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My First Cutting


I was somewhere around ten or eleven years old. I was very methodical about it. It was summer. My parents were outside, working in the yard. No one else was in the house. I got a small bowl of ice cubes, a pocket knife, a needle and toilet paper, sat on the floor of my bedroom, leaned my back against the tomb that was my bed, crossed my legs and pressed an ice cube against the skin of my calf. I got halfway through the melted ice then used the knife first, cutting a tiny round hole. It hurt. I put more ice on it, numbed it, and cut again. Now, it was hurting really hard. More ice, then the needle—I dug into the skin, used the needle’s length to spread the tiny flayed dermis outward like torn petals, winced when the needle probed deeper, and kept digging. I seriously considered routing a hole straight through my fat calf.

It was fascinating. That is the emotion I sense from the whole scene: I was in awe. The blood turned thin with the melted ice. I dug until. . .yes—I hear my parents’ voices now, coming through the front door, talking about weeding and how big the tomatoes have gotten. It was deep summer. The days were long, filled with light and heat, my favorite season. My leg throbbed with pain that made sense. But I cleaned up as if hiding evidence of a murder, wiping down everything with the toilet paper.

Later, I went to Blake’s house, my best friend. We listened to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on his record player. Again, the past becomes Now: I’m in Blake’s room. We’re both singing “Bennie and the Jets” along with Elton. My leg throbs. I feel calm.

I’m pretty sure that was the first time. The scar is hardly there now, stretched tight, unlike the pronounced ones on my forearms, biceps and upper thighs from slashes made decades later. I doubt I’d gotten as deep as my ten-year-old mind sees it. While I dug, I imagined sinews and mini-ligaments under the skin, a stretch of muscle. Of course, it was just a mess. I was going for the bone. I should have done it on top of the shin.

I think that now. Then, what did I think? I just wanted to do it. It might have begun with Blake and me looking at an anatomy book at school. But, did they teach anatomy at that age? Or had Blake and I looked at the screwy ads of a Batman comic book, and considered buying those fake X-Ray glasses from Battle Creek, Michigan? I don’t know. But, when I consider the memory, it doesn’t seem like an anomaly. It seems normal. But, what was I looking for, underneath my skin?

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