I spent much of my teen years in a romantic entanglement with sharp objects. I hoarded staples--stretched away out of magazines, paper clips, safety clips, razor blades. I practiced various forms of mutiny on my skin. I felt in control, even though the only thing I was in was a dark cavern of sadness. When I was sixteen, I met a girl called J with short, yellow hair like bristles of wheat and criss-crosses of sorrow all over her face. She'd scratch her cheeks and forehead with her fingernails, trying to invisible her pretty away. We met at mental hospital number three and although we both starting 'dating' two crazy dudes also in the psych ward (mine, a hallucinogenic boy who took too much acid and couldn't trip his way out), I was really just in love with her.
At seventeen, in the back of math class, I took stretched out paper clip to the palms of my hands, because I was desperate to feel anything but numb. I counted the shapes my blood made, dripping out of my skin like morse code.
I loved my blood because it reminded me I had something alive inside of me. These sharps were like cat-calls to my skin: Hey, baby....follow me home. How about I show you a really good time?
There were days, weeks, even months, I tried walking away from sharps, from the bellows of scars which had begun to howl off my skin. But any addict knows wanting to stop and actually quitting are two very different movements.
One may reference the state of my forearms, where sharps and I dated on-and-off for fifteen years. We had a tryst two years ago, but the whole time I was thinking about someone else. Someone I hadn't quite met yet.
They diagnosed me: cutter. Called me manic depressive, though I never reached those highs. My mom locked up the knives and suddenly sharps and I were like Romeo & Juliet, sneakily searching for ways to tangle in the night. I became very good at picking locks.
Razor blades were my mistress, disrupting relationships. We made love in numerous positions, invited in other toxins called pills and cocaine and called it an orgy. It was thrilling, but I was dying.
Now, it seems New Yorkers are hoarding box cutters, altering people's faces and (false) sense of safety.
I will always be a cutter, just like I'll always be a drug addict. But I'm not active. These tendencies are dormant and though I'm hopeful that they'll remain asleep inside me, I work hard to keep away from the taunt and flirt of their haunt. I never thought I'd be frightened of something I was once so in love with. But I am. Immensely.
Sometimes, I envision it. Sitting, sandwiched between two other commuters, on the 4 train back to Brooklyn, with chalk dust on my fingertips and pant legs. Some human brandishing a box cutter, corroded in anger. Why are so many of us so angry these days? Some take it out on others with knives, just like I used to do on myself.
In this imagining, I can feel the unzip of my flesh, parting, making room for the rush of my blood. The panic. The true pain.
I asked my creative writing students to channel Baudelaire and Virginia Woolf in "A Street Haunting" and become flaneurs. Their experiment was to go to The Strand for a pencil. But if they never made it there, it didn't matter. The emphasis was on wandering. Getting lost. Viewing life not from the glare of a cell phone, but from the unencumbered gaze of their eyes. Most of them had never been to this epic book shop before, so I was excited for their adventure.
At the end of class, a student came up to me and said, "I don't think I can do this assignment." I asked why. They explained that due to the slashings, their dad didn't permit any trips outside of school and work.
On the train ride home, I traveled with fear curdling my veins. I became hyper-aware of the humans around me, particularly jumpy each time someone dipped their hands into their pockets.
I broke up with panic years ago; I'd rather not revisit its sensations of terror. I don't want these slashings to stop me from existing. From traveling underground with strangers. From being a flaneur. I spent far too long trying to carve my way out of this world. I will not allow someone else to try to do the same.