The Pain Makes Me Real

Trigger warning: self harm

John stands at the sink, letting the cold water run across the cut on his arm. He stares into the mirror, wondering what is wrong with him. He feels empty, like he’s dead but hasn’t yet realized it. It’s the worst feeling he has ever felt. It would be so easy to end it all, he thinks, just cut deeper.

Yes easy, the emptiness whispers, easy for you but hard for those who love you. So, he stares into the refection of his glazed eyes.

Nicole, his sister, has heard the water running in the bathroom for several minutes. She knocks and calls through the door, “John, are you all right?”

No, his mind shouts, I’m not all right. I feel like slicing my wrists open and bleeding to death in the tub but I won’t because I love you too much to do that to you. His mouth says, “Yes, I’m fine.”

“The water’s been running for a long time?” she asks. He startles as he realizes he’s been in there for over half an hour. “What are you doing with the water on?”

He has to lie, she won’t understand but the best lies are half truths. “I’ve got a cut on my arm. I’m running water over it.“

“It’s not bad, is it?” the concern in her voice stabs at his empty feeling heart, “Maybe I should take a look at it?” He tries to say something, anything, to keep her out but she walks in before he can think.

He jerks his arm from the stream of water and covers it with a towel. “It’s fine. I just need a bandaid. I have some in my room.“ He turns to leave but she stops him with a hand on his shoulder. The hand doesn’t pull back him or squeeze into his shoulder. It guides him in an easy turn to face her, then it moves to take the towel from his arm.

“Let me see how bad it is.” She doesn’t command him but he can no more disobey his big sister than not feel empty. He lets her move the towel to reveal a three inch long thin red line . She studies it, seeing that it isn’t bad at all, then she sees the faint lines running parallel to the cut. Her brow furrows as she understands what they are but not believing what it means.

John pulls his arm away and starts to walk out of the bathroom. “Wait,” she says, “there’s bandaids here.” she opens the medicine cabinet and pulls out the box. “And you need to put antibacterial on it as well.” She sets the tube on the sink edge with the box of band aids. “I have everything right here. If you want I can fix you up.” Her eyes plead with him, let me help you please.

He can’t bare to hurt her. So, he steps back to the sink without a word. She drys his arm with the towel and begins to apply the antibacterial gel. Smearing it on the wound with a q-tip, she takes a second to examine the older ones. Twelve, she counts but it’s hard to tell as they are close together and some overlap. “How long have you been doing this?” she finally asks, as she places the first bandaid on the cut. John wants to lie, to try to make it seem like she has the wrong idea but he knows that it’s too late only the truth will work now.

“I’m not sure..two..two and a half months, I think.”


“Why what?” he asks back, not wanting to go down that road.

Nicole stops peeling the paper backing from the next band aid, looks him in the eye and says, “Why are you cutting your arm?” He flinches away from her gaze. Staring at the wall he tries to compose an answer.

“Because feeling this,” he touches the half covered cut, “is better than feeling what I feel here,” he taps his chest.

“What do you feel?”

“Empty. Nothing. Like I should be dead. It hurts to see people living their lives, talking with friends, touching one another.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either. I just know that I’d rather feel something than nothing. The pain makes me real.” Nicole keeps her silence as she finishes putting on the last bandaid. John smooths the bandaids down. He starts to leave and stops for half a second, half turning back before he turns away and walks to his room where he closes the door behind him.

Nicole returns the bandaid box and tube of antibacterial to the medicine cabinet. She drops the towel in the hamper and walks out of the bathroom.

Author’s note: This is an older story I wrote several years ago.  The events are fictional but the feelings are not.

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