Author Topic: Why I Am So Weird - How Self-Harm Nearly Killed Me While Saving My Life (memoir)  (Read 158 times)

Offline sine nomine

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Chapter One

I rang in 1996 sitting on a curb in the parking lot of a 24-hour Walgreens on the edge of Hyde Park in Chicago, making patterns in the snow with my blood. It was hard to find enough snow.

That wasn't my original plan, but then it hadn’t been a good evening. I dropped by a party that was too loud and had too many people, some of whom were pissed off at me. It was oppressively hot and I couldn't breathe, so I decided to watch the new year come in by myself, in a park with the trees and the snow and the stars. No music, no noise, no bullsh**, no social games. As I passed the drugstore, though, I remembered: Walgreens sells boxcutter blades.

"Why?" my friends kept asking every time there was a new wound. “You know, people pay a lot of money to have done to their enemies what you do to yourself,” my best friend told me.

I couldn't explain. When I pushed the blade in - one deep hole where the base of my palm met the curve of my wrist - the world narrowed to a dim tunnel, where all I could see was my skin coming open under the blade and all I could think was nothing. Everything stopped.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. All my life I'd been told that I was destined for great things, and here I was under a dim sodium lamp with my ass in a puddle and a steel blade in my wrist, sighing in relief.

***

There’s no clear boundary between before and after, but if I had to pick a line of demarcation, I’d choose the day Mom went to the doctor. I was seven when it happened.

My little sister Tracy and I were playing in the hallway outside our room while Mom spent the morning cutting out fabric for our school clothes. Years later, I found tissue-paper patterns pinned to faded cloth, proto-dresses neatly folded in the drawer of her sewing-machine cabinet. After a while, she came back to where we were.

"I have to go to the doctor now,” she said.  “But I won't be gone long. Be good and listen to your older sister."

Okay, Tammy was in charge. No big deal. We looked up for maybe a second. Summer was almost over, and Tracy and I were determined to get every drop of it before school started again. We had no time to worry about Mom going on an errand.

We had moved on to our brother Bobby’s Lego set by the time she came back. She crouched down.

“Things are more complicated than we expected,” she told us, “and I have to go back to the hospital for a little while so they can do some tests. I’m sorry - I can't be here next week for Tracy's birthday.” 

We stared. That was a bombshell. Mom was always there for birthdays, always made them special. Last year, she'd used a bowl to bake the cake for Tracy's 4th birthday, then flipped the cake upside down, stuck a Barbie in the middle, and spread icing to paint on a gorgeous hoop dress. How could Tracy have a birthday without a cake?

Mom tried to reassure us, promising to be home by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was years away. She stood up, and we got up to hug her goodbye. I fool myself into believing that I can remember late afternoon sunlight filtered through marigold curtains and the sharp stab of an upended Lego on my bare foot. That might have come later, but I want those last moments to have a particular light and a sudden jolting pain.

I wasn't afraid then, partly because I'd been in the hospital the year before and even though it smelled funny, it hadn't been that bad. For a while, Dad visited Mom every night. One evening when he got home, he called the four of us into their bedroom. We sat on the bed, waiting, not sure what was going on.

"Mom," he said, "has leukemia. It's a blood disease."

I had no clue what that meant but judging from the look on his face and the way Tammy reacted, it wasn't good. We cried through his attempts to reassure us. It was scary in a way nothing else had ever been, but I still didn’t think anything really bad would happen.

Later that night I looked for "leukemia" in my grade-school dictionary, but it wasn't there. I didn't think to look it up in the grown-up dictionary or any of the encyclopedias -- we had four sets, and I'd spent hours reading them. Maybe encyclopedias were for fun, not answers. I accepted that Dad had told us what we needed to know, and I wasn’t interested in knowing more. Not-knowing is protection of a sort.

A few days after that conversation, Uncle Perry, Mom’s brother, flew down from Maryland. I didn't put it together then, not even when my dad announced that his mother was coming from Massachusetts to help take care of us while Mom was sick. The hospital was trying to work out a way for all of us to go visit Mom a week or so after Nannie Roo arrived, even though Bobby and Tracy and I were all too young to be allowed on the ward. They were going to bend the rules. I still didn't understand why.

