- The following is a creative adaptation of a true-to-life event, and the prologue of a novel I’ve been working on since college. It contains graphic subject matter and language – read at your own discretion.
I took a deep breath and smelled wet leaves and pine needles. The midday sunlight shone through in patches from the thick, green canopy above us, and the moisture from the river cooled the summer humidity soaking through my shirt. The Youghiogheny flowed swiftly below as we followed the narrow path to the jumping rocks. Frequent rainfall in the Appalachians provided us with deep, fresh water in which to swim away our adolescent afternoons. The jumping rocks were about ten feet above a broad pool at the base of one of the river’s many waterfalls. A few steps ahead of me, Alex led the way along the familiar pathway.
“Hey,” I said, “You think you could slow down a bit?” I was about five inches shorter than him, making it difficult to keep up when he was in a hurry.
“Come on, we’re almost there,” he said, as he stopped and waited for me to catch up. He grinned at me, his oh-so-sexy, mischievous grin that lit up his entire face and ignited a sudden, uncomfortable heat throughout my body. “Took you long enough,” he added when I reached his side. His green eyes sparkled.
“Shut up,” I replied, trying to sound annoyed. In response he reached over and rustled my hair playfully, messing up my ponytail.
“Stop!” I said, punching him in the stomach.
“Oh please,” he said, “you wanna play that game?” Before I could stop him, he began tickling my stomach with both hands. I winced with pain, and doubled over in submission.
“Stop,” I gasped, pretending to laugh and shoving his hands away. “You win.”
“As usual,” he replied, a familiar, smug grin on his face.
I folded my arms tightly folded across my midriff, and we continued walking. After a few minutes, I looked ahead and saw the break in the path that led down to the jumping rocks. Pleased to see that there was nobody else there, we climbed down the steep slope and hung our towels on a low-hanging pine tree branch, carefully avoiding the sticky sap on the trunk.
I watched Alex pull off his t-shirt, and I couldn’t help noticing that the shade of light green matched his eyes perfectly. He was slender, but sculpted, and his skin had darkened from the summer sun. I forced myself to look away. Stop it, I said to myself, taking a deep breath. He’s your friend.
As I was stepping out of my shorts, he turned and looked at me. “You ready?”
I nodded. I kicked off my flip-flops and felt the cool dampness of the boulder beneath my feet. “Ready,” I said, grinning.
“Your shirt?” he asked.
“Oh, you know how easily I burn; I’ll just leave it on. ” I tried to sound casual, and avoided his gaze.
“Okay,” he shrugged his shoulders and grinned again. “I’m going in.”
I watched him leap from the rock and cannonball with an enormous splash into the river. A few moments later, he surfaced and waved at me to join him. Smiling with anticipation, I ran to the edge of the rock and jumped. I was in the air, floating. I spread my arms out beside me and felt myself falling…falling.
I closed my eyes just as my body collided with the water, and I was immersed in dark, green depths. As I surfaced, I felt the current pulling me downstream, so I swam against it to where Alex was treading at the base of the waterfall.
“What the hell was that?” I heard him shout above the roar of the falls. As I swam closer, I saw anger darkening his features.
Oh shit, I thought.
“What?” I shouted back, although I already knew the answer. As I was falling from my jump, I’d felt my shirt fly up, exposing my stomach.
“You know what I’m talking about – your fucking stomach is covered in cuts!” His voice rose, and his eyes were burning with a look I’d never seen in them before. Was it fear?
“It’s not what it looks like; I can explain – “
“Bullshit,” he interrupted, “you did that to yourself, didn’t you?”
I said nothing. I could only look at him, his face wet with droplets of water reflecting the sun. A few seconds passed, and we both tread water in silence. I felt overly aware of my cotton t-shirt, heavy from the weight of the water. I wished it would pull me down, below the surface, into the silent, liquid darkness. I wished I could disappear.
“Molly, this is serious,” he said. “It looks like you took a razor blade and just started slashing away at yourself.”
Under the water, I took my hand and felt the raw, swollen pattern of marks on my stomach. “It’s not like I’m trying to kill myself, or anything,” I began. “I mean, I could be shooting heroin or smoking crack, but – “
“That’s not the point, and you know it,” he interrupted again. “How the hell can you think it’s okay to be hurting yourself?”
“I’m not hurting myself!” I shouted, my temper rising. He had no idea what he was talking about. “I’m not the only person out there who enjoys pain, Alex. Where do you think the term ‘masochist’ comes from?”
He shook his head in disbelief, apparently lost for a response to my obvious rationalization.
So what if I like the way it feels, I thought, it’s my body.
He stared at me, his jaw set. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, the harshness finally gone from his voice, replaced with concern.
Before I answered, I focused on the sharp, stinging sensation from the water on my stomach. “Because it feels good,” I said.
This was the truth. Each penetration to my skin was a rush of adrenaline. The pain – a natural high that took me out of my body, away from everything that was so much more painful than bleeding.
Like the water all around me, my mind drifted away from the present moment. I remembered the day that I’d been home alone, screaming and crying hysterically, longing for a way to escape. I’d sat on the bathroom floor; the door closed and locked, and I began taking the anger out on myself with a small pair of cosmetic scissors.
At first, the sharp penetrations of the blades hurt. But after a few minutes, I discovered that it felt more like…relief. It felt like some of the pain was actually being released from my body, perhaps hidden within the tiny trickles of blood. I also felt high – euphoric – as if my head were floating somewhere above me, completely disconnected from the rest of my body. From that moment of realization, I was addicted. No one else knew, and I’d intended to keep it that way.
Around us, the river moved, fluid and unbroken. The waterfall filled the air with melodic thunder, and the breeze through the forest carried wet leaves and pine needles into my senses again – bringing me back to the present. I looked at my friend, whose face was full of shock, disbelief, and confusion; and who, I could tell, didn’t know what else to say.
“Alex? I said, softly.”
l cleared my throat. “Alex?” I said again, a bit louder. “Did I ruin your day?”
He looked at me, and every trace of anger disappeared. “No,” he said, a rare tone of tenderness in his voice. “You could never ruin anything with me.”
Under the water, I felt his hand find mine. Goose bumps covered my body, whether from the chill of the river, or from his touch, I couldn’t say for certain. I only knew that his grasp was the only thing preventing me from letting myself go – from being swept downstream with the force of the current. I was so…tired. So lost. So broken.
Alex spoke again, his voice pulling me back from where my thoughts were drifting. “Hey. You’re one of my best friends. You know I love you, right?”
I nodded and managed a weak smile. I knew he meant it. I knew, no matter how screwed-up I was, he would always care.
That’s why I love you, I thought, only not the same way… Never in the same way.
Over our heads, a cloud covered the sun, and the world around us was cast in grey.