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For the Cutting Girls

March 10, 2014

She whispered to me about it in the back corner of the classroom while the other kids hunched forward over their desks, taking a test.  As their pencils scratched, she told me she was cutting herself, using a blade.  She told me she was being bullied, that she was afraid.  The counselor wouldn’t care, wouldn’t do anything.  Neither would her parents.  I was the first person she had told.   

I nodded gravely.  Stay after school, I told her.  Then we can talk some more.  And I gave her a pass to the office so that she could call her mom.  She did not finish her test, but she remained behind as the bell rang and the rest of the students poured out the door and down the hallway.

We sat down in desks, side by side.  Matter-of-factly, as though she were an actor in a public service announcement, she told me that she had been bullied in fifth grade.  She didn’t know why, but that was when she began to cut herself.  In sixth grade, she was bullied again, and now it was happening to her yet again in seventh grade.  A group of kids would wait for her after school and in the hallway between classes, chanting her name, tugging at her backpack.

Are you afraid they’ll hurt you? I asked her. 

Yes.  She was very afraid.  She did not want them to find out that she was a snitch.

I got all of the details from her and told her the battle plan.  She was to have a friend with her at all times.  I would alert some of the other teachers, and we would watch for her in the hallways.  She would exit the building with me from now on. 

She showed me her arm, and it was a delicate network of old scratches.  None looked deep, but all had drawn blood.  She went through the list of girls in her class who were cutting themselves.  They were all girls.  They were the ones who drew on their hands with contraband Sharpies in class and surreptitiously dyed streaks of their black hair red.  They wrote in their journals about indie records which had changed their lives.  They were the ones I would have been friends with when I was their age.  But instead of drawing and writing angst-ridden poetry, apparently they were all cutting red lines into their arms.  All of them.  Like the virgin suicides.  They all spoke of it exactly the same way: I don’t know why I do it.  It helps with the pain.  I know I shouldn’t. 

Would I have? I wondered.

I looked into her frightened eyes.  Seventh grade is the worst.  It gets better from here, I promised her.  If you can just get through this year, it gets better and better. 

Tears spilled down her face, and I remembered seventh grade.  I remembered thinking that was how it would always be.

Do you think my life is about to get much worse? she asked, panic tinging her voice. 

No, I said.  The fact that you told me means that it’s about to get much better because I can help you.

As we walked out together, finalizing battle strategy, she said, Do you think some people just let the fear take them over?

What do you mean? I asked.  It sounded like she was thinking magically, like she was referring to an allegorical Fear, which could take her soul, like the devil.  I wanted her to feel the firm ground under her feet again.

Do you think some people just keep it to themselves and never tell?  

Sure, I said.  And they just make it harder on themselves.  It’s much harder when you have to deal with it on your own.

I did not want to give her any advice that sounded etched in stone, mythical, or spiritual.  I wanted her to see the world as mundane.  Not having told me what was happening to her would not have condemned her to a life of fear and misery and razor blades.  It would just have made things more difficult.

The following day went better.  She agreed to speak to the counselor.  She walked through the crowded hallways with a friend.  I watched her and did not see any bullies.  She said someone pushed her, and she was scared.  I didn’t tell her that I saw nothing but an overcrowded hallway filled with seventh graders slamming into each other like bumper cars. 

I will speak to the counselor on Monday because I want her to continue to go.  I believe her about the bullies, but her world is far too magical right now.  Bullies materialize and line the hallway and chant her name.  She has a large red target on her shirt.  Her fear sits on her shoulders like fog.       

I am so grateful she spoke to me.  I can shine a flashlight for her in a dark place.  I can show her how to turn the light on herself. 

Sitting next to me in her desk, she stared straight ahead and spoke solemnly.  Miss, I need you to try to remember exactly what it was like to be in seventh grade.  She said it as though she were the teacher, and I were the student. 

When I was in seventh grade, I was afraid of the dark.  I didn’t trust the ground beneath my feet.  The world was not right, and I couldn’t believe anyone could stand it the way it was.  My friends agreed, and we ripped signs off of walls, screamed at the moon, and locked ourselves up in our rooms listening to dark music. 

But I never cut myself.  I guess I never hurt that badly.

I wish I could shine a light into all of those 13-year-old souls, with their elaborately blackened hands and angry, expectant eyes.

You are beautiful, I want to tell them, sincerely, as sincerely as it is possible to be.  You are special.  You are in my heart.  Please don’t cut your own heart out because you would cut mine too.  You would cut a hole in the fabric of the world, and it could never be mended.

  1. Jane Tallant permalink

    You touch souls with your words.

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