The Steak Knives.

I sat there admiring my handiwork.  Four straight lines, parallel to one another, each one with just a few beads of blood.  They hurt far worse than they looked, the pain giving me an odd sense of pride.

I had to stand up.  I had been sitting on the couch with my legs curled beneath me for too long and both were now asleep.  I grabbed the knife and the bloody paper towel from the couch and began limping towards the kitchen.  Mom would be home soon from my brother’s karate class and I needed to clear out of the living room before she got there.

I hated our steak knives.  They had brown handles that were asymmetrical and roundish.  The brown was dark, with flashes of red placed haphazardly throughout. My mother claimed the dark brown, like all of the other dark brown decor of our house, was “the Spanish style.”  I thought it just reeked of the 1970s.  She’d argue with me that it was popular when she and Dad got married and that she wasn’t about to replace everything in our house because styles change.  The Spanish style was classic and would always be popular.

The knives were serrated.  Mom said that meant they’d never need to be sharpened. She said they were good knives, expensive knives.  It seemed stupid to me that of all the shitty things we owned, the only good, expensive thing we’d have would be ugly knives.

My arm was starting to throb.  Each slice was swelling just around the edges.  The blood was already drying.  I rolled down my sleeve gently and flexed my fingers.

I’d read of people who cut themselves and said they did it so they could feel something.  I felt lots of things; I really didn’t understand needing to hurt myself to feel. I did see the value in hurting myself to feel physical pain to take my mind off the throbbing ache in my soul.  Maybe that’s what they meant.

The next day, I made sure to wear long sleeves.  I didn’t want to talk about what I had done.  There was nothing to say.  People would either understand or they wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to find out which side they were on.  Most of my friends already thought I was being dramatic for attention.  I didn’t want anyone to think I did it for them to notice.  I didn’t want anyone to think it was cool or mysterious or dark or weird.  I didn’t want to be labeled.

I didn’t want people to think about me at all.

Within a few days, the cuts scabbed over and itched.  In a moment of weakness, while changing for gym class, I scratched at them and one started to bleed.  I blotted it with a crumpled tissue from my locker.  I wasn’t paying attention to the classmate changing next to me.  She wasn’t a close friend.  I’d known her too long to call her an acquaintance but like most in our small town and ultra-small high school, we were friends at some point and by that time we weren’t really friends anymore.

She looked at my arm, eyebrows raised in curiosity.  “What happened there?”

“My cat scratched me,” I said.  I finished dressing, turning my back to my once-friend.

“They don’t look like cat scratches,” she said, her skepticism apparent and insulting.

I grunted and walked away, carefully pushing my sleeves back down, hiding my scars, if not my wounds.

Linking up with Yeah Write once again. Please head over and check out the other blogs.  If you feel so inclined, read them all then vote for 5 favorites on Thursday. Also, it’s the birthday of one of Yeah Write editors, so Happy Birthday Flood!!

Edited to add…  This post placed 3rd on the challenge grid.  Thank you to everyone who read and voted.

48 Responses to “The Steak Knives.”

  1. Christie says:

    Boom!!!! I love the details about your mother. Spanish style. This was powerful and your voice is perfect.

  2. Kiki says:

    I totally relate with this sense of curiosity–why do people do this? Does it help? And we had some similarly ugly–and not good or expensive–steak knives. :)

  3. Christie says:

    Oh, the pain you must have felt. I hope that your scars and wounds have begun to heal.

  4. Bee says:

    I can totally relate to this. According to my doctor, even though they’re still trying to fully understand cutting, one of the “benefits” for the cutter is that it releases endorphins. Not really a benefit, but that explains the sense of relief of having committed the act — like you said, the physical pain eases the emotional pain, even though it’s temporary.

    I’m certainly not condoning cutting, but I want you to know that I understand the whys. Thank you so much for your honesty.

  5. oh man. ow for you, for your arm, for your pain, both physical and emotional. i hope your wounds have healed somewhat. this was very powerful and painful. i need to go eat ice cream now.

  6. kristin says:

    Serrated knives? Holy cow, lady – that could have been really bad! Cutting is such a misunderstood, complicated, and abused action. Every situation is different, but it’s always serious. Even if it’s only the “do-er” who knows.

    Well told. I like that you began the story post-act. Good choice.

