The Scars on My Wrists (Nanowrimo 2013)

After struggling with depression and a suicide attempt, Marie decides to take a Gap Year to Italy and Spain. She falls in love, and more importantly, changes her entire life.
Edited for movellas, in its poorly written state. R rated for lots of swearing, cutting, and sexual language. TW: (recollection of) sexual assault, cutting

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10. Chapter 10

When I came to, the teachers and paramedics were standing over me. My classmates had left, and there was no evidence of my panic attack except for my tear-strewn, red, puffy face covered in slime and my whole body shivering and trembling like a withered leaf in dry autumn air. I was mortified. I wanted to shrink down to the size of a bug and crawl away into a hole and never ever see the sunlight again. How could I have a panic attack in the classroom? I'd bet everyone had laughed. I'd bet that my teacher thought I was pathetic.

    "Marie. Marie. Are you ok?" asked the staff member that could speak English. Mute, I simply nodded. I'd felt like I'd been punched and my brains pulled out strand by strand and replaced with cotton.

    "The program didn't say anything?" I whispered, voice hoarse.

    "No, they didn't. They did mention that you were dealing with some personal problems, but didn't go into detail. What's wrong? Does this usually happen?"

    My eyes filled with tears. I didn't want to tell them. I didn't want to have to be weak, to be different anymore. Why couldn't I be normal? Be happy? Be able to function on my gap year that I had taken to enjoy myself? I was so embarrassed and upset and humiliated by my inability to control this, this thing that had taken ahold of me.

    "I was groped on Friday, and since then I've been dealing with flashbacks from a time when I was raped. I talked to a doctor. I talked to my therapist. I talked to my program. I'm dealing with it," I mentioned. I turned my wrists away from the paramedics. I didn't want them seeing the scars.

    "Give me your arm so I can take your blood pressure," mentioned one of them. Fuck. But he didn't mention the scars as he tightened them, though one of the teachers had a sharp intake of breath. I had a particularly nasty burn scar on my upper right arm, surrounded by thousands of straight, raised scars. Four years of cutting had given me these rows and rows and rows of neat lines and jagged lines and sideways lines, raised, pink and purple and white, but mostly white, like pages of braille upon my skin.

    I looked away. I was tired of looking at them. My past. I was no longer the person that cut, I told myself for the umpteenth millionth time. I had medication. I had people that cared about me. I had a family, two families now, one in Spain, one in America, and both cared about me. And yet, seeing these people and their scrutiny just made me want to grab that razor again and slash, cut deep because I was so scared and so tired of hurting and so exhausted, just so exhausted. And I looked like a rag doll, held together with these stitches in my skin, my flesh knitted together with millions of scars. I would never look like a model with smooth skin. I had permanently disfigured myself.

     I shook my head, thinking of Jandro. I was going to call him later and talk to him. Talking always got rid of my urge to self-harm lately. Something I was extremely proud of. I had now been without cutting for seven months, and although the incident tested my limits, I wasn't afraid anymore to talk. To get help.  And though I couldn't control these things, I could control the way I reacted them. That simple thought gave me hope. I could control my reactions to this. I could choose.

    "Is there anyone we could call to come and help you home from your host family?"

    I thought for a moment. Mama and Papa were both busy at work, and wouldn't be back until seven at least. And I didn't want to risk calling them and getting them into trouble. But Jandro…Jandro has a key, I thought.

    I held up my cellphone.

    "I'm going to call my host father's brother. He's a doctor," I told a small white lie. "He's been monitoring my condition." Another small white lie, but he had been helping me through, so I felt like he was taking care of me.

    The cellphone rang and I handed it to the staff person to talk to him. I felt bad for interrupting his life, but it was five and his work was over, so I pushed my sorry thoughts aside. After a quick conversation, the staff member confirmed that he was on his way over and would escort me home and take care of me.

    "Dios mio, amor." His eyes were puffy, as though he had been crying. "You promised me you'd get better." He talked to me like I was his daughter, tenderly, and I burst into tears. He wiped a few away himself, face twisted with grief.

    "I am so worried about you," he said. "You are like poison, you have seeped into my heart, and I am always wondering and worried about whether or not you're ok, and I suddenly get a phone call saying you have passed out."