Nannie Roo's plane got in on a Friday night well after we'd gone to bed. When we got up the next morning, Dad had already gone to the hospital, but there she was at the dining room table, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.  She'd brought wonderful things, as always -- hand-knitted dresses for my Barbies, books, toys - more stuff than usual even though there was no special occasion. After about an hour, Tracy reluctantly left on the block-long walk to the Adkinses' house. My parents had known the family for years, and, as they often did, they were hosting Tracy for a sleepover with their kids.

Bobby and I were still bouncing around in excitement when my father and uncle came back from the hospital around 9. I’d never seen Dad look so tired.

"She's gone,” he said in a rough voice.

I didn't know what he meant, exactly, but I started to cry. Someone called Mrs. Adkins, who said they would drive her home right away. Tracy found that odd because it was an easy walk, one we all made all the time, and decided it must be a surprise. When she came in, still excited, Dad got down on her level.

"Mom has gone to sleep,” he said, “and she isn't ever going to wake up again."

Then he cried, which we'd never seen. He went into his room and closed the door. I was stunned. It didn't seem real. We were going to go see her! She was going to be home for Thanksgiving! No one said she might die. It wasn't fair.

That night I lay in bed squeezing my hands together until my fingers cramped.

"Now I lay me down to sleep…" I prayed as usual, but this time at the end I added a postscript. "Please, please, please God let Daddy and Tammy and Tracy and Bobby and Nannie Roo and Uncle Perry and the dogs and everyone in the family and all my friends and all their families and me all wake up in the morning, please!”

It was important to be absolutely certain that God knew I was not on board with the whole "if I should die before I wake" thing. It was the only prayer I knew, and I didn't want him getting any ideas.

Offline rivergirl

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Congratulations on the courage to post this personal story. I'm going to critique it the only way I know how--as a story. So here goes...

Chapter One

I rang in 1996 sitting on a curb in the parking lot of a 24-hour Walgreens on the edge of Hyde Park in Chicago, making patterns in the snow with my blood. It was hard to find enough snow. Great opening para

That wasn't my original plan, but then it hadn’t been a good evening. I dropped by a party that was too loud and had too many people, some of whom were pissed off at me. It was oppressively hot comma and I couldn't breathe, so I decided to watch the new year come in by myself, in a park with the trees and the snow and the stars. No music, no noise, no bullsh**, no social games. As I passed the drugstore, though, I remembered: Walgreens sells boxcutter blades.

"Why?" my friends kept asking every time there was a new wound. “You know, people pay a lot of money to have done to their enemies what you do to yourself,” my best friend told me. Squeeze in your name as soon as you can as well as your gender. This would be a good spot. Right now you are a shadow with no gender.

I couldn't explain. When I pushed the blade in - one deep hole where the base of my palm met the curve of my wrist - the world narrowed to a dim tunnel, where all I could see was my skin coming open under the blade comma and all I could think was nothing. Everything stopped.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. All my life I'd been told that I was destined for great things, and here I was under a dim sodium lamp with my ass in a puddle and a steel blade in my wrist, sighing in relief.

***

There’s no clear boundary between before and after, but if I had to pick a line of demarcation, I’d choose the day Mom went to the doctor. I was seven when it happened.

My little sister Tracy and I were playing in the hallway outside our room while Mom spent the morning cutting out fabric for our school clothes. Years later, I found tissue-paper patterns pinned to faded cloth, proto-dresses neatly folded in the drawer of her sewing-machine cabinet. I had to re-read this only because it was jarring to have the reminisce in the middle of an active scene. I'd suggest putting the reminiscing at the end After a while, she came back to where we were. Consider some visual here. After a while she stood over us, pale-faced and matronly in a house dress meant for grannies.

"I have to go to the doctor now,” she said.  “But I won't be gone long. Be good and listen to your older sister."

Okay, Tammy was in charge. Right now, the reader is only aware of the two of you, so I'm wondering why you referred to yourself this way. No big deal. We looked up for maybe a second. Summer was almost over, and Tracy and I were determined to get every drop of it before school started again. We had no time to worry about Mom going on an errand.

We had moved on to our brother Bobby’s Lego set by the time she came back. She crouched down beside us.

“Things are more complicated than we expected,” she told us, “and I have to go back to the hospital for a little while so they can do some tests. I’m sorry - I can't be here next week for Tracy's birthday.” 

