It started when I was 15, when I was struggling to come to terms with my miscarriage, and what my very geographically distant boyfriend felt and thought about me. In those pre-internet days, we were reliant on snail mail and the odd phone call. He was good with words. Not so good at actually following up on what he’d written. I wrote most of this years ago, at the same time that I wrote Aftermath of a Miscarriage, when I was pregnant with The Boy. I was pretty much terrified at being pregnant for the second time, and trying to get the words out of my head so they stopped haunting me. My feelings aren't quite as heightened now.
After the aftermath, he wrote. He told me he was sorry, he told me he loved me, he told me he would return to me as soon as he could. I believed him. I believed every word. Did I? I wanted to, I truly did. I yearned to believe him, I wanted it to be true. But still some vestige of doubt remained. If he loved me, why wasn’t he here? Perhaps, despite what he said, he blamed me. Perhaps he’d wanted the baby when I told him it was gone and now he was angry with me, but felt guilty for not loving me. Then I would realise how illogical I was being: he didn’t have to write to me, he didn’t have to phone me, there was no need for him to stay in touch if he didn’t love me. But then why wasn’t he here? My mind was in turmoil and I couldn’t stop dwelling on the negatives. Again and again I thought of my miscarriage, of the distance between us. Did I really believe he was coming back? Was he really in love with me? What would have happened if I hadn’t lost the baby? Would he be coming back sooner if I’d still been pregnant? There was a maelstrom of pain in my head and I couldn’t see how to make it stop.
I wasn't in control of my emotions, or so I felt. I'd go from poisonous fury to deranged weeping to passive acceptance in the space of ten minutes. Sometimes the pain was too much and I would rake my arms with my fingernails, needing the physical pain to distract me from the emotional. I'd look at the long red scratches dispassionately, picking at them until they bled. It calmed me. I know how that sounds. But somehow seeing something physical, a tangible proof of pain, helped. Now the pain wasn’t inside my head, it existed in the real world, it could be witnessed and not just felt.
Again and again I heard a voice in my head, telling me that I was no good, that I was worthless, that there was no way anyone would ever love me. Why had I been so stupid as to believe that he had? He had done nothing to prove it since he'd left. I wrote the word ‘worthless’ again and again into my arm. Worthless. That’s what I was. Not worthy of respect, thought, or consideration.
It got worse in the summer. I’d told him it was over, but still he came back (having prioritised taking drugs in clubs in London with his friends over coming back to me). My summer job meant I couldn’t escape him and his loud, hedonistic, obnoxious friends. Most evenings, after I’d finished work, I would shower, change into my nightie, and sit in the dark room, door locked. There was always a knock on the door at nine that I ignored. Then I would sit, brooding over how stupid I had been, gazing at the marks and scars on my arms, adding to them, the sting of the knife reminding me that I could feel.
40 weeks. Your baby will look like an individual now and you will recognise them from other babies. In this scary, loud world that they’ve found themself in, you are familiar. Your heart beat and your voice have been their main sounds for months.
28th August 1995. My EDD. Expected Date of Delivery. The day that we would, should, have been meeting our child together. I’d begged for, but not been granted, a day off from work. In the whorl of misery and confusion, in the downward spiral of self-loathing there was no way I would cope with seeing him today. But of course I would. And of course I was put to work in the kitchen. I knew that of course EDD is only an indicator and not an exact science. But I had imbued it with such symbolism that I couldn’t just approach it as any other day. I sat silently through making the packed lunches, swinging my hair over my face to hide the tears I couldn’t stop from streaming down my face.
I even volunteered to go and slice the ham for the sandwiches, a job universally despised by all of us. It consisted of the grim act of extracting 30cm of solid processed meat from a cylindrical can by removing both ends, then sticking your fist into the tube and pushing to extract the tube of spam. Like the type of movement a rural vet becomes very practised in, just without the arm length glove. Then loading the greasy, pink and wobbly form into the slicer, then standing, trancelike, dragging the metal slicer from side to side. And repeat. For another nine tins. It was mindless, dull work that suited me that day. I wasn’t crying, I just couldn’t stem the flow of saltwater that streaked from my eyes, down my face and onto the front of my green long-sleeved top, dampening it.
When lunch was over I went back to my room for an hour, sitting on the bed, curtains drawn, crying, tearing at the skin on my arms, wishing I could somehow peel away the sorrow I felt as easily. Someone knocked on my door twice, but I ignored them and eventually they went away.
I couldn't bear it. I needed something to distract me, stop me thinking about it, stop me from running after him and telling him everything. Automatically, I dragged my nails down my arm. But I felt nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I looked around the room wildly until I saw a glass on a chest of drawers. Without thinking I smashed it against the wall, picked up the largest shard and put it against my arm. No, not my arms. Too obvious, too visible. I raised my nightie and watched intently as my hand, on autopilot, guided the glass onto the skin over my hip and sliced into it. It didn't hurt. Blood immediately rose to the surface, seeping out. I sliced again, again, again. More blood. I watched as it trickled down my hip, then leg. I watched until it stopped, then dried in an uneven flaking path.
I felt perfectly calm. That is how you solve the problem. That. If I could keep my emotions in check, problem solved. This calms me down. This works.
And then, a few days later, I was working in the kitchen again, and someone made a joke about him being a dad. They had no idea of what had happened, they weren’t being malicious, just chatting and joking as friends do. I pretended I needed to get something from the store room, reached into the drawer where the keys were kept and pocketed them, along with something else my hand closed on instinctively, then walked stiffly out to the store. I left the door ajar, just enough to see what I was doing and crouched behind a stack of shelves. A little better. A little better. I'd had to cut my arm to be able to see it, but I had long sleeves on, no one would notice. I was so intent on what I was doing that it took a few moments to realise just what I’d become.
I was someone who had been so intent on trying to stop thinking about what had happened to her that instead I’d become someone who ducked out of work to cut her own flesh. I was someone who found relief in seeing my own blood, my own scars, my own wounds that I had inflicted on myself. I was damaging myself far more effectively than he ever had, because I was doing this deliberately. Him? He was just young, immature, fucking stupid and too caught up in the world of his friends to really care about anyone else. I was 15, six years younger than him, but I could see him for what he was. Not a nasty bastard, just a bit of a twat, incapable of realising just what devastation he had unleashed when he started all this by snogging a slightly too intense and damaged 14 year old girl early one morning a year earlier. He thought he loved me, he told me he loved me, but I see now that he believed he loved me because he wanted to. He wrote all the right things, but ultimately failed to back any of it up by his actions. It wasn’t intentional, he just couldn’t see what he’d put me through.
So I stopped selfharming on a regular basis. But, I’ll be honest, I do sometimes still do it, when things get too much, when there is a silent howl in my mind, when I’m sunk so low I can’t fight back against the tide. I’m not glamourising it, it’s a bloody stupid thing to do, I feel ashamed afterwards and have to wear long sleeves to cover it up. It doesn’t help, however much I feel it does when I’m in the moment. Better by far to just reach out, to talk to someone, anyone, about how you feel. It is ok to feel shit. It is ok to cry. It is ok to feel hurt, to not understand, to question the behaviour of people who purport to love you. It is never ok to hurt yourself to the point of bleeding. And if you are doing it, then it says far more about the people around you than it does about you.