Cutting Away the Pain *trigger warning*

“I would totally marry the lead singer. Dude is hot,” says Aimee.
“I’d marry the lead guitarist. The lead singer is overrated,” I reply.Aimee gasps and says,
“You take that back!”She starts tickling me.
“Okay, okay! Stop! Haha.”

I sit up and try to catch my breath.

“Nope, still overrated!” I say and bolt out of my room.

Aimee chases me down the stairs and around the kitchen table. We collapse into a giggling heap on the couch. Once I can breathe normally, I untangle myself from Aimee. I grab two bottles of water from the refrigerator. I hand one to Aimee and sit back down.

“I want food,” says Aimee.
“Peanut butter pancakes?”
“You know me too well,” she says, grinning.

We get up and grab shoes. We leave my house and walk to Diner 85. It’s six blocks away. We pass my therapists office on the way. I can’t help but think about my first appointment.

It was ten months ago, I walked into Dr. Sampson’s office and froze. I turn to leave, but Aimee is waiting outside. She shakes her head and shoos me away from the door. When I turn around, the receptionist is smiling at me.

“It’s okay, dear. This is a safe space,” she says.

I grimace.

“What’s your name?” she asks.
“Tacita Mason.”
“I see you’ve filled out the paperwork already. Follow me, Please.”

I follow her down a hall and into a large office. Dr. Sampson is sitting behind her desk. The receptionist knocks on the door frame. The doctor looks up and smiles. Everything about this woman is comforting.

“Come in, make yourself comfortable.”

I sit on a loveseat opposite a large plush chair. I thought Dr. Sampson would sit in the chair. Instead, she sits next to me on the loveseat.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Tacita. What brings you here?”
“My best friend asked me to come.”
“If you only came for your friend, then you won’t get better.”
“I mean, it’s not like I haven’t considered therapy before. I was never encouraged to do it either.”
“So, why do you think you need therapy?”

I don’t want to tell her.

“It’s okay; we can talk about whatever you need when you’re ready.”

“Taci?” Aimee says, waving her hand in front of my face.
“Yeah? Sorry, I zoned out.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.”

We enter the diner. It’s a quirky metal trailer with a western theme. We sit in a booth with cattle printed vinyl seats. Aimee is obsessed with peanut butter pancakes. Specifically, Diner 85’s. We order pancakes and lots of milk. Of course, Aimee finishes eating before me. She burps loudly.

“Gross! It smells like peanut butter,” I say laughing.
“Something for you to remember me by, haha. I have to go get my crew stuff so that I can get to practice.”
“Alrighty, I’ll see you later.”

Aimee hugs me and leaves. I finish my pancakes and head to the library.

I wave to the librarian and beeline towards my favorite spot. The librarian has stashed five books for me to read, in the trunk that everyone thinks is just a table. Only the two of us have keys to open it.

I start reading a random book. It’s a SciFi novel. Thirty pages into the book, I hear yelling outside. Across the street, a father is practically screaming at his son. He grabs him, and I tense up.

Ice claws its way through my veins and breathing was difficult to do.

I take a deep breath and start: I feel the chair, I hear the clock, I see the street, I taste mint, and I smell flowers. Just breathe, Taci.

I open my eyes and make sure no one can see me. I’m alone, thank God. This section of the library is normally deserted.
I feel so stupid; I’m panicking over nothing. All he did was grab the kid’s arm. Note to self, don’t sit by the window anymore.

After my nerves calm, I gather my stuff and begin to walk home. After traveling a total of six blocks, I slowly walk down my street, observing every house. All the houses look the same, boxy and modern. The only difference is no two have the same color scheme. Redundancy tends to happen when the same architect designs every house in the neighborhood.

I pause before unlocking the door. I take a long look at our grey and yellow house. I will never understand why the architect thought those two colors look good together. It’s not pale yellow and grey, but bright almost golden yellow and dark grey. Gross. Once my eyes start to hurt, I go inside.

