May 13, 2021

When I look over the Callie’s Ragbag vignettes I’ve posted about this period, a—I mean I— remember an event that isn’t even mentioned. (Yeah, I just made that same old Freudian slip.) My senior year of college I started to go out with a boy…er, young man named John, whom I met at the language lab. He worked there as a technician repairing the machines but was multi-talented, a seeming jack-of-all-trades. Among other things, he played the guitar and started teaching me finger picks and bluesy songs.

Though he was barely older than I was, he’d gotten custody of his younger brother after their parents died. (I’m a little shocked that I no longer remember how they died.) At first he struck me as the nicest guy, but over time I began to realize that he was always making promises that he wasn’t able or willing to keep—and I felt constantly let down. If I expressed disappointment, he took umbrage, as though I had no right to expect him to be as good as his word.

At the time I was living in a house near campus that I shared with three guys. The day that I realized I had to break up with him, I was in so much pain, I went—ostensibly—to take a bath but instead used a razor to cut long diagonal lines in my stomach. (The blood bubbled up like beads on a necklace.)

When I’d tried to tell my mother some time before how much pain I was in, she’d railed at me in exasperation, “Why do you have to dramatize everything?” and she’d insisted that, unlike her and her clients, I didn’t know what suffering was. I resorted to cutting myself that day as the only way I could think of to make manifest my pain—to prove to myself, in the face of my mother’s contention to the contrary, that it was real. And I would have the scars, I told myself, as lasting evidence. At the time I’d never heard of cutters, who typically feel a rush of release in the act of cutting, but for me it hurt.