|My Left Arm
||[Nov. 2nd, 2009|11:04 pm]
I have 10 scars; approximately 3 inches long each and evenly spaced out going horizontally up my arm, from my wrist to my elbow. Someone once jokingly asked me if I hated my left arm. I said “no, I’m just right handed.” And that is nothing more or less than the simple truth. In self-destruction I was as rational and methodical as I am when I meticulously follow a recipe.
I have managed to localise the source of my oddness; it is simply that what most people take for granted as the way of things, I have to learn from firsthand experience. I’m from Missouri, nicknamed the “Show Me State”. When I was very young I asked my Mom what that meant and she explained that Missourians have a reputation for believing something only when it was clearly shown to be true. I must have been conceived in a particularly hot and dense part of the state, because this mantra has proven all too relevant in my life.
In many ways, marching to my own drummer has been a great blessing, but in some it has led to much pain. I asked the great Everything, Life itself, to prove to me that it was worth the effort of getting out of bed and being a predominantly law abiding citizen. It isn’t that I don’t have a conscience, or that I lack compassion for other people, but the rules of society, even eminently sensible ones, have had to be intensely scrutinised and often offended before I could bring myself to comply. We prattle on about “to thine own self be true” but what to do when our own selves quite fancy robbing banks?
Growing up we are told that sex is sacred and something to be shared with someone you love; sometimes we are told we must wait until marriage. I could not understand this for most of my pre-married life. For me, sex was equivalent of brushing your teeth; a physical activity that you did for a valid reason. With teeth, you brush to avoid cavities and bad breath, with sex you partake for pleasure and closeness etc. Neither act required more sacred significance than the other, therefore it mattered not one whit if I waited for someone special so long as my motives were being met. I realise this is probably making me sound either very cold or very promiscuous but I am neither. Both adjectives could at one point or another have been applied to me before I married, but it would have been like describing old burnished gold as yellow; elements of similarity exist but a gulf of truth lies between them.
The wretched, plaguing scars on my left arm were born of the same type of rationale. When I was 15 I felt I was madly in love with a shockingly bad bad-boy with an alluring, romantic depth beneath his angst. He was 21 and seemed to me to have the most exciting history and life already behind him. He had done things, and had the scars to prove it; he was consummately desirable to me. We were friends, and we kissed, regularly; I can’t say much more than that. I clearly adored him and the feeling was at least sometimes mutual. Three months after I turned 16 he committed suicide, shooting himself in the stomach. That strange method nagged me for years afterwards; surely he knew it wasn’t going to be an instant release like a bullet in the head would have been. Nevertheless, his death was one of several formative events in my early life. Along with all of the common grieving emotions that I experienced, his decision to take his own life pulsed like a homing device, reminding me that only I was in charge of me. Kurt Cobain had recently died the same way, and someone I had touched and known choosing suicide sealed the deal of my non-committance. Suicide became an option, another decision to make, weighing the balance of life and death. The ultimate ‘brushing of the teeth’.
At some point around that time I cut my arm, each time trying to be bolder and deeper than the time before, just to test how much I could choose to inflict on myself. How near to that decision could I get? I got close, close enough to give me a taste for control, and deep enough that the scars still show vividly 14 years later – much to my annoyance. I am not the same person I was at 16 any more than any other mother approaching middle age (shudder) is, but I have ‘dysfunction’ forever emblazoned on a very public part of my body. It is a bore having to explain them each time I see a new doctor, and it will be a bitch to cover up when I try to infiltrate the PTA. Even when I was admitted to hospital with pneumonia, the ambulance driver asked me where I got the obviously very old scars from. I did bite his head off between puffs of oxygen, asking him what exactly that had to do with my lungs filling with water.
After I cut myself up on the bathroom floor I emerged a different person. Where before there had been rebellion, insolence and an overactive mind now I had a calm, nihilistic approach to life, even to my emotions which were as strong as ever. I remember being supremely confident that if I worked hard enough I could be perfect. It took years to emerge from that to a more balanced (and correct) view of life and the magic within it. First I had a religious epiphany, then rejected that as well. The floodgates had been opened and a couple of very manic years followed the ice age that had gone before. Self preservation overtook impulse, and I moved to England to marry Matthew at what I now think was a very young age; I’d only just turned 22. In the 8 years since my life has slowed down and I have probably found about as much equilibrium as I am ever likely to know.
I am not made to be a very easy person, nor can I thrive in overly easy conditions. Not that I wouldn’t welcome a lottery win and drastically improved health, but even if I were given those elusive possessions I would undoubtedly seek out trouble elsewhere. I try to bring my expectations in line with reality and attach accordingly modified behaviour to my actions. I often get that wrong and expect more out of “it all” than I am likely to get. But on the whole I don’t regret that about myself, now that I’ve transformed my plonk into vintage champagne. Stagnation is a word that is never applied to me, and I don’t give up unless it benefits me to do so. Where some people accept injustice in the name of normality I simply do not, and I like that about myself. I haven’t lost the art of asking why (the very same annoying habit my son is currently excelling in) and that can be a very useful personality flaw to have.
I am light years away from nihilism now; I see magic around every corner and everything matters. I still believe that I am (largely) in charge of myself, and I still act on my own observances, but my ambitions are no longer so hedonistic. I’ve absorbed the “dot on the timeline” futility of it all and the examination of life in general and made them work for me instead of against me. I envy people who can accept something without delving into its opposite. I certainly hope my own son can learn his lessons without quite as much hands on experimentation, but I would not wish him to be moderate in all things.
Life matters so much to me now that apathy is as repulsive as unquestioning obedience.