My sister, Cheran is home. I can tell because there are a ton of dishes in the sink. It was empty when I left for school this morning. I sigh and curse under my breath, but I pull on gloves and wash them anyway. When I am finished, I go to my room and do homework. Around seven, mom brings home pizza.

Cheran comes into the kitchen, ignores our mother’s greeting, then goes back to her room with a plate full of pizza and a two liter of root beer. I grab two slices and cup of ginger ale.

“How was your day?” Mom asks.
“It was okay, school is school,” I reply.

We both head upstairs. I sit on her bed while she takes off her uniform. But, instead of putting on pajamas, she begins putting on casual clothes.

“Where are you going?” I ask, tilting my head to the side.
“To the movies,” she says.
“With who?”

I’m confused. Anyone, she would go out with was at work or fulfilling familial obligations.

“With Larkin.” she says.

The room spins and my ears ring. My blood is ice, but my skin is crawling. I tell her I have homework to finish and go next door to my room.

I set my plate and cup on the desk. I lock the door. By now I’m hyperventilating. I don’t give a damn about a mindfulness exercise right now. I rush to my closet and pull out an old shoe box.

The pink one that held tennis shoes I no longer own.
The one with the razor hidden inside of a hair tie container.

I make neat little slits along my left wrist until I can breathe again. Then I just sit there and bleed while numbness overtakes me. Blood drips down my hand, creating a small puddle and I panic. The sanguine calm is over.

I clean my wrist and bandage it. Then I clean the floor and disinfect the razor. I put it back in its hiding place. Well, there goes all of my progress.

Dr. Sampson, my therapist, would be disappointed. She’s super sweet and patient, but I can tell when she’s disappointed. My first appointment seems so long ago. I was so nervous. But, she gave me options. She showed me I had control. I loved how she greeted me with a hug every time I saw her, which is odd because I hate being touched.

“I’m gone!” mom yells.

Cheran says nothing. I clear my throat and yell, “bye.” I look out the window, and he’s standing there. Leaning against the car.

Suddenly, my heart hammers in my chest and I’m eight again. I’m watching TV, and he walks into the living room, and my stomach squeezes. He tells me not to answer the phone. He leaves. Mom told me to answer when she calls. She calls every day around seven. He knows that.

I go back to watching TV. The phone rings, it’s 7:05. I answer the phone with a bright “Hi Mommy!” It’s not my mom. It’s him. He says, “I told you not to answer the phone.” I cringe when he hangs up.

I hide in the closet. Too soon the apartment door slams into the wall. Too soon he is ripping me from the closet. Cheran is pretending to sleep on her bunk. Too soon he drags me into the living room and starts swinging. For what feels like forever, I am made of pain.

Thick leather embedded with metal wraps around my torso, my arms, my legs. When Larkin is done, he tells me to bathe and go to bed. I sit on the edge of the tub, and my tears add to the bath water. I stop the water and undress. There are angry red welts everywhere on my body. There is a large purple bruise on my right wrist. The water stings.

On my way to bed, he commands me to come to the dining room table. I flinch when he pulls me into his lap. He hugs me, and I want to slap him. He pushes a bowl of sherbet towards me and won’t let me leave his lap until I eat it.

When I’m about to wash my dishes, he notices the bruise. I yelp and drop the bowl when he grabs my wrist. He looks scared. Tells me not to tell my mother until morning, says she’ll be tired.

When she comes home, he bolts out the door. I climb out of bed and show her my wrist. She is angry. She dresses me in sweaters for the next two weeks. He picks us up from school the next day.

I dress in my pajamas and cover myself, all of myself, with the comforter. I fall asleep drowning in tears.

I wake up to a too bright sun. A solar eclipse would have been welcome. At least it’s Saturday. When I shower, I make sure to wash off the dried blood. I redress my wounds and put my clothes on in the bathroom. Mom is asleep, and Cheran is gone. I tip toe into my mother’s room and sit on her bed. Just watching her sleep.

