Arlene and Phillip shepherded their three children to the car, and they were off to church. While Phillip was making small talk with the pastor of their church, Arlene sent each child off to their different classrooms. Normally, Arlene went to a women’s Bible study group, but because of the holidays, it was cancelled. She settled on sitting in the sanctuary with Grace, who, just last year, asked Arlene if she could sit with her during the service instead of going to Sunday school. When probed why, Grace just said they had a stronger message in service, and the other kids didn’t want to really learn about God anyway. Arlene was pleased and acquiesced. She made a beeline to their normal seat, and Grace busied herself by reading the hymn text. Arlene looked at her eldest daughter with pride before leaving to find Phillip.
Grace couldn’t believe her luck: her mom bought the sappy story of wanting to learn more about God. In the end, she was allowed to join her parents during the service, but it wasn’t for the reason they thought. She was tired of everyone talking about their problems. As if she cared or didn’t have problems of her own. Nobody understood why she did what she did anyway, and she was much more careful to conceal her behaviors from the snoopy eyes of others.
When her mom left the sanctuary, Grace looked around making sure she was alone. She opened the hymn book to page 123 and took out a single blade razor. She marveled at the way the light caught the edge of the blade and glinted before purposefully putting the blade to the underside of her arm and swiping across, producing beads of blood that dripped onto the cover of the hymn book. She closed her eyes and imagined all the pain and sadness leaking out of her before walking to the bathroom as if nothing had happened. The only difference was that she held her head higher and squared her shoulders with confidence.
Church felt longer than usual, and Grace didn’t particularly enjoy the sermon or the songs. Her mind darted back and forth, and though her body was in the sanctuary, her mind was in the bathroom. Somehow she managed to sit through the entire session and make it to the soup kitchen, the family’s weekly volunteer event, without giving into the temptation to cut again.
Once at the soup kitchen, Grace put on the red apron and wandered in the kitchen to help bring out the food. She was usually the person who helped cook since she was older, but because her family had left church late, she was assigned to the task of an usher. After the homeless people got their food, Grace directed them to open seats. She noticed the way the people sat together but didn’t eat together; they might as well have been sitting in separate rooms with the lack of conversation. She continued to observe the crowd of people, which was thinning, as she helped clean up the kitchen. She had lost track of her family, who was probably outside giving the homeless people inspiration. Grace had always preferred to stay behind the scenes, without ever really getting too involved.
Grace walked back in the kitchen, darting furtive glances to make sure nobody was watching, and concealed a serrated knife in her sweater sleeve. Before she was able to make it to the bathroom, an elderly woman wearing several layers of clothing and who smelled not unlike the dumpster outside of the church walked up to her and asked if it was too late to get some food. Grace sighed and retrieved the woman a heaping plate and made a beeline for the bathroom.
Once safely inside with the door locked, she took the knife from her sleeve and watched the pinpricks accidently made by the knife bead with blood and trickle down her arm. She felt a bubbling sensation in her stomach, a churning feeling that she had to release, and she made it on her knees with her head in the toilet just in time as she purged the negativity of her life out of her stomach. She hadn’t eaten yet that day, but the nauseated feeling within herself from seeing the blood and all that came with it was too much. As punishment to herself, she swiped the blade of the knife across her calf and winced with pain. It was the first time she had explored an area other than her arms, and the sweet release was sublime.
Before leaving, she first washed the knife, carefully removing all traces of blood, and washed her hands, absolving herself of the sin she committed against herself. She sat on the closed toilet seat, grabbed several wet paper towels, and paid great attention to cleaning the wound that let her feel free. She got lost in her mind during her compulsion to sanitize, and when she finally left the bathroom, disposing the knife in the trash, her mother was waiting for her.
“I thought something happened to you. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think something is wrong with my stomach. Maybe the stomach flu.”
“Have you eaten today? Maybe you’re hungry. We can stop off somewhere before going back home, but I need to find your brother and sister.”
Grace played the role of the dutiful daughter as she walked to the car without anyone realizing that her sweater sleeves were now blood-stained.