The first of three (so far) characters for my first real story. Russell is currently twenty-three and living in a nonchalant city without much going on. This will tell you where he's from and a little of who he is. He's always willing to answer questions if you have any, so feel free to ask.
I don't want your pity, or your apologies, or anything like that. I really don't even want to do this, but um...
This is something I have to do, at least once.
My mother might have been pretty before I was born, and even after, she had that air that alluded to it. She's tall, and has red hair and freckles; looking at pictures of her when she was little, all I can see is some little Irish milkmaid. Part of me wishes I had known her, and been friends with her, instead of being her elder son.
Because she didn't take motherhood very well. Granted, she was all of twenty-one when she and my dad got married, and not long after that she got pregnant. You know, they say the first year of marriage is the hardest, and a baby only makes it ten times worse. My mother and dad were alright, they'd been together a long time. They met when she was seventeen and he nineteen. My mother's best friend had an older brother who worked with my dad, and they all ended up at the friend's house for some gathering (might have been a holiday or a wedding, or a funeral, for all I know). Funny story, the friend thought my mother would go for her brother, who thought my dad would go for his sister.
My dad was... I guess the term is traditional, in a not-at-all traditional way. He went to my grandfather and asked permission to see my mother; he said no at first, because he didn't think my dad deserved her. So my dad went and got a better job, moved into his own place, started paying his own bills (like my grandfather thought he should, as a grown man). Every Tuesday for almost a year, he went to my mother's house and asked permission. Even after she was eighteen and said her father couldn't stop them, he wanted his blessing. That was what brought my grandfather around in the end. Three years later, on a Tuesday, my dad asked if he could marry my mother.
Anyway, their marriage survived, despite the early onset of parenthood. My mother, however, didn't weather the pregnancy well. She spent most of the nine months attacking my dad and leaving all sorts of bruises and scratches, and he almost went to jail after leaving red marks while restraining her. He loved her, though, and she loved him, and after I was born, she calmed down. Withdrew is a better word, I guess. Obviously, I don't remember anything from the first few years, but I-- I remember her just standing and staring for hours until my dad came home. Then she'd spring back to life and hurry around making him dinner and asking about his day. She'd smile and laugh and even sing sometimes, silly music from the 50s.
But all day, while it was just us, everything had to be quiet. There was passive silence and apathy in the house, unless I did something that made too much noise for her. Then she would start breaking things. Nothing major, usually. Usually Christmas ornaments or something along those lines. The first time she screamed as she did, but after a while she didn't make a sound. I didn't either, not for the longest time; when I started school they thought I was mute. I just didn't know how to handle the noise. And I had nearly constant migraines. After years of not making a sound, of trying to be as quiet as possible because I was so sure I was going to get in trouble if I made noise... My mother took care of me, I was never mistreated. But stuff like that sticks with a kid.
When she got pregnant again, I was seven, and I was scared. But things went smoothly, and for a while I saw the woman my dad married. When she brought Flynn home, and he cried, and she just smiled and cooed and was sweet and gentle, my entire grasp on reality was shattered. The noise was more than I could handle, never mind the apparent dismissal of my mother. Of course, I was still to remain as quiet as possible, which was all I really could do. I was just waiting for something to snap, but not the way it did.
Flynn was napping, and she (for the first time in almost a year) had resumed her silent stare. I thought things were fixed. Then Flynn started crying; he was colicky, and cried most of the time. I was right next to the nursery, so I went in and tried to calm him down. Instead my mother came in, picked him up, and stared at me. Then turned to head downstairs.
She stopped in the doorway. “He's a baby. Babies cry. Stop being unreasonable.”
And my mother left and took something from me with her.
For a while I spun out of control. I screamed and fought and broke things at school, and wouldn't say a word at home. My mother was of the impression that boys would be boys, and refused to scold me as long as my behavior was constant at home; my father tried to talk to me, to find out what was wrong. But Flynn was screaming, and I couldn't hear anything when he screamed. The solution came as an accident a few months after I turned eight. My mother was giving Flynn a bath after school, I was downstairs peeling potatoes for dinner.
He screamed (the water was too hot or too cold or something), and I jumped and sliced my palm open. When it started bleeding, when I saw the blood, everything was quiet again.
Perfectly, wonderfully silent.