    "I had another panic attack," I sniffled, like a child. He wrapped his arms around me and I felt him shudder. For the first time, I saw how fragile he was, like me. He had been a source of my strength all week, and suddenly I realized how much of my ordeal had affected him. I wasn't alone in this. I had touched the people around me. I remembered my parents crying after my suicide attempt, at the hospital. Why was I still burdening him selfishly. I smiled through my tears, trying to stop crying, trying to make Jandro stop worrying.

    "Take me home," I said quietly. He grasped my hand, knitting his fingers in between mine as though he was scared that I would disappear.

    "Let's go home," he said, out loud, announcing it.

    When we got home, he asked if I was hungry. I wasn't. Just tired. But he made me a cup of hot chocolate and let me stretch out on the sofa.

    "What happened?" he asked.

    "Another panic attack. I freaked out. I had a flashback, and it was so vivid, and I completely lost my ability to breath. It was like my lungs had frozen or something."

    Jandro stared into my eyes, expression seriously.

    "The next time you feel one coming on, if something triggers it, don't try to fight it. Don't worry about making a scene. Start breathing in and out and counting, ok? And don't panic."    

    "Oh yeah. Because in a panic attack, I shouldn't panic. Good advice," I said, unable to help the note of sarcasm creeping into my voice. I was pushing him away. He didn't deserve to worry about me.

    "I am serious." He was silent, and I took the opportunity to slide slightly away from him so that our fingertips were no longer touching. "Marie, I…I care very much about you. I am not good with this sort of thing, I know the stereotype is that Spaniards are lovers-"

    "I thought that was a French stereotype," I interrupted. He laughed, and then grew serious again.

    "No, but we are passionate people." He paused for a moment, and then said quickly, "I am falling in love with you."

    "How?" I asked, incredulously, my heart beating quicker. "You barely know me." In my mind I continued, and I'm ugly, and I take medication for anxiety and depression, and I'm covered in scars and I just had a panic attack and made you cry. But I didn't say it.

    "I want to know you," he said. "I want to know everything about you, your favorite color, what your home is like, what your family is like. But you will not let me in. You are afraid."

    "First off, you were the one who told me that I had to get better before starting a relationship, and frankly, I agree. You don't need someone who will keep on worrying you with health-related problems. But if you're serious, let's start a trial run."

    "Trial?" His face screwed up with confusion, and my heart dropped. I hoped I hadn't offended him. I just didn't think I was ready. Cat was right. How could I even fathom being naked in front of a mirror when I was still coming to terms with everything? My previous ideas about a fling seemed so horribly juvenile and stupid and naive. My previous me seemed naive too, the one who cut instead of opening up. I was just a mess of feelings and confusion. My shit was all over the place. I wasn't ready to love. Wasn't it RuPaul who said 

    "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else"? I think, anyway. There was truth in that statement. Until I loved myself, I was going to keep ruining things with my mind. Just like I was ruining things right now. Why couldn't I just let go of everything, forget everything bad and just fall head over heels in love like a high school freshman or some shit? Why was everything so tangled and complicated, strings tugging on others strings and yet there was this red string of fate, untangled, directly connecting me to Jandro.

    I mean, relationships weren't purely sex, but I just needed time. Time to care about myself and not care about someone else Intrinsically. And he didn't deserve someone broken like me. He deserved someone else. Stop over thinking it Marie. Shut up Marie. Don't ruin everything. Start out slow.

    "How about you begin by telling me about your childhood?" I offered. "We can share. You tell me one story, and I'll tell you another."

    His eyes widened, and he grinned.

    "If I tell you a story, can I get a kiss in return?"

    I rolled my eyes.

    "Oh, alright. Go on, then."

    "Ok. Well. Once upon a time, when I was a little boy, Francisco used to convince me that if I was bad and didn't pray to god every single night and share my treasures like Jesus had commanded, then a great big woman with gigantic breasts down to her knees, eyes gouged out would come up to my window looking for small children. And she would snatch me away." I grimaced, and he laughed. "That was my reaction precisely. I found out later that he was doing it because he wanted me to share my candy with him. And since Jesus said to share, that was precisely what I did. I gave him all my candy because I was scared that the woman was going to show up at my window. I was a very impressionable little kid. Anyway. I asked my parents about it later, and when I realized I'd been lied to, you should have seen the tantrum I threw." I laughed at that, the image of a little Jandro pouting and beating his tiny fists in anger at having been tricked out of his candy.

