I was sitting on my daughter Sophia’s bed and we were having our nightly chat, running through the day, giggling over silly things that happened at school, wondering whether the beginnings of puberty might be as angst-ridden for her as it was for me, and regarding the divorce, that yes, it was absolutely okay to feel sad and angry and confused.And then Sophia ran her fingertip up my forearm and said, “How did you really get all these scars? It wasn’t really from a cat, was it?”
The cat. The crazy, mysterious unnamed cat had been my demonic perpetrator every time Sophia had asked about the cross-hatching of scars on my forearms. Of course, no cat could have methodically clawed me in such a brutal, linear fashion. More like the regular rings of a tree or the centimeter marks ticking up a ruler than any irrational, frenzied clawing.But because Sophia has herself been scratched up by her own kitties. Because Sophia has always been so young and innocent and believed that I would tell her the truth. Because Sophia wouldn’t know that it would be conceivable to pick up a razor, a shard of glass, or a knife and cut into your very own self why would she think my scars come from anywhere else?
“Well,” I said, “no.” She was old enough, now, to know. I live in truth and my relationship with my daughter is one based in appropriate truth. If I did the calculations, by the time I was her age, twelve, I was already edging toward my descent into depression and two years away from my first drink and first time cutting. She needed to know I’d been through it and come out on the other side and that she could come to me if in peril.Sophia ran her finger over my scars. “Did you get them from cutting?”
I held my breath. No. I couldn’t breathe. What I was most afraid of—that she would know—and she could see—and I had to get this moment right because so much was riding on it. She would remember if I would tell her the truth so in the future she could come to me and speak her truth.“I did,” I said. “I went through a really hard, long time when I thought that would make me feel better.”
“We learned about it in Health class,” she said. “But I still don’t understand why someone would cut themselves. Why did you?”
“Oh honey, it’s hard to explain. But I’ll try. When I started out, when I was a teenager, I was really depressed and alone. And I thought feeling the pain of cutting myself would help me feel better. Feeling the pain on the outside would make the inside pain feel real.”
“Couldn’t you talk to your parents or friends?” She leaned her head into my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her.“At the time I didn’t think my parents wanted to hear about how I was really feeling. They thought if I tried to be happy, I would be happy. And my friends didn’t really want to hear about how I really felt either. And after a while, cutting myself became a way of dying a little bit. Does that help?”
“I just don’t like thinking of you like that. It was like when you used to go away all the time to the hospital. I missed you so much.”We looked at each other, both of us crying.
“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been in the hospital? Almost four years. My medicine has been working and I’ve been working to stay in a place that is stable which means I get to stay here with you.”Sophia hugged me and then sat back. “Remember what you told me about the scar on my eyebrow? It gives me character. You just have a lot of character.”