Last year, the destination was further than I thought. I thought it was a four hour drive; we were still two hours away when the four hour mark hit. You were with me. That was another thing that was different.
I was back in Western New York this year, for the same conference. Different school hosting it, different campus. I had a different position than last year; last year I presented; this year I was just participating. Last year, you were with me.
You had come along to explore the Finger Lakes. We couldn’t have known what a bad idea it was; or maybe we could have. We had already had a few good fights; we were in therapy at that point, I think. I had cut myself open more than once, across the stomach and the arms. I had concussed myself with a pair of crutches; I had put my head through the bedroom wall. You found me once sitting in our closet, after I had been knocking my head repeatedly against a support beam.
But that weekend to Upstate New York, that first trip we took together, man. I’m not even saying it was your fault. I was the one that picked the fight that had us yelling at each other, that had you threatening to drive back to Vermont early, that had me saying good, I’m glad.
I was bent because of the conversation we had around a friendship you didn’t approve of. Life began to feel lonely when I had to start dropping friends like I did. You said it was just two friends, just two of them, that all the others were fine. But you chose two of my closest, and this was a problem earlier in our love than I let you know.
We fought about this, and then we fought about running, because I was bent. And you said you were going to go home early, and I said good, I’m glad, and then you were crying by the side of the lake on our way back to the hotel.
On the last day of the conference I gave a lecture and taught a class. That was the entire reason for me being there in the first place. The free hotel room and the wine tastings we got to do were all possible because of that. Those obligations came and went. The scene that really fucken stuck with me, the one that a year later, while I’m at the same conference, I still go back to and look at like it’s something special, happens earlier in the weekend. It’s the one where I am in the bathroom with a pair of scissors.
The scissors are open, and they are pointed at my stomach. I want so badly just to plunge one of the blades in deep and go to town, to make a proper mess, work my way around inside and see what would fall out of my body.
I don’t, though. But last summer, every time I didn’t do it, I let my imagination do it for me, and that made it even worse. What my mind had me doing was far worse than what I was physically capable of doing; up until a point. Then there was the time I stood in the closet and saw myself in the mirror with a knife at my neck. That was enough to surprise me. Enough for me to say out loud That’s it. That’s goodnight. That was when my mind and my body were nearly in sync.
Before that, there were the scissors in New York. Orange handles. Stainless Steel written on the blade. It’s open, and I’m gripping the thing like I want to stab myself so badly that there’s an exit wound at the base of my spine. I’m not just looking to trace a line across my stomach like I did the same night I brought those crutches across my skull. I’m not just looking for a little blood, a little scar. I’m looking to snip my fucking guts apart. I’m looking to make it seem like a murder gone fucking wrong. Which is what it would have been.
You were in California the first time I lusted for a death that messy. I wrote about it all down on one of the final nights you were away. Normally that made things better, but this time, my mind just went, just started telling me things it wanted to happen, and so those all made it onto the page, and it still wasn’t enough.
I wrote about bloody handprints on the wall, I wrote that I wanted people to think Damn, that fucker worked hard. I wanted seppuku, I wanted a death sitting seiza, I wanted to see why I was dying laid right out in front of me. That was that April. We’d only been together since February, really, when we went on a date, and I shrugged at the waterfalls and then we kissed for a while.
Then it was April. And I was fucking losing my mind thinking about you drugged up and dancing in a sea of people in a desert in California; not that you were, or that it would have mattered; it shouldn’t have. You had nothing to do with the places my imagination went. I tried to stop it. Talked about it with my therapist; talked it through with friends. No good. I still couldn’t sleep, so I wrote about killing myself instead.
You fall so fast, Jeff – the lover before you said that to me. That almost scared me away.
You fell fast, too. You cried because you thought it would scare me away. That was the night we broached the subject of monogamy while we ate dinner on the floor at my old apartment.
I thought that would make us compatible. I did; I told others, too. I fell for you hard, as I do. I could say the fall was different with you, but fact is, I was the same person I always had been until I left you for the last time outside our therapist’s office. That was when I was actually capable of being different.
A sad thing has just happened. He said that after I told you, and him, that I needed to end it. He said a lot of things that have become true.
I took your dog to my office the afternoon before that appointment. My colleagues ogled over her; she loved the attention, and we gave her treats.
When a colleague who was also a close friend, and knew of my struggles, asked why I brought the dog in, I said Last chance. I took an anti-anxiety pill before I drove to the appointment.
But all this comes later. This is after the shit summer, after all the cutting, all the other forms of self-abuse. After all the terrible things I said. I was a dick to you; I really was. I was a fucking monster, and you only saw what I let out. I probably scared you; well, I know I did. And that wasn’t even what I was capable of. There was a lot I didn’t show you.
It’s almost the anniversary of our breakup, and it’s just past the anniversary of that scene in the hotel bathroom. You had gone for a walk to cool off from one of the many fights we had that weekend, and I was sitting on the toilet with a pair of scissors pointed right at my heart, then right at my navel, then right at my heart again.
My breaths became a series of hisses, and my face scrunched together, like it does when I watch horror films – I want to see what’s happening, and I’m terrified of what’s to come. Ready to flinch at a moment’s notice. I can see the blades of the scissors. I even poke the skin to test things out. And in that moment, I want so desperately to unseam myself. Like a goddamned fish. That’s how I’ve described it before.
But I don’t. Like so many things I want to do, I don’t. I close the scissors; I put them back in the bag next to the tape I brought for my injured ankle. I look in the mirror, then leave the room.
I think I find you sitting on a bench looking out at the water. We keep it together for a while.