during hell week, the rules of my existence were vary strict. realistically, they did not need to be, since i no longer could summon even enough energy to do more than crawl under my covers as soon as i got home from school. i don't know what, if anything, i ate during this time. i remember making trips to the bathroom, but i was not motivated any longer to turn on the shower so that the running water would disguise the sounds of my clandestine workouts, in which i pounded out between a half hour to a full hour of jumping jacks. of course, i still cared that i was fat, because being fat was a symbol of physical and moral alike that was wrong about me. but i'd come to the conclusion that i'd lost the war against myself. it was time to wave the white flag.
even if i'd wanted to, i was strictly forbidden to speak to any of my siblings, because my mom was afraid i'd poison them with my immorality even within the brief span of time that she had to endure my continued presence in her house. i was specifically confined to my room, but i felt my shame too deeply to consider showing my face elsewhere. the most important rule of hell week was that, when i went to school, i was not to go crying to anyone. even the college my mom had chosen for me would be taken off the table if she even suspected that i'd breathed a word to peers or school counselors, further damaging her reputation in the eyes of people she'd need to deal with pleasantly when my younger siblings matriculated on that same high school campus; she had one last tool within her arsenal with which to blackmail me into submission, and she wasn't afraid to use it.
i said my goodbyes to high school friends in subtle ways that managed not to disobey the letter of my mom's law. i gave a shriny-dink bracelet i'd made, each heart shaped charm featuring a different disney princesses, that i'd intended for my second youngest sister when she got olden enough not to break it, to a sweet, smart girl whom i wished i could explain my feeling for, and whom i knew i'd never see again. even if i'd wanted to speak out, my throat was so dry, it had swollen shut. i did admit a few things, hot tears spilling down my feverishly pale cheeks, to a girl i had never really conversed with before, but luckily she held her silence. i could scarcely bare to even see much less talk to any of the people with whom i'd gotten drunk a few weeks prior, and it was with shock that i realized, observing them, that, while the foundations of my world had been overturned, for them nothing at all had changed.
one of the only bright stops in an otherwise unrelenting dark spell was the fact that my younger sister, the one closest in age to me besides the golden child, lent me her cell phone in order to send furtive messages to jimmy, communicating my fear and despair. if he'd have agreed to come pick me up, i would have gone, college tuition or no college tuition.
on thursday, the tension in the air around me reached its breaking point. i was standing in the middle of my room, which would shortly become my almost twin's, since he was soon to be given a third or fourth chance at family life. as though i'd never inhabited it at all, the space would be transformed beyond recognition by the infusion of his personality, tastes, and memories in place of mine.
my mom was saying things to me, nothing new. her voice was stoic, which only made the harshness of her words still more cruel. i could feel the sound waves vibrating against my form, somewhere in the background, while my right hand took center stage. i was clad in a navy blue polo shirt, that day, and long kaki pants, complete with pockets, one of which held the razor blade my fingertips explored as a means of self soothing during my mom's lecture. eventually, she left. eventually, i found myself locked into the bathroom i shared with my younger sister. i slid closed the clear glass panel that served as a shower curtain, and turned on the water. following advice i only dimly recalled from television characters who play acted at what i'd made up my mind to do, i turned the temperature setting up to as hot as i could possibly stand it. steam rapidly billowed out to fill the room, fogging over the formerly transparent panel of the shower door. i did not remove my clothes, because even though i had made up my mind never to leave this shower again, i still considered how i would be found. i was still vain enough to care that whoever cleaned up the mess i was in the process of making did not see the rolls of fat hanging over my hips. my kakis soaked up the water, quickly becoming heavy. i had three razor blades at my disposal, so i used them one by one, until each became so dull that it was rendered completely ineffective. i had thought that i would get easier, as i went on, parting my flesh to reveal more and more red. but slicing open my wrist was a lot like paring the preserved skin and fat and tissue from the bones of the fetal pigs my biology class had dissected my freshman year. my skin was tough and elastic and resisted, so even as i watched with each stroke as the well i dug into my left wrist got deeper and deeper, still the blood escaped in thin streams that followed the course of the water that struck me, rather than gushing uncontrollably the way i knew it needed to do. in that shower, sitting with my knees pulled up and my arms angled over them to allow gravity to help maximize the blood flow, i worked and worked at my hopeless task. i traded off, first cutting the left, then the right, pushing rusty razor blades into holes that were already ragged and screaming. i watched my skin begin to turn blue, despite the intensity of the heat raining down over my head, neck, and back. and eventually, my fear that i would be caught in this position before i'd managed to make a deep enough cut outweighed my drive to keep pushing forward. so i turned off the shower head, wrapped my wrists with gauze that i had left over from the stash i used to treat my overuse injuries back when i ran backyard marathons, and climbed into bed still so dripping wet that my clothes were suctioned against my body.
i did not call out for help or ask to be taken to a hospital and stitched up. i told nobody what i'd done. if my mom had found out, i could only imagine that there'd have been more uproar, more yelling, accusations that'd i was a drama queen and i was trying to get back at her. plus, i really didn't care if the bandages i'd made didn't work and i ended up bleeding out in my sleep. my tools were so blunt and my cuts were so pathetic, that the likelihood of this happening was very slim, but i managed to fall asleep comforted by the hope that maybe, if i was lucky, i wouldn't have to wake up and go back to school.
the next afternoon my mom informed me that i wouldn't be taking my final exams. the principal had called and had excused me from completing them; grandma and grandpa were coming for dinner tomorrow, and when they left at night i would go back to their house with them to stay.
the ringing in my ears drowned everything out, all physical sensation, all sadness or hunger or regret or terror, while my mom hugged me, wore her cheesiest smile and bid me goodbye in an attractive, youthful voice crafted for the ears of company, a category which included her own parents. i shut myself in the hot, stuffy, leather smelling interior of my grandparents' car and i did not look back. the only time anybody in my family ever commented on the raised slashes across my wrists was the time, seated at lunch in a restaurant, my oldest sister asked, dumbly, in a show of absolute denial that characterized her method of dealing with difficult aspects of our shared history, if one of the marks was a print from a bracelet.