Next time he started screaming, it took all that I had to not try cutting myself intentionally. After that, I had to.
For a while I cut the upper part of my arm. It was only once in a while, at first. I was still very nervous, though, for obvious reasons: if I was caught, I would get in trouble. The marks were always shallow, always out of direct line of sight. I was old enough to dress and bathe myself, and at the time it was winter, so I didn't worry about swimming or short-sleeved shirts. Then my mother came in one morning while I was getting dressed; it was the day Flynn was baptized (we were waiting for my grandfather to come).
She looked at it, and I started to cry. She just walked over to my closet, pulled out the shirt she wanted me to wear, and helped me into it. I froze as soon as she touched me, completely bewildered.
When she finished, she just said, “Everyone goes through it. Keep it to yourself.”
So I did. My visible psychosis disappeared overnight. I was good-natured at school, responsive at home when called for. I mostly stayed clear of Flynn, and that worried my dad to a certain extent. When I had to be around Flynn, though, I was able to hold it together until I could get a moment alone. When spring hit, I moved my attention to my ribs. By summer, my arms were clear and I was better. Flynn did as most kids do and moved from crying to laughing to being a punk of an eight-year old. We were close; he's a pretty awesome kid, as far as it goes, happy and full of himself.
On the other hand, I kept up cutting. By the time Flynn outgrew his fits, my hormones had my sociopathic enough to need it for my own problems. And things only got worse in middle school, to the point where I was cutting at school. I think some of my teachers suspected it, but no one ever said anything. It was a big school, but not big enough; kids were lucky if their teacher learned their name by the end of the year, never mind trying to have a personal relationship with them. So when I didn't show up in a class one day, no one came looking.
I passed out in the crawlspace under the stage. I'd gone there a few times, but I'm not sure why or when I got there. I remember coming to and seeing my shirt off on the floor, and my sides cleaned and bandaged with skills that rivaled my own (at that point I was pretty good at first aid). There was a kid camped out next to me, just waiting. When he realized I was awake, he helped me sit up, offered me a bottle of water, and told me he wouldn't tell anyone, and that there was an hour- and a half left of school. We spent it in what for me was comfortable, for him amiable, silence.
A few days later I finally found him again-- well, he actually found me, though in far better shape. He sat down next to me at lunch and asked if I was ready to talk about it. I said no; he didn't push it. He talked for a while about his family and how he was learning to play guitar. Offered to teach me, said something about a band someday. Wanted to know my opinion on school food. Most of the questions weren't answered, and he never seemed too upset about it. When the bell rang for us to go to class, he gave me a slip of paper, and told me to not be afraid to use it.
He'd given me his phone number and address. I didn't want to call, didn't want to need to use it. But I kept it. And he kept talking to me at lunch; which seemed strange to me. I couldn't really stand all the noise in the lunch room, all the kids screaming and yelling. But he spoke softly, and I had to really focus to hear him. When I realized I was actually listening to him, and couldn't hear anything but him when he was talking, I freaked out. Didn't go back to lunch for almost a week. He found me in the library without much effort. Somehow he understood, though, and just stayed nearby.
I walked over to his house maybe a month later. I was still wired to not cause noise at home, so calling was out of the question, and it wasn't much farther than the school. It didn't occur to me that I didn't know his name until I was in front of the building and couldn't figure out which apartment was his. I started to panic, instinctively reaching for my pocket knife to handle the feeling.
Then he was there, taking hold of it and pulling it from my shaking fingers. I started to cry, as I had when my mother found me.
What happened next left me weak and helpless: his arms wrapped around me, pulling my body tightly against his. “You don't have to do this.”
Damian's mom called my house. The idea of such an act boggled my mind, but she calmly explained that I had walked home with him after school, and wanted to know if I could stay for dinner. I could hear my dad answering in surprise that I know the story deserved. I had never gone anywhere without my parents. I had never been to a friend's house, or even really had friends to invite me. But he would never stop me from doing so. I know he worried about me, and some part of me wanted Damian's story to be true.
