The polished blade drew closer to the tender, scared flesh of my arm as I wonder what others will say when they see the sleeves again. It was no secret I was a cutter. I couldn’t help it. It was the only way I felt relief from the pains. My best friend Kylee would probably be the most upset with me. She was the only one that was willing to put up with my stupid antics. My biggest fear was losing her as my sole friend.
It was a bad one this time. My parents and I never seem to agree on anything, especially my friends. I wanted to be able to hang out with the skaters, but they insisted I try to find better friends. Kylee was who we argued about the most. We yelled and screamed for almost an hour before I stormed out of the house with my backpack in hand. I would sleep at anyone’s house but my own tonight. Normally I would go to Kylee’s and crash on their couch, but they were out of town for the weekend. I ended up in an alley beside the skate park sobbing in the corner. No one understood me. No one cared for me. It would be better if I could just disappear.
My knife came out of my pocket and I fingered the edge on it. Those conversations with Micah proved useful as he taught me how to sharpen a blade. He was learning to be a taxidermist and told me that a sharp knife was crucial for a good mount.
A small cut not deep enough to bleed showed me the blade was ready for service. I would have to be careful to not cut too deep. The last time Kylee cut herself laying in a tub of water, she nearly bleed to death before someone found her. I never wanted to go that far; I just wanted to somehow feel alive.
The first cut was always the most delicate until relaxed and allowed the blade to taste my flesh. Two inches from my elbow was generally where I started but this time I didn’t care. Something inside me snapped and four irregular cuts appeared before my eyes as the blade played and danced upon my skin. It hurt like mad.
“What are you doing that for?” A unfamiliar voice questioned.
“What do you care?” I snapped. I didn’t care who it was, I wanted to be left alone.
“You have such a pretty complexion. Why are you making yourself ugly?” The voice was deep and masculine. As my tears intermingled with strands of blood, my eyes searched for the man.
“What are you talking about? I’ve never been considered pretty.” The venom spewed forth, warning him about the my self-loathing.
“Not when you do that,” pointing at my arms. “What is so bad in your life that you would do that to yourself?” Wiping the tears from my eyes, I noticed for the first time that he was the biggest African-American I had ever seen. Dressed in a black suit with a light-pink handkerchief peeking out of his breast pocket, a smile hinted at the corner of his mouth.
“Since when is an ugly white girl of any concern to you?” I didn’t care who he was, I just wanted to left alone.
He casually lowered himself into a squat and held out his hand, “May I see your knife?”
“If you keep it, I’ll just get another one,” I said as I handed it to him point first. He grasped the blade and allowed me to release my grip. With a quick flick of the wrist, he held the knife by the handle. This was not his first time with one.
“I know. I just want to make sure that you’re using safe equipment. A dull and rusty blade will do more harm than a knife of this exceptional quality.” He continued inspecting the knife, including testing the edge. “You superstitious?”
Closing the blade, he handed it back to me. “That’s a nice knife. It will come in handy one day during your travels.”
Crossing my arms over my knees, “I’m not traveling.”
Rising, “No? Where are you staying tonight? Got a home to go to?” He was seeing right through me like a pane of glass.
Looking down at my aching arm I said almost under my breath, “I’m not going home tonight.”
“I thought as much. Come. Let’s clean your arm and dress it and then get something to eat.”
My eyes met his. “I don’t even know your name and you want me to go with you?”
Holding out his hand, “I’m Greg. Greg McDonald.”
I didn’t know what to do. I would sleep on the street before I went home. But, I felt so alone and wanted more than anything for someone to see me for who I really was. Returning the handshake, “Cindi Blackshire.”
He pulled me to my feet with an unexpected strength from someone with so much grey in his hair. We walked around the corner and entered a narrow doorway. He turned sideways to fit through, I felt small following him up the creaky stairs. On the second floor we went down a few doors and he rapped a peculiar rhythm on a door labeled 2D. I heard someone unbolting it and watched it open a few inches. He turned to me and signaled to follow. I still couldn’t figure this man out. We had nothing in common except that we were both living in the same city.