“Do you need something?” she asks groggily.
“No,” I hesitate.
“You want something. Say it.”
“When did you start talking to him again?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, two weeks ago.”
“You know why I’m not happy about it.”
“He said that he’s changed, different.”
“Like the last three times.” I bite out.
“Am I supposed to be alone for the rest of my life?”
“Never mind, Mother. Forget I said anything, you will anyway”

My phone vibrates; it’s Aimee. She wants me to come over. I grab my keys and phone then walk the three blocks to her house. I don’t even get the chance to ring the doorbell before she pulls me into the house with a hug. I follow her to the kitchen as she rambles on about this new boy band she “discovered.”

“Mint chip or Rocky Road?” she asks, taking two cartons of ice cream out of the freezer.
“Mint chip.”
“‘kay.”

We each grab a spoon and head to her room. Aimee and her dad live in a ranch style house at the end of a cul de sac. It’s cozy and adorable and blue. She’s an only child, and her mom died during emergency heart surgery. She had a hole in her heart and doctors told her being pregnant was risky. She didn’t care, though; she just wanted a child.

Seven months into a very rough pregnancy and her lungs started filling with blood. That’s one of the side effects of a hole in a heart. Surgeons tried to save her mom and Aimee. In the end, they could only save Aimee. It’s sad, but I’m glad that they saved Aimee. I don’t know what I would do without my best friend.

Once we reach her room, she starts blasting albums by the band she was telling me about. I help her with some homework problems she was having issues with. Then, we watch a movie and eat ice cream. She won’t tell me what movie we’re watching. I groan internally when the intro starts, and it’s “Clueless.” This is bad. Every time she watches this movie, she wants to go shopping afterward. I can’t go shopping with her. Not now.

“Um, how about we watch something else?” I ask cautiously.
“Whether we watch it or not, I still want to go shopping later,” Aimee says with a grin.

I fall silent, trying to think of a way out of it. The credits roll, and I still haven’t thought of anything. Aimee jumps up and starts putting her shoes on.

“I don’t feel like shopping today Aim.”
“Pretty, pretty please?” she asks grabbing my wrists.

I whimper in pain and Aimee’s face falls. I can hear it in her voice; she’s on the brink of tears when she says,

“You’re doing it again.”

It’s not a question, but a statement. I can only look at the floor and pick with the sleeve of my sweater.

“What happened Taci? You were doing so well.”
“He’s back.”

Aimee flares her nostrils.

“When?”
“Since yesterday. My mom went out on a date with him last night,” I whisper.
“That’s insane! What is she thinking?”

I shrug. Aimee wraps her arms around me, and I sob. I cry on her shoulder until I can’t cry anymore.
Aimee uses her sleeve to dry my face then says,

“We have to tell someone.”
“Like who?”
“I don’t know, social services?”
“They wouldn’t do anything, Aimee. He hasn’t hit us in years. We haven’t even lived with him in years.”
“You have to try at least, Tac.”
“I did!”

I tell her about how I tried and failed.

I am nine. Cheran is seven. We were at home with Larkin. Mom is at school. I had finished my homework and am reading on my top bunk. Suddenly, I hear Larkin screaming at Cheran about a homework assignment she messed up.

Cheran!”, my step dad calls, “Where are you?

I can’t see anything, but I can hear it all.

“What is this?” he asks in a calm, dangerous voice.

At least when he is shouting, we know where we stand. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was holding her math homework. Every day, after we had finished our homework, we were to put it on the dining room table to be checked.

“What the hell have you been doing in school?!” He practically spits.
“Learning,” is her feeble reply.
“That’s a lie! This homework is all wrong!”
“But I tried real hard.”
“I can’t tell.”
“Go get your backpack,” he says pointing to our bedroom door.

When she walks in, I pretend to be absorbed in my book. I can’t bear to see the look on my sister’s face. She walks as slow as she can until he finally yells at her “Move your ass.”

