Last night, my daughter and I were lolling on the bed, giggling about dragons, and Athena, our insane dog, and the invasion of the ants (a million degrees outside and all at once, an army of giant fat, black ants marched into my kitchen in search of—water? air conditioning? A cold Corona? I screeched; the kids dissolved into hysterics).
“I love you, Momma,” my daughter suddenly said, and then she began playing with the silver bracelet on my wrist, counting the beads, pushing it up and down, and then her fingers wandered up my arm, tracing the edges of the scars.
I froze. Please don’t consciously notice them, please don’t ask where they came from, please, please don’t touch them. The scars are all about damage and pain, and you, dear daughter, are about light and love. Please don’t let me contaminate you.
“How do you think you got these?” she asked. Of course. My daughter, always curious, studies the world around her with focused intensity. Earlier, she spent an hour watching the slow progress of her lizard molting its skin. Could I really assume that she wouldn’t see the dozens of white scars that etch my arm in their sad pattern?
I panicked. How could I answer that question? I don’t want her to imagine that I, her mother, might want to inflict pain, inflict such violence on myself. I am supposed to be the safe harbor against a painful, violent world. What would it mean for me to then be the source of all that is frightening?
A few days ago, she’d thrown a royal tantrum, as only an almost-eight-year old can. We were outside having a picnic lunch and she and her brother were fighting; so my daughter storms into the house, slamming the door behind her—and on her brother’s finger. I was furious, enraged at her thoughtlessness. After checking to make sure my son’s finger was okay (it was), I raced into the house after her.
“Into the time –out chair,” I said.
“No,” she said. “You can’t make me.”
So then I started yelling, and grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the chair. She pulled back, started crying. “Momma,” she wept, “you’re scaring me.”
I let go and forgot to breathe. I do not want to be that kind of Momma who scares her kids. I don’t want to be the source of fear, of instability, of, god help me, pain.
Which is why, lying with her on the bed last night, listening to her question about the scars I couldn’t answer her with anything more than, “I can’t remember.”
“Maybe it was Athena,” she said, “when Athena was a puppy.”
“Maybe,” I said. I couldn’t lie but I couldn’t tell the truth.
“No,” she decided. “There’s too many scars for it to be Athena. Maybe you got hurt when you were a kid.”
Ahh! There is certainly a connection between cutting and my childhood, so… “That’s probably it,” I agreed. After all, my adolescence was marked by cuts on my wrists, and bracelets over the cuts, and long sleeves over the bracelets, and my inability to ask for help, to even imagine there was any help for me. And before that? There were the bruises that lined my shins from where I’d whack my legs with a tennis racquet. And before that? The bottle of Flintstone vitamins I swallowed in hopes that I, at age nine, would end. So yes, I suppose I got hurt when I was a kid.
Which is what makes me so desperately protective of my kids. I know there are the usual slights and insults of childhood that can build resilience and character. But I don’t want to be a thoughtless, careless, damaging momma. I’ve already done that.
Last year, on my birthday, my daughter once again in my bed, but I was out of my mind manic and filled with aggressive self-loathing. What did I do? I carried a pair of scissors with me into bed, and when she had rolled over, I furtively cut into my arm. Of course my husband caught me and the fallout was horrible. For weeks I wasn’t allowed to be alone with my children—not in fear that I would hurt them directly, but in fear that I’d hurt myself and they would be subject to that terror. Momma IS Mad.
So that’s what’s been holding me back from cutting again these past eight months. I don’t yet know how to answer the questions that come from my kids about what we cheerfully refer to as, “my brain sickness.” And it’s not just a matter of how, but rather, I don’t want to have to answer the question of why. Why, Momma, do you cut yourself? Why, Momma, aren’t we and our love, enough to stop you? Why, Momma, do you still want to die?
I want to live, so no new scars. And there is my promise to Dr. B. : I will live. I will live in love and light, my children’s’ and my own.