    "I used to be scene," I mentioned, suddenly."

    "Scene?" asked Jandro. "Like in a play?"

    "No, like a goth, or emo, or whatever. I guess you could say I was emo. I did cut after all." I showed him the piercing holes in my ears. "I had pink hair when I came here."

    "Why did you cut it?" he asked. Instinctively, perhaps, he reached out and touched the ends of my shorn hair. "I love it. It is so beautiful, but I am sure I would have loved any sort of hair on you."

    "The dye was fading," I mentioned. "Also, my ends were getting ratty." I wrinkled my nose. "I kinda wish I hadn't dyed it. If I hadn't, I could have donated it to Locks of Love or something."

    "Locks of Love?"

    "It's an organization that makes hair into wigs to give to cancer patients. I did it a lot when I was younger. But anyway. I think that I dressed like that because it was sort of a rebellion. I was bullied a lot. Kids said really shitty stuff about me. I was actually put on a list for most ugly girls in our school. That's what hurt the most, seeing that I was number five. I mean, yeah, I dressed differently. Part of that was because I knew if I tried dressing like them, they'd still make fun of me. I'm a bit freer of that here. I'm wearing jeans and t shirts and skirts. And a peacoat for Christ's sake."

    Jandro mused quietly.

    "People are cruel. I cannot believe you had to deal with something like that. Bullies are bad here. But an ugly list? What the fuck? You are so beautiful," he said with such simple honesty that I almost believed him. "I have seen other women before without make up and realize that without cosmetics, they are hags, but you are gorgeous, with or without that red lipstick."

    I pressed my lips together and ran my tongue along the inside of my teeth, suddenly remembering my red lips. I hoped that non of it had transferred to my teeth, that was always embarrassing.

    "I think that you know, my thinking was that whether I conformed or not, they were going to bully me. So I wore whatever I felt like, and at the time it was scene stuff because I could relate with it." Jandro snapped his fingers.

    "You see? You are getting it. The problem wasn't you. It was never you. It was them because they couldn't see you or accept you for who you were. You weren't like them and it scared them. When I look at you, I see beauty. You are beautiful. They saw that too, and felt threatened. Maybe it is time that you realized this, and stopped living life by their rules."

    I remembered the Handmaid's Tale again. How I had sworn to recover my own happiness, and yet all this time I had believed I was ugly and disgusting and unworthy. Had I been beautiful all along and simply not realized it? I looked into Jandro's eyes. Was he lying, trying to use me for something? But I saw nothing but truth. Nothing but honesty. He wasn't lying. I could see myself in the reflection. I deserved to be cherished.

    "I don't know if I can have sex anytime soon," I said honestly. "Do you think you can wait for me to heal?" I had some sort of stupid worry that he would run

    "I thought we weren't rushing into anything," he said, and something in his voice made me shiver. It was raw passion. I couldn't help myself. I leaned in and kissed him.

    Our first kiss had been chaste. My first kiss ever, in fact. This one was anything but. He kissed me like a lover would, nibbling my lower lip, pausing to kiss the skin by my ear and eyelids.

    "You are so beautiful," he murmured. In that moment, I believed it. He traced my scars on my wrist. "If I touch somewhere that makes you uncomfortable, just let me know and I will stop instantly," he said. "But I have wanted you since the day you burst in and nearly screamed. You are beautiful," he repeated.

    I snuggled into the shape of his body, awkwardly exploring with my hands, wrapping my arms around his strong neck, tangling my fingers into his deliciously wavy hair. His hand brushed my lower back accidentally as we shifted on the couch, and I stiffened.

    "Stop," I whispered, unable to find my voice. He immediately detangled himself from me and separated. I felt sorely disappointed, as if I'd let him down, but Jandro didn't even bat an eyelash.