He asks her to tell him the correct answer to each question she got wrong. Every time she says a wrong answer he hit her. Over. And over. And over. I wanted to kill him.

It’s really fucked up that I know what it sounds like to hear a studded leather belt hit a small child’s flesh. It’s fucked up that I know what it feels like. I couldn’t take it anymore.

The next day at school, I grabbed Cheran’s hand, and we went to the principal’s office. I told her about how Larkin hit us, how terrified we were. Cheran didn’t say a word. She just stared at her hands in her lap. Neither of us had marks on us (her welts had gone away overnight) plus Larkin is Cheran’s dad. The principal told us we were “just mad we got our butts whooped.” She sent us back to class.

“Something else broke in me that day, Aimee I never tried again. What for?”
“I-” Aimee starts. Then my phone rings.
“Yes, mother?” I sigh into the phone.
“Is Cheran with you?”
“No, why would she be?”
“Come home now.”
“Fine,” pinching the bridge of my nose.

I tell Aimee I have to go; they can’t find Cheran. She hugs me goodbye, and I run home. Larkin is sitting there, on the living room floor. He’s naked except for a pair of underwear and socks. God, that’s disgusting…

“What happened?”, I ask.
“She didn’t come home last night,” Larkin says.
“And, you’re just now looking for her? It’s 3 P.M.”
He gives me a hard stare. I shiver, turn back to my mother.
“Have you tried her friend, Emerald?”
“Who the hell is Emerald?” Mother sneers.
“She goes to school with Cheran. She lives on the other side of our street.”
“What’s the house number?” she asks.
“98.”

She stomps out of the house, slamming the door. Larkin is still sitting on the floor. Now he’s rubbing his junk through his underwear. I hate when he does that.

“Come here,” he waves me over. He has that evil clown look on his face.
“I have things to do,” I say and turn towards the stairs.
“Make me popcorn,” he says, still rubbing himself.
“Make it yourself,” I retort, stunned by my idiotic bravery and too scared to go anywhere near him.
“Get back here!” he yells, beginning to get up.

I sprint to the stairs, but he’s too fast. He grabs me by the back of my neck.

“Get off of me!”

I try to pry his hands off, but his grip is like a vice.

“You will obey me,” he says in his calm voice.

His dangerous voice.

And for a few seconds, I’m so angry, I don’t think.

“You. Are. Not. My. Father.” I grind out.

Then my eyes widen. What have I done? He tosses me across the couch. Like it was nothing. Like I am a chew toy in the mouth of a pit bull. I can feel my wounds tear open as he drags me to my feet. He raises his hand high above him. Before the blow comes, the door flies open.

He lowers his hand and steps aside just in time to avoid my mother seeing all of this. I didn’t think I had any tears left, but somehow, I find some. My mom takes in Larkin standing there. Takes in me crying and shaking.

“What the hell is going on?” she glowers.
“He was about to hit me.” Mom looks at Larkin.
“She said I wasn’t her father,” he says with that stupid fake pout.
“Tacita!” my mother yells, “You hurt his feelings!”

Something inside of me shifts. I walk past my mom and Cheran. Walk out the door. She doesn’t say anything. I’m not sure where I’m heading until I stop in front of Dr. Sampson’s office.

I walk through the door, and it’s empty except for the receptionist. She takes one look at me and guides me to the doctor’s office door. Once Dr. Sampson sees me, she rushes to me. She hugs me. She asks what happened. We sit.

“When I first started coming here, you gave me a choice. Deal with why I hurt myself or just use the exercises you taught me to live in the moment. So that I could resist cutting myself.”
“That’s right,” she nods.
“Well, I’m ready to deal with why now,” I whisper.

I tell her everything while watching my wrist bleed through my sweater.

Photo Credit: © Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved

Jazmine Ellington

Jazmine Ellington is a junior at Cleveland State University. She is studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing and pursuing a Bioethics certification. Jazmine also has work featured on Entropy Magazine.

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