I told him everything. I can't honestly remember what everything was. I don't think most of it made sense, but once I started talking, I couldn't stop. It was thirteen years worth of words spilling over, crumbling into a pile between us. I told him I didn't want to draw attention to myself, that there was just too much noise, that I couldn't stop and that I needed it and please just give me the knife back. He said he would, but only if I would only cut around him. I couldn't do it, but I needed it, so I agreed. When he gave it back, I had already pulled my shirt up.
Without even thinking about it, I started to cut. He watched, though it didn't sink in for a while. I stopped when I noticed; he extended his hand, and reluctantly I gave the knife back. He counted off eight marks, and nonchalantly raised his own shirt and set to cutting himself. After the first mark, I jumped up to stop him. Didn't stop to think that he in much better condition than I, besides the fact I was small for my age. He easily pinned me down, using his knees to hold my arms so he could continue. Without flinching, he made seven more identical slashes in his otherwise unmarred flesh.
Then he closed the knife, stood, and retrieved what I learned was a first aid kit. I could only lie there, shaking all over. He paid his own wounds no mind, carefully cleaning mine and bandaging them with understated ease. When he had taken care of himself, he laid on the floor next to me. I turned to look at him, and he smiled. Knowing he had just given himself scars that were mine, knowing he was even then bleeding under his shirt, and still he could smile at me like we were sharing a joke instead of a dirty secret-- knowing this was enough to calm my tremors.
Softly, he murmured that he wouldn't stop me from cutting. He wouldn't tell anyone, not a teacher, not his or my parents, not even a priest. He would never keep my knife from me, but he would never let it out of his room. There was no way for him to know what I was doing when he wasn't around, and this he knew. But now I knew he could hold me down, and he would hold me down, and search every inch of me, and catalog every scar and mark. And for every new one he found, he would add one to himself, right in front of me, so I would know the damage I was causing myself.
Damian was still smiling. Resolute, accepting. Not exactly forgiving, because that would have been condescending, and he never wanted that. But something like it. And we just lay there for who-knows-how-long until his mom called us out to eat. I don't know what went through her mind, but she had to know there was something wrong with me. She spoke just as gently as Damian, asked questions without any expectation of answers. That may sound bad, but I know she was genuinely interested. She just understood that I wasn't able to answer her yet.
My dad came to take me home. Damian's mom offered to have me over anytime. He replied that he would be happy to bring me over, and even asked if Damian wanted to come over sometime. I think he could see the panic in my face, though, because Damian just smiled and said no thanks. My dad and I didn't say much on the way home (which we were used to), until we had just pulled into the driveway.
He turned to me and said, “Russell, I'm glad you found someone to talk to.”
I cut one more time when I got inside. I went home with Damian again, and, like he said he would, he checked me over for new marks. I couldn't meet his eyes when he found them; I felt his fingertips searing the flesh, counting aloud as he did. Nine today, he mused, standing and again going for the first aid kit. I didn't understand until he pulled my knife from the box. Again I tried to take it from him; and again, he pinned me down. Mimicked my injuries, without so much as a wince. The routine was set. He cleaned my side first, then his, then settled on the floor next to me.
This time, I told him I wanted to be done. “I'm tired of being like this. I feel sick all the time. I don't want this anymore.”
“You don't have to do this,” He reminded me, adding, “It won't be easy to stop, but you'll be okay. I'm not giving up on you.”
Crying again (and not for the last time around Damian), I demanded, “Why?”
“Because you need someone,” He answered, taking a deep breath that I need would hurt. “You need someone, so I'm not giving up on you.”
And he didn't. With his help, I got better. Stopped cutting that day, took him every knife and blade I had-- and I had quite a few. For a while we got into some trouble at school, because I would want to cut in the middle of a class and would need him from wherever he was. His mom had an issue with it, and asked about it one day when he went to the kitchen. I heard her ask if there was something he needed to tell her. He was quiet for a moment, then answered very carefully that he just had something he needed to take care of, and for her not to worry.
Maybe this was a bad thing, but seeing him get hurt and in trouble and sacrificing was enough to change my behavior. I love him for that. He got me out of my shell, helped me learn to make friends and say what I meant. There were still days when I wanted to cut, and even though I didn't, I spent a lot of time lying on his floor, shaking. We made it through high school, had the band he talked about. Life wasn't perfect, not by any means, but it was good. As soon as I hit eighteen I moved out. Damian helped me when I needed it, still does. In more than one way, I owe him my life.