    "Do you want another cup of hot chocolate?" he asked, picking up our empty cups. "I'll go make you another one."

    "Jandro, I'm so sorry," I said, close to tears. My bottom lip began to shake, so I bit down on it hard. I had just gone and fucked everything up.

    "No. I am sorry, amor. I have pushed you too far. I will not touch you again unless you want me to."

    "I want you to kiss me," I said, somewhat shyly. "But I want you to be careful with your hands, I'm a bit fragile right now honestly."

    He came back with two more cups, took a sip, and looked at me.

    "Like this?" Keeping his hands at his sides stiffly, he leaned in for a deep kiss, and I sighed happily. He tasted like chocolate, bitter, sweet and sinful at once. I wondered if I was dreaming.

    "Yes. Perfect." 

    "Take your hands, and put them where you want them, amor. I will only touch what you want me to touch. You are in control, never forget that."

    I grabbed his hands and laced them around my back so that he was hugging me.

    "This is nice." I burrowed my face into his neck so I could smell his cologne. "This is nicer." My stomach was flip-flopping. When did I get so confident? So comfortable around Jandro? I had never been touchy-feely, and I most certainly was never this relaxed around another person in my life. I was neurotic, nervous, twitchy, not confident and calm. My heart was jumping around in my throat, and yet I needed this. I deserved this. It was something so selfish, to give into something that could go so wrong so fast.

    "Jandro?" I murmered. 

    "Si, amor?"

    "Do my scars gross you out? Honestly, tell me." Jandro's gaze dropped to my butchered arms.

    "No. They show that you are a warrior. When was the last time you hurt yourself?"

    "My suicide attempt," I said, shortly, almost harshly.

    "Do you think you could talk about it to me? I understand if you can't," said Jandro without even pausing for a second.

    "Ok." I studied his face, but he seemed sincere, nothing but care showing in his expressive eyes. "I just felt like there was no escape." I swallowed hard. "I grew up in the same town, and everyone thought I was a freak. Someone pissed in my water bottle at track practice when I was twelve, so I quit it. People threw my bags in the garbage, someone said they were going to slip me a roofie in my cafeteria food. I didn't have a single friend. No joke. I sat alone at lunch. I was the only kid who dressed that way and when I tried to reach out, people just made fun of me more. The only people to talk to me were my teachers." My voice caught, and I paused, looking at Jandro for his response. 

    He didn't say anything, just grabbed me in his arms and rocked me. I could hear his breath in his ear, feel him living beside me, red, warm, alive. Like that night, my mind started to say. I could feel the verge of a panic attack beginning, so I took a deep breath. No, shut up brain, this is different. Jandro's breath in my ear is warm, and calm. Not like that man. Jandro is not going to hurt me. I focused on his arms around me, holding me tight, and I could feel my tense body begin to relax, the panic melting away. Immediately I felt relieved. While I couldn't prevent all panic attacks, I had just trumped this potential one.

    I had a long way to go. But maybe Jandro could help me get there. Maybe we could get there together. I began to feel hopeful. He stayed the night. When Mama came home, he explained to her what had happened, and why I had called him instead of her or Papa. Mama cried again, partially because she felt like she and Francisco hadn't been there enough for me, and I shook my head because it was nonsense. The cake, the little presents they'd left in my room, even a small flower pot with a bunch of petunias to brighten my day after I mentioned gardening back home. It had all made me smile. It had made me want to get better. Ana then asked me if I was going to be alright. For the first time, I answered truthfully. It will be alright. I will get stronger. I will get better. I will survive.

    I wanted to live. For the first time in my life, I thirsted for it. I yearned for a time where I wouldn't shudder in front of a mirror, where I could love someone with my full heart without feeling broken, for a week where I wouldn't have a panic attack, for a night where I could sleep peacefully alone. Most of all, I wanted to be worthy of Jandro. I hadn't realized, of course, that I had always been worthy of him. At that time, I was preoccupied with my faults instead of my strengths. I put Jandro on a pedestal. I didn't realize that beneath his caring exterior, my protector, my savior, he had faults as well.