The room smelled of something sweet. Greg said over his shoulder, “Grannie is an excellent baker. Her parents ran a bakery when she was growing up.”
I looked around the room. Outdated furniture and items that looked older than I was occupied the room. It reminded me of my late grandmother. I didn’t realize how much I missed her.
An older, feminine voice called out from the kitchen, “Would the two of you like some apple cobbler? Its fresh.”
Greg took a deep breath, taking in the aroma of the wonderful smells. Exhaling he leaned towards me, “We won’t find a better dessert in all the city. You want some?” He was rubbing his round belly. I never had real baked desserts before, only the boxed garbage that my step-mom tried to make on occasion.
“Sure. Is there a bathroom where I could clean my arm? I don’t want to make a mess on Grannie’s floor.”
“Yeah. Down the hall to the right. Clean it, but don’t wrap it up. I want Grannie to look at it when you’re done.”
“I’m a big girl now. I think I can clean it myself.”
Grannie’s voice barked from the kitchen, “What are you two talking about out there? Greg, you better not be getting my floor dirty.”
He shooed me along, as he spoke to Grannie. “I’m showing her where the bathroom is. Can you make us both some cobbler please?”
I hurried down the hall being careful not to brush up against anything. Grannie seemed particular about her things. The bathroom smelled of soap and other fresheners. Oranges and lemons stood out among them. I really didn’t want to show her my arm because she would probably accuse me of being stupid just like everyone else did.
Watching the blood swirl around the drain and finding an escape down the drain made me want to disappear. I didn’t deserve these people’s hospitality. Maybe I could sneak out if they were in the kitchen. It was worth a try. The water on my arm was burning the cuts. The blade cut deeper than usual this time. Grabbing some paper, I pressed it to the cuts to stop the bleeding. Grannie’s floor was important to her and I didn’t want to leave a stain in the carpet that would remind them of the stupid white girl.
Coming out of the bathroom I heard Grannie scolding Greg for something in her thick accent. “Greg! I told you to stay out of that until my guest gets here. You know better than that. I know because I taught your momma. And I also know that she broke lots of wooden spoons over your thick head teaching you the same.”
Greg was laughing as he sped out of the kitchen, “Hey there you are. Come in the kitchen so we don’t have to wait any longer. Her cobbler tastes fantastic fresh from the oven.”
“I, uh…just remembered I have to met a friend downtown. Thank you for all you did.” I tried to make a break for the door but Grannie’s voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Young lady. You get in here this minute and let me look at your arm. Your friend can wait.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and followed Greg.
Grannie was busy shuffling through drawers and getting silverware placed on the table. Our mismatched silverware at home was cheap and bent. Grannie’s were perfect with flowers trailing down the handles. “Let me see your arm, dearie.” She approached me with her hands held out as I surrendered to her. Her glasses were thick and made her glowing eyes shine bigger and brighter than anyone I knew. She brought her face in close, making me feel uncomfortable as she examined my arm.
Clucking her tongue in a chiding way she leaned back upright. She shook her head in disappointment. “Dearie, dearie, dearie” she looked me in the eye with a broken heart. “Why do you do this to yourself? You have a beautiful spirit within you.” Gently lowering my arm, she turned without waiting for my answer and went to another room. I heard her mumbling to herself as she rummaged through things looking for something. As she came back she had her arms full of small bottles and cloth.
“What is all this for?” I was expecting a big bandage and some ointment. Greg was the one to answer, while Grannie mumbled to herself.
“Grannie’s grandmother was a nurse in the war. She eventually served as a nurse in a village and she learned a lot about natural medicine from the locals. She passed it down to Grannie’s mother who passed it to her. It will help, just trust her.”
“Why do you and Grannie want to help me so much? Nobody else even tries. They just scold me for cutting myself and say stupid things like, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’”
Greg dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck as Grannie worked on my arm without missing a beat. Greg let out a long sigh as he slowly brought his eyes to meet mine. I had struck on something deep. Had I offended him? What did I care if I did anyhow?
