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 saw me as a pane of transparent glass.
Looking down at my aching arm, I mumbled, “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.”
Looking around the room revealed outdated brown and burnt orange furniture and items that looked older than I was. It reminded me of my late grandmother and the conversations we used to have. 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? It’s fresh out of the oven.”
Greg took a deep breath, taking in the aroma of warm cinnamon. 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 can 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.”
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. The bathroom smelled of soap and citrus fruit. The cool white light over the sink blasted my eyes with its harsh brightness. A pale pink toilet with matching rug commanded my attention while the marbled sink with gold flakes added to the outdated feel of Grannie’s apartment.
The cool water swirled the blood around before finding its escape down the drain. I didn’t deserve these peoples’ hospitality. Maybe I could sneak out if they were in the kitchen. It was worth a try. The water burned as it traveled over the cuts. The blade sank deeper than usual this time. Grabbing some tissue 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. Her cobbler tastes fantastic!”
“I, uh…just remembered I have to met a friend downtown. Thank you for all you did.” I turned to make a break for the door but Grannie’s voice stopped me dead.
“Young lady. You get in here this minute and let me look at your arm. Your friend can wait.” The lump in my throat was hard to swallow as I followed Greg to the kitchen.
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 gleaming 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. Her face was uncomfortably close as she examined my arm.
“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 as she rummaged through things. When she came back, her arms were 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 continued mumbling.
“Grannie’s grandmother, Nancy, was a nurse in the war. She eventually settled in a small 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 are you helping me so much? Nobody else even tries. They just yell at 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. Grannie worked on my arm seaming oblivious to our conversation. Greg let out a long sigh as he struggled to bring his eyes to meet mine. I had struck on something deep. Had I offended him? Did I care if I had? Grannie finished wrapping my arm with a loose gauze and put her ointments and oils away.
Greg’s voice had a distance to it, “There was a young man about your age that needed help, and no one would help him. He struggled in school, society, basically everywhere. He thought no one cared about him.”
“It was then that he started cutting himself to gain the attention of people around him. No one seemed to notice the small scratches on his arms. 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, he bumped his arm on the spout and one of his cuts starting bleeding, dripping into the bathtub. His brother wouldn’t bathe in the water because it wasn’t clean.”
“He ran away that same evening and sat alone in an alley. When darkness had swallowed everything in sight, he decided that it would be better if he had never lived and wanted to disappear forever. That was when he brought the razor blade to his wrist and opened his arms from wrist to elbow. He shivered and embraced the loneliness that the night had brought for him.”
Grannie took over the narration. “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, and he was smaller in size as well. Now he is making a difference in his community by encouraging others.”
“What does he do 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.
My breath caught in my throat. “It was you?” 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 upon a time.”
“You were lucky that your grannie 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’s voice was full of sincerity and love.
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’s hands grasp mine with surprising strength, “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.”
“I’ve never seen anything that told me He cares for me. I’ve not seen anything from anyone that tells me they care.” The pained look on Grannie’s face made me regret the words as soon as I said them.
“Child, 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.”
“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 this evening and if you allow Him, He will be another in your life as well.”
The tears fell from my eyes like a spring rain. It was late when I finally made it home. Greg was kind enough to walk with me and met my parents to explain where I had been. The embrace my parents shoved upon me was shocking. The four of us sat in the living room and talked about numerous topics well past midnight. Greg finally took his leave and my parents thanked him for saving me.
The following weeks were wonderful as I made more time for Greg and Grannie. Things began to improve once I started taking Greg’s advice about people. I also learned that he 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.
I can also bake a mean apple crisp thanks to Grannie. Greg says he’s never going to lose weight being surrounded by great bakers like us.