We stared. That was a bombshell. Mom was always there for birthdays, always made them special. Last year, she'd used a bowl to bake the cake for Tracy's 4th birthday, then flipped the cake upside down, stuck a Barbie in the middle, and spread icing to paint on a gorgeous hoop dress. How could Tracy have a birthday without a cake?

Mom tried to reassure us, promising to be home by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was years away. She stood up, and we got up to hug her goodbye. I fool myself into believing that I can remember late afternoon sunlight filtered through marigold curtains and the sharp stab of an upended Lego on my bare foot. That might have come later, but I want those last moments to have a particular light and a sudden jolting pain. good stuff here

I wasn't afraid then, partly because I'd been in the hospital the year before and even though it smelled funny, it hadn't been that bad. This feels like a new para here, though I'd probably expound or edit For a while, Dad visited Mom every night. One evening when he got home, he called the four of us into their bedroom. We sat on the bed, waiting, not sure what was going on.

"Mom," he said, "has leukemia. It's a blood disease." Show us what dad looks like

I had no clue what that meant but judging from the look on his face and the way Tammy reacted, it wasn't good. We cried why would you cry when you didn't know what it meant. This warrants an explanation through his attempts to reassure us. It was scary in a way nothing else had ever been, but I still didn’t think anything really bad would happen.

Later that night I looked for "leukemia" in my grade-school dictionary, but it wasn't there. I didn't think to look it up in the grown-up dictionary or any of the encyclopedias -- we had four sets, and I'd spent hours reading them. Maybe encyclopedias were for fun, not answers. I accepted that Dad had told us what we needed to know, and I wasn’t interested in knowing more. Not-knowing is protection of a sort.

A few days after that conversation, Uncle Perry, Mom’s brother, flew down from Maryland. I didn't put it together then, not even when my dad announced that his mother was coming from Massachusetts to help take care of us while Mom was sick. The hospital was trying to work out a way for all of us to go visit Mom a week or so after Nannie Roo arrived, even though Bobby and Tracy and I were all too young to be allowed on the ward. They were going to bend the rules. I still didn't understand why.

Nannie Roo's plane got in on a Friday night well after we'd gone to bed. When we got up the next morning, Dad had already gone to the hospital, but there she (my grandmother was) spell this relationships out was at the dining room table, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.  She'd brought wonderful things, as always -- hand-knitted dresses for my Barbies, books, toys - more stuff than usual even though there was no special occasion. After about an hour, Tracy reluctantly left on the block-long walk to the Adkinses' house. My parents had known the family for years, and, as they often did, they were hosting Tracy for a sleepover with their kids.

Bobby and I were still bouncing around in excitement when my father and uncle came back from the hospital around 9. I’d never seen Dad look so tired.

"She's gone,” he said in a rough voice.

I didn't know what he meant, exactly, but I started to cry. Someone called Mrs. Adkins, who said they would drive her my big sis or Tracey home right away. Tracy found that odd because it was an easy walk, one we all made all the time, no comma and decided it must be a surprise. When she came in, still excited, Dad got down on her level.

"Mom has gone to sleep,” he said, “and she isn't ever going to wake up again."

Then he cried, which we'd never seen. He went into his room and closed the door. I was stunned. It didn't seem real. We were going to go see her! She was going to be home for Thanksgiving! No one said she might die. It wasn't fair.

That night I lay in bed squeezing my hands together until my fingers cramped.

"Now I lay me down to sleep…" I prayed as usual, but this time at the end I added a postscript. "Please, please, please God let Daddy and Tammy and Tracy and Bobby and Nannie Roo and Uncle Perry and the dogs and everyone in the family and all my friends and all their families and me all wake up in the morning, please!”

It was important to be absolutely certain that God knew I was not on board with the whole "if I should die before I wake" thing. It was the only prayer I knew, and I didn't want him getting any ideas.

You've got great voice in this piece largely because it's your voice and genuine. This is a great start which will propel your reader forward. Good luck with this! Just a bit more fleshing out to really make this pop.

Offline Jub666

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This really drew me in. I had tears in my eyes as I read it. I wish you all the best and hope this is published.
xx

Offline sine nomine

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rivergirl, thank you for your feedback. I'm okay with the opening not using my name - it's a memoir, so you go in knowing the name and gender of the person speaking.

I don't know why I cried when my father said "leukemia." I might think about that.

Jub666: thank you so much.