  7. For me, this is one of the most well written and powerful posts of yours that I have ever read. I am so sorry for what you went through, and in awe that you had the strength to open up and write about it.

  8. Vanessa D says:

    Very well done. You wrote about something traumatic from your teens, but made me want to cheer on the adult you more than I want to weep over the teen you. Thank you for sharing this very personal part of you.

  9. The whys are often difficult for me to explain because the whys are constantly changing. I’ve cut or burned when I felt empty or when I needed to distract from emotional pain or to alleviate stress or when I’ve been happy because happy was so foreign.

    This was so well written. I could really feel your pain. Thank you for opening up and writing about this. The more we talk about self-injury, the more people will understand . . . or at least try to understand.

  10. Dang, girl. Powerful telling of a tough topic. Loved that the flow was circular but fluid. Nice job!

  11. IASoupMama says:

    Oh, many hugs, dear one. I’m not a cutter, but I completely understand the need for a physical pain to eat up the emotional pain. Many, many hugs…

  12. What a heart-wrenching post. I know too many people who cope with pain in this same way. I send you lots of hugs. Thank you for sharing on such a difficult subject.

  13. Your writing here is wondrous – painful, fluid and clear. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share this story.

  14. Dana says:

    I love how you focused on the details of the knives, as though it was more important than the more obvious issue at hand – which illustrates perfectly the complexity of the mind. Excellent writing, my friend. Absolutely excellent.

    • It’s funny the stuff that seems important at times. I remember when someone bought the entire contents of my mother’s utensil drawer at the estate sale thinking that the person who would own the knives wouldn’t know what had happened. It made me sad. I wonder where the knives are and if someone thinks their as ugly as I did.

      Thanks, D.

  15. Love the description of the knives. I think you made a great choice in spending more time on the knives than in describing the cuts, and it increases the sense of privacy around what’s hidden under those long sleeves. Very compelling, start to finish.

  16. Marcy says:

    Powerful post. I have never been able to understand cutting, but your post got me closer to understanding it. I had to go back and re-read the beginning to understand what was going on. That’s not a criticism of the writing, but rather a sign of how naive I am about the topic.

  17. I relate to that girl. Although I have never self-harmed in that manner, reading something this honest and raw makes me understand the need to self-harm. Very well written, Michelle.

  18. Oh honey, I was glad to read in the comments that you are not that person anymore. This is SO well written but it breaks my heart.

    • High school was such a difficult and strange time. The accessibility to resources just wasn’t there for teenagers at that time or, if it was, I wasn’t aware of them. Luckily as an adult I was able to take care of myself and find people who could help with that.

  19. Esther says:

    This is very well put-together. Focusing on the knives mirrored the web of dissociation/trying to feel/feeling too much. I’m sorry for how you felt but I’m glad you’ve found a voice to talk about it.

  20. Erin O says:

    “I didn’t want people to think about me at all.” Isn’t it odd that so many of us who blog today grew up feeling this way? Writing for the public sometimes seems like the ultimate act of “look at me!” But sometimes it’s about setting these feelings free before they eat us up. You wrote this beautifully, without a trace of self-pity, and I’ll be thinking of it for a long time.

    • Yes, setting feelings free – that is it exactly. It’s funny, I write about some very private or difficult times in my past and I put them out there for people to read and comment on and yet I still am someone who likes to hide. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about that day, but write about it? Sure, why not! Odd when you think about it…

      Thanks for the kind words.

  21. Linda Roy says:

    You did such a beautiful job of giving us insight into the subject of cutting. I do relate to feeling emotional pain so much you want to drown it out, but never to that extent. This was so courageous and honest and well written. The way you describe the knives, your mother, your pain and your resolve. Hugs to you Michelle.

  22. Gina says:

    This was a poignant post. I could feel the pain in the words you chose and the cadence of your writing. I’m glad you didn’t hurt yourself worse. And, high school girls can sometimes make bullying look like curiosity.

    When my mom and dad were first married, my mom (who wasn’t allowed to cook in her Italian home while growing up and had no experience) burned everything she cooked. My dad called it Spanish steak, Spanish rice, etc. To this day if anyone burns anything, we call it Spanish….

    • I’ve never heard Spanish to describe burnt – that’s very interesting! I’ve also never heard anyone talk about the Spanish style like my mother did. Sometimes I think she made it up.

      Thanks for the kind words about the post. I’m glad I didn’t hurt myself worse too.

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