It started out as a flicker. My grandmother waking me up in the middle of the night screaming at my grandfather for something that made her angry. The woman held onto grudges for years. If you did anything to upset her, she was happy to dredge up the up in the past and throw it in your face. I saw many a skeleton come out of the closet at a young age. They thought I was asleep. I don't know how they thought I could sleep with that. We lived in a two bedroom trailer. My bedroom on one end, theirs on the other. Her favorite battleground was the dining room—smack dab in the middle-- and I was never allowed to sleep with my door closed. She was screaming about how my grandfather didn't do something when it happened. I had my head under my pillow, trying to drown out the argument. I thought I was falling asleep. Just for the tiniest of moments, I was enveloped in the dark. I was awake, but... I didn't think much of it. I chalked it up to lack of sleep. She was raging for three hours that night.
The next time it happened, I was in a closet. I was the class scapegoat. I had no friends. Literally, no friends. It was a very small school in the middle of nowhere Texas. The teachers had a “kids will be kids” mentality. One morning, I was in the band room, which was actually a large office, putting away my saxophone in the storage closet. They came in quietly. I didn't hear them. I didn't see them. I was pushed hard from behind. I fell into the basketball bin, busting my lip. The door slammed and the lights turned off. The switch was on the outside. I screamed to them to let me out. I begged and pleaded. The more I begged the more they laughed. I found the door with my hands only to find it locked. I felt for the lock, it was missing. They had been planning this for weeks. One of the kids, whose mother was a teacher, arrived early and switched the doorknob around. The laughed as they left the office. The gym teacher was out that day, so no one was in the office. I screamed until I was hoarse, hoping someone would hear me. I felt around the walls to see if there was anything that could help me get out. I managed to find someone's flute case and used it to bang on the wall. After an hour I gave up. I leaned against the door and cried. That is when it happened again. It was a little knock in the back of my mind. I let it in. I let it take over.
The next thing I know, I hear my name being called. Someone was shaking me. I woke up. The light was blinding. The principal was asking me questions. I didn't hear him. I was confused. My hands hurt. I didn't do anything to hurt them, but I looked down and was shocked at the blood on the floor. My knuckles looked like I had been punching something really hard. I started to cry, asking why my hands were like this. I didn't remember my hands getting hurt. I looked at the door. I had punched the door. Repeatedly. They took me to the nurse. I was bandaged all the while I was being asked a bazillion and one questions that I was too scared to answer. I made it clear to them that if I said anything, the retribution would be terrible. I stayed in the nurse's office the rest of the day. When the bell was close to ringing, she walked me to my locker. They had broken into it. My books were shredded, horrible words were plastered on every inch of space. It smelled like someone had poured sour milk on my jacket. She gasped and asked me how long this had been happening. I just shook my head. She saw the tears. She called for the principal, the vice principal, and the guidance counselor. I said nothing. I was too afraid.
There was an anti-bullying assembly the next day for our grade. The principal droned on and on and asked people to come forward. They weren't going to be that stupid. On the way back to class, my tormentors thanked me for getting us out of class. When I arrived home, my grandmother was on yet another rampage. The school had called her and apparently this was my fault for antagonizing the students. I tried to explain the truth to her, but she wasn't listening. She smacked me on my cheek, grabbed my hair and threw me in my closet like she was prone to do. She yelled and called me the most interesting names as she trashed my room. She managed to calm herself enough to go make dinner. I felt the knock again, but I didn't let it in. If she found me asleep.....
Over the years, I had a love/hate relationship with the darkness. I loved being able to escape, but I hated that I needed to escape. I thought moving in with my mother and siblings would change things. It didn't. Her exes were not the best of people. Between one who loved to “spank” us with the belt, the one that loved to gaslight us, my teenage years were hell. The one that used the belt took pleasure in hitting me. I saw it. It was hard to miss—pun intended. I constantly had bruises up and down my legs and back. He especially loved the back. There was the one night, as they were in the middle of a divorce, he beat me for looking like my mother. He was drunk. Really drunk. The belt buckle left a scar on my right leg. It bled and bled. The next day, he apologized and begged and pleaded with me not to tell my mother.
It was about that time, the darkness started to become my best friend. It was the only place I felt safe. Once I started to depend on the darkness, another visitor popped in. A voice. The voice would calm me. It was soothing. At first, I thought it was God. I was never that lucky. One day, I was in the kitchen. Something shiny caught my eye. A knife. The voice started to laugh. I felt compelled to grab it. I did.
Cut it said. Just that one word. I felt the darkness in my mind. It was working with the voice. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. The knife was grazing my skin when the front door opened. It was my sister coming home from school. That night, it was all I could think about. It wasn't scary. The thought of taking a knife to my arm wasn't scary. I didn't know when I had crossed that line, but I did. I wanted to cut my arm, my leg, my foot, my thigh, something. I needed to cut myself. I would feel better if I did. I just knew it.
The next day, I grabbed one of my mom's disposable razors, dismantled it, and hid it in the folds of one of my crochet dolls. I waited with anticipation for everyone to go to bed. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.....
And I did. I needed to be smart and hide my wounds, so I cut the bottom of my foot. When the blade touched my skin I felt
But most of all, I felt sweet relief. To feel the pain as I watched the blood pour from the wound. The curiosity as the blood pooled on the paper towel. The wonder of the redness—the pure color of red. The fear that this may become a habit and I accidentally kill myself. The horror of what I just I had just done to myself. But all of that was drowned out by the anger. The raw surging anger that coursed through my body at that moment. I was angry at my mother, my stepfather, my grandmother, my family, but most of all, I was angry at God. Why was this allowed to happen to me? Was it part of the deal? I believe in you and worship him and supposed to be there for me? God wasn't my comfort. The darkness was. The darkness always understood. It was always there when I needed it. But that voice concerned me, cut, cut, cut, cut....
Nobody knew. On the outside, I was a great friend. A sweet person. I smiled when I was supposed to. I went to get-togethers when I was allowed to. Nobody saw my feet. Nobody heard the voice. Cut, cut...
A complete mental breakdown, three suicide attempts, and moving five hours south with my fiancee, finally made me realize that cutting was not a healthy outlet for my mental illness. I also realized that I had an actual mental illness and needed help. I stopped waiting for God, or anyone else for that matter, to save me. It was time to save myself. I had the strength. I knew I could do it. I managed to work past the voice. I knew it wasn't healthy. Now that I was on my own, I could really focus on getting myself better. The depression and anxiety never really goes away, no matter how much your medicate. Just like the voice. Just like the darkness. On my bad days, I will hear it, ever so slightly, whispering to me like a lover. Cut...cut...cut..cu.... I never let it finish. I grab a pen and draw on my arm. There is a whole cause dedicated to that. It helped me to redirect my need to self-harm. As the Semi-Colon Project states, my story is not over. I will keep going. Going through the crap in my life was a blessing in disguise I think. I can see that now. It has allowed me to be more open and honest about my mental illness and to fight against the idiots out there who like to place labels and stigmas on people with mental illnesses. I am in a much better place. I can see the light. I can bask in the light more often than I run and hide in the dark. Sometimes, when you live in the darkness so long, it is very difficult to see the light, but it is there. I promise. It is there. I am living proof of that.
Cut, cut, cut, cut....No. No, I will not. I am still here.
Dedicated to the memory of Amy Bleuel, the founder of the Semi-Colon Project. You have no idea how much you saved me. You were one of the lights I managed to find in the dark. I hope you are at peace wherever you are.