My room doesn’t have the effects of boys’ rooms my age. There are no posters of pretty girls, no baseball gloves or trophies, no dirty clothes strewn out on the floor. Although, I do have a Nintendo 64 with three games and a broken controller, so I’m not completely devoid of adolescent masculinity.
I live in the loft above the garage, in what my brother and his wife (who, after my mother died, offered to raise me) once called “the queer’s suite.” I have an oak bedroom set from Sears and a skylight that’s never shown me the moon.
Nothing here is really mine, of course, so my sister-in-law enjoys telling me. All of my belongings were with me when my mother passed away. All purchases thereafter are property of my sister-in-law and her husband — whose blood I share but affections I cannot, no matter how desperately I try.
There are no pictures of me inside the house, no starred schoolwork on the refrigerator, no pats on the back or smiles in my direction. I’ve been told “I love you” only once living in this house, during my grandmother’s only visit.
The closest thing I have to a friend is Christina, a curvy schoolmate who eats lunch with me in a vacant classroom. I’m a “fag” to everyone else, as much as I am at home.
I lie to my family about having friends. On Saturdays, I tell my brother and sister-in-law that I’m hanging out with Luke, a boy from school who once asked for my opinion on his shoes and never spoke to me again. I leave the house on Saturday mornings and bike around the neighborhood by myself until dinner, when I return to regale my niece and nephew with stories of Luke and Justin’s wonderful adventures. They listen to me wide-eyed and glowing, and plead with me to introduce them to Luke. “Justin has no friends,” my brother reminds them.
It was on such a Saturday that I fell off my bicycle returning home. I came to a stop too quickly and lost my balance, sending my palms and knees into the street. As I watched the asphalt tear through my skin, I was curiously absent the impulse to brace for pain. When the resulting fiery sting shot through body, I imagined the pavement was scrubbing me, cleaning me of my troubles, taking my mind off of my family. The pain was an escape.
I didn’t stand up immediately after I fell. I didn’t cry. I didn’t move. I rested my cheek on the ground and savored it. I felt every rock and every grain of dirt under my face and I thought how wonderful it’d be if every day would be like today.
Now I’m in my room, under my skylight, looking for the moon. I have a small pocketknife open in my right hand, pushing downward on my left wrist. I squeeze my eyes shut, bite my bottom lip, and cut into my arm. I cut, and cut, and cut. This isn’t me trying to kill myself, this is my best attempt at replicating that feeling of lying on the street after falling off my bike, in pain so spectacular that no amount of trying would get me to think about anything else. In this moment I am not a fag, I don’t care that I have no friends, or that I feel like a stranger at home. In this moment there is nothing but relief.
This activity becomes routine (once or twice a month, when I feel I’m bursting at the seams), but no one notices until several weeks in, when my brother asks about the cuts on my wrists. I never thought far enough ahead to prepare an explanation should anyone discover my marks, but I didn’t assume anyone would care. I brush off the question, telling my brother that our dog must’ve done it. Despite my scars being densely concentrated in one place, my brother accepts my excuse and moves to a different subject. I know he knows I’m lying, but I’m grateful he isn’t concerned. Intervention would mean the loss of the only thing that gives me peace.
I cut myself for almost a year, with increasing frequency, until the following summer, when I left home to spend vacation with my aunt in Fort Lauderdale. There I turned 14 and discovered what it was to write, what it was to cut with a pen instead of blade, and I found that the blood on the page was far more agonizing and effective than it was on my skin. Unlike cutting, however, writing was more than a desperate treatment to depression; it was a friend I wouldn’t lose, who’d hear me out when I needed it the most, who’d respond without saying a word.
To cutters: your situation may seem inescapable, but you’ve got an entire army on standby — people who will listen and who want to listen. HopeLine.com is a great place to start, and you’re always welcome to reach out to me. ThroughTheseEyes.JustinJones@gmail.com.