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The first time I cut myself, I was seventeen and I did it for a girl in fifth period creative writing class. Amy? Angela? I can’t remember anymore, watched me read my short and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. I was barely aware of the bandage over the bruise on my shoulder, but I could still feel the pain in the words I read.
That cut bled for days, but, hey, it was worth it. The lovely Miss A let me drive her home after school that very afternoon and graced me with my first blow-job as a thank you. After graduation, a poem created from my second cut convinced her to give me a different kind of ride. Summer ended and she went away to college; I, of course, went to work. Because that’s what Lansing men do.
Lansing men also drink, but I’d had enough of that shit when I was still in grade school. Dislocated elbows courtesy of drunken fathers have a tendency to do that sort of thing.
Anyway, my dad got me a job at the plant, right there with him and uncle Marv, so I spent the next decade or so standing on a decaying rubber mat as I bolted blades in mower decks. Dad, Marv, and half the crew went to a neighborhood dive after work, except for payday when they went to titty bars and watched naked college girls gyrate on poles. From the beginning, they dragged me along.
The servers quickly learned that a Jack and Coke order meant straight Coke for me – screw up that simple truth and no tip for you, sweetie – so while everyone else got plastered in preparation to go home and beat their wives and kids, I’d sit in the shadows and take notes in a little pocket notebook. I’d write how Uncle Marv’s breath stank after two scotch on the rocks, how my dad would tweak the serving gal’s right tit but never her left, how the chip in a dancer’s heel made her hip awkwardly shift as she did her thing, even how corrosion on the metal chair legs matched the stains on the ceiling, nearly speck for speck. All those little details went into my notebook.
At first the guys wanted to see what I’d jotted down, but I’d close the book before handing it to them. The first few pages were padded with drawings of decks for the back of the house, grocery lists, or budget bullshit. After a drunken glance or two, they stopped asking and, sometimes, in the dark, those notes turned into stories.
I’d tried writing at the house instead of the bars, a little nothing bungalow on a dead-end dirt road, but there just weren’t any words to be had. Was it writer’s block? Hell if I know, I certainly didn’t consider myself a writer then, but until I met Kristin home was a dry zone. No words, no muse, and definitely no blood.
I met Kris in the Laundromat of all places. The third or fourth time I saw her, she blushed as she mooched a fabric softener sheet, but we got to talking, one thing led to another, and about three months later she moved in. The little house became a home. She was an amazing cook, a wildcat in the sack, and it didn’t take long for us to start saving for a bigger place, a wedding, and maybe even kids.
I was happy. For the first time in my wretched, filthy life, I was happy. You have to understand that. With Kris I didn’t miss the words or the dark. Hell, I didn’t want them. I had nothing to escape from.
Until January seventeenth, three months and twenty-six days before we were booked to take a honeymoon in the Bahamas. It had been spitting snow for the better part of a week, temps hovering just below freezing, but that Wednesday afternoon it warmed up and flurries turned to drizzle. Kris was late but I was home, watching the news and trying to ignore the inviting aroma from her crock pot, when they showed the accident. Thirty-two cars crushed together on the interstate, unable to stop because the rain had turned to ice, and the dipshit that started it all laying upside down in the median.
Despite surgeries, machines, and I lost count how many transfusions, it took her three days to die. I never left her side for a moment she wasn’t in surgery. Not one damn moment. When I couldn’t cry, I wrote. It was shit, but I wrote anyway.
When it was over, when my Kris was gone and I was sent to a special waiting room to collect myself and call her parents, I sat there a long time, staring at the scrunched and stained spiral notebook that had helped me endure the past days. A decayed corpse of black bones and rotted flesh walked in, shambling and smelling of rot. He sat beside me and introduced himself as Sid before leaning back in his chair, brightly aware eyes glittering in dead and rotted sockets. I didn’t realize I’d pulled my penknife from my pocket and had flayed my arm open as he stared, not until the green cover of my notebook had splattered red and Sid had licked it clean.