bathroom and wraps my hand up with gauze and mumbles the entire time. “Why is it when I need you, you have to be absent? Why now? Who did you leave me alone to raise a teenage girl? Why? Answer me!”
Why is Mom trying to take me back there. To the place of her pain. To that time bordered with fences of hurt. I just escaped. Why would you try to take me back to Dad. I’m far away. And I don’t want to go back. So I focus on the pain. The slice. The surge of sharp, pulsing sting. I love this place. And mom. Take what you want from me now. Take the soda. Lock me in my room. Take my whimsical hopes to have my ears triple pierced. You can’t take this. This is mine. My choice. My moment.
Me. You think you know me, Mom. You know only what you want me to be. And you not knowing me can’t crush me any longer. This is me-time. Meena. Just another day in the life of me. Bleeding me. Cut me. Meena. Me.