by Katie Booth
I have over 200 scars on my body that shouldn’t be there. They’re how I introduce myself, and they’re what people see when they look at me. I see their eyes dart around my entire figure before meeting my own. The scars present themselves by spanning the length of my left arm in a hoard of 48. All the skin on my left thigh has been replaced by 63. A swarm of 86 disguises my entire right leg, and each individual scar blends together to create one vast skid mark. My hips and ribs show evidence too, adding another 21.
“Hi! What’s your name?”
218. “Lily.” My name is 218.
I pull my arm tight to my body as he hesitates. I know why. He’s noticed.
His hesitation makes it clear that these scars have become my identity. The number 218 paints itself across my subconscious. It drapes through my being in the angry color of hatred. When I look in the mirror, my pupils form the shapes of 218, and I couldn’t tell you how much I weigh, because every time I step on the scale, the only number I see is 218.
“I’m Christian. Nice to meet you.”
I can’t make eye contact without the fear of 218 pushing its way out of my heart and beating itself into my syllables. The irregular scar tissue envelopes my soul and drags me into a cavern of toxic oxygen. I’ve riddled my skin with obsession. Its inescapable parallel pattern is a gridded maze that I will never be able to shake.
I close my eyes and let my mind flash forward 20 years. My youngest child pokes innocently at the faded lines that span the length of my arm. She’s never heard the story of how they got there, and she has no idea why they exist. My future self doesn’t know how to tell her.
“Hey are you alright?”
Pulling my mind slowly back to the present, my thoughts rest on a few hours ago. I woke up and felt like there was a steel spiderweb holding me in bed. I struggled against it, but every twist of my subconscious made the web’s grip tighten. My mother came in, and only after an obscene amount of screaming on her part did I finally stand. The spiderweb, instead of sliding off of my exhausted carcass as I pulled myself vertical, wrapped around me and clung to my soul. It weighed me down until I couldn’t breathe. Throughout the day, words from strangers, family, and friends stuck fast and pushed the web into my lungs, crushing them. Muttered phrases like “she’s just doing it for attention,” “we all have problems,” and “it can’t be that bad.” They added to the other words, ugly, fat, psycho, clingy, obnoxious, that I already say to myself 500 times every single day. I don’t need them from anyone else. The only thing they do is make things worse. The harsh judgements tear through my eardrums uninvited, and like a parasite they nestle themselves into my brain.
“Yeah I’m okay. I have to go.”
Rushing to the bathroom, the panic is completely overwhelming. I barely have time to shut the door before I crumple to the floor, praying that my heart will remember how to keep beating. Alone at last, the spiderweb has completely constricted any movement, any expanding of my lungs or pounding of my heart. Alone, I reach into a small pocket hidden in my purse and hold in my hand the sparkling instrument that can silence the pain, if only for a little while. Some people count to calm themselves down when they’re angry or frustrated, and I am no different. The difference is that my numbers are accompanied by crimson beads that capture and contain the negative, terrifying thoughts and drag them, in a quiet trail of red, down the drain.
My ragged sobs begin to slow as I count one, two, three. My breathing steadies as I hit the number eight. As I close my eyes and feel the last tear begin to dry on my cheek, there’s a light tap on the door.
“Lily? It’s Christian. Listen, I know we just met but I can tell something’s wrong. Are you okay in there?”
Hurriedly pulling the emergency bandage out of my bag, I watch the last painted scraps of today’s numbers swirl into the sink. With the bandage wrapped tightly around my arm and my sleeve pulled safely to my knuckles once again, I open the door.
“Yeah, I’m alright. I just wasn’t feeling very good.” This smile hurts more than my wrist.
“Good. Come on, Kaylee was asking where you were.” We begin to walk back into the party, and I take the first opportunity I can find to slip away from Christian. I don’t want him to be a part of my insanity.
226. I hate this.
226. I wish I could find something else to help me. I wish I could stop.
I came here so I could get my friends to shut up about my reluctance to participate in the world outside my room. The only thing it’s done is remind me why I don’t go to parties. Why I can’t. Stumbling back to the car, I lay huddled in the back seat until I’m found by my friends and we finally leave.
My house teems with negative memories, and with a feeling of defeat embedded deep inside me, I slink into my bedroom where the cycle begins again. One, two, three…
The next morning I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. The longer I look, the more the tiny dots in the paint seem to be banding together to create something, a message, written just for me. As I recognize a pattern, I begin to understand its meaning. A single word. Hopeless.