Greg allowed Grannie to finish wrapping my arm with a loose gauze and let her put all the ointments and oils back before explaining. “There was a young man about your age that needed help once, and no one around here would help him. He struggled in school, society, basically everywhere. He thought no one cared about him.”
“It was then that he started cutting to gain the attention of people around him. No one seemed to notice. So he started cutting more frequently and deeper as well. No one wanted to deal with him. One day, as he was running water for his kid brother, one of his cuts starting bleeding and dripped into the bathtub. His brother wouldn’t bathe in the water because it wasn’t clean.”
“He ran away that evening and sat alone in an alley. When darkness had swallowed everything in sight, he decided that it would be better had he never lived and wanted to disappear forever. That was when he brought the razor blade to his wrist and opened up his arms from wrist to elbow. As his arms began to get cold, he shivered and embraced the loneliness that the night had brought for him. He would be alone forever on this night.”
Grannie jumped in and took over the story. “That was when I found him half-dead in the alley. He was slipping into unconsciousness and I knew that if I didn’t do something that he would die in the filth of the alley. I brought him home and nursed him back to health. I was much younger then. Now he is making a difference in his community by encouraging others to be more.”
“What is he doing now?”
Greg laughed softly as he began rolling up his sleeves to reveal a set of enormous scars running the length of his arms. He laid his arms on the table much to the disapproval of Grannie.
I caught my breath. “You were the cutter?” Reaching out, I ran a finger along the length of one scar as thick as my little finger.
He didn’t flinch but merely sighed at the revealing of his past. The pains and memories were still as fresh as they had happened yesterday. “Yes. I was a cutter once.”
“You were lucky that a family member found you and was able to help you.” Greg and Grannie both chuckled at this statement.
“I’m not his grandmother, child. We are in fact not even related unless you go back to the flood.” Grannie said with the sincerity and love that was undeniable.
Greg rolled his sleeves back down, “She puts others ahead of her own needs even if she doesn’t know them. It’s what God would have all of us do.”
Shamefully looking away, I said, “God could never love me. Nobody could.”
Grannie held my hands in hers, “Why do you say this, dearie? God loves all those He creates. He doesn’t do anything out of waste. He created you for a reason.” Grannie spoke with conviction.
“I’ve never seen anything that told me He cares for me. I’ve not seen anything from anyone that tells me they care.” No sooner had the words left my lips did I wish I could take them back.
“Child, look at me.” Lifting my eyes to the only woman to show me love and compassion, she reprimanded me as I deserved. “Look at those bandages on your arms and tell me that no ones cares for you. How do you think you got here if no one cares? Why did you come to me if no one cares? Hmm? Answer me.”
She had pushed deep into my thoughts and pulled out the truth; people did care about me, but I was too stubborn to acknowledge it. “Greg found me on the streets and spoke to me. He was the first one to speak to me since I left home. You’re the first woman to show any kindness to me.” Tears ran down my face as I choked the words out.
“Wipe those tears from you eyes, dearie. We only cry around here when we lose a loved one. You have just gained two loved ones this evening and if you allow Him, He will be another in your life as well.”
I never cried as hard as I did that evening. I never knew that people could care on a level that they did for those they didn’t know. The following weeks firmed these thoughts in my mind.
I got to spend more time with Greg and Grannie. Going home to open arms and tears changed the way I saw my parents. Things began to improve once I started taking Greg’s advice about people. I also learned that Greg was a minister for a local church. I went to see him speak on several occasions and eventually became a believer. Since then I’ve gradually became a much happier person.
Grannie always has a warm smile and loving embrace when I come to visit. Before meeting Grannie, I had always thought people like her were different. It turns out that I couldn’t be farther from the truth. They can be just as loving and caring as anyone else. I owe my future to Greg. Had he not talked to me that evening, who knows where I would have ended up in life.