      Of course, he slept in a separate room that night. Mama and Papa would have none of that nonsense. After all, I was under their care. But I crawled in silently, greeting him with a kiss in the moonlight, and let him hold me. He tucked his arms around me and lay beside me, holding me the entire night. I had never felt more safe in my entire life, never felt more warm and happy.

    My relationship with Jandro had taken a turn for the uncharted. Uncharted as in I was in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle and drowning because I had no life preserver, nothing. There was nothing protecting me from getting hurt. 

    Looking back, I knew the risks. But I didn't care. I needed someone to tell me I was beautiful. It was something I needed to hear, desperately. I had never felt appreciated. I'd never felt truly loved, except of course by my parents. I had craved acceptance and approval from others for such a long time and I found it in him.

    Kissing him felt like a mistake, a beautiful mistake because I fell down a rabbit hole, down, down. I constantly began to worry that I wasn't doing enough for him. Should I be having sex with him? Wouldn't he get tired of me? A million insecurities plagued me, but every day I shook them off to enjoy our conversations on the phone.

    What was more bothersome was Cat. She stopped going to class and the program threatened to kick her out since her visa was contingent on her participation. And they did, in the end. Her attendance was just too low, and she lost her student visa. My only conversation with her since the club incident ended up being my last conversation with her.

    "Man, school is so dumb. I already know all of the shit they're teaching me," she said.

    "Me too, well mostly," I said. "We just started learning the conditional. Which is where I left off in school, actually. But it took like, an agonizing three months to get there. Seriously. I already know present tense and the preterite, but the teacher had to basically go over it in detail, because I'm in the beginner class."

    Cat wasn't supposed to mention the club incident. The program took her aside, and talked to her about it after my panic attack. But she did anyway. Because nothing stopped Cat. She was as subtle as a tornado in a china shop. And after that, I realized she had as much class as a piece of shit stuck to someone's shoe. I lost all my respect for her.

    "Dude. What the fuck happened at the club. You fucking up and left me," she said accusatorially. "I had to find my way back drunk. Ended up in some random dudes house. He was like, twenty-seven and divorced. Like, what the fuck. We had really good sex though, so I mean, gotta thank you for that, but dude. You were my wingman. You left me hanging." I stiffened, remembering what had happened. Breath, Marie, breathe. Ok. Panic attack is starting. I started feeling tight, like I was going under, floating away again, as I started remembering. No. You are here now. Next to Cat. In school. You will be ok. If a panic attack happens, it happens, and there won't be much you can do, but you can breath, Marie, breath.

    I inhaled.

    "Dude, you ok?" She laughed, nervously. "Your eyes are like, bugging out of your fucking skull. Like, hello, earth to Marie, you in there chica? Or do I gotta pull you out?"

    I smiled. I don't know why I smiled. Maybe it was because I took a last breath of air before I succumbed to it. 

    "Just peachy." Then I went under. It was like drowning this time, and I felt detached from myself. Like a ghost I could see myself struggling, curling back up, and sobbing and screaming. Cat tried to touch me. I flung her against the wall. She punched me back in the face, hard. I don't really remember that part well because I got so scared of her that I stopped breathing and passed out again. Jandro picked me up again after the paramedics came and went, for the second time.

    After that, they kicked her out of the program. I never dealt with her again. She deleted me off of Facebook, and I have never seen her ever again. When I had first met her, I admired her so much. I loved that she could speak her mind and be confident. But I hadn't realized that she lacked a filter. She lacked compassion. She was selfish, self consumed, and although I felt bad for her after her boyfriend broke up with her, I knew how cruel she could be, how impulsive. She was like a train with the brake lines cut, barreling through whatever was in her path.

     It was The Cat Show and if you weren't onboard, you couldn't come along. Which wasn't her fault of course. After thinking so badly of her, I always felt ashamed. I had my own faults. Didn't that make me a hypocrite? But at the end of the day, I was there for her when she needed me. I stepped out of my comfort zone for her, and she couldn't reciprocate that. True friends, I soon would learn, always stepped up to the plate. Whether they had to or not.  But Cat flew into my life just as tumultuously as she had left. Sometimes I would go walking in the street on campus, and imagine bumping into her at a store. Somehow, I knew if I saw her again, she would act as though I hadn't existed.

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