"She fell in love and fell apart, blood flowing from a broken heart."
|The night drives me to insanity. There are barriers that keep me from it during the daytime hours. Responsibities, work, reputation. In the night air, there is an element of carelessness. It is that which drives me forward. That which lets the pain that lives inside of me seep out.|
I cannot tell you when the idea came to me. I was young and innocent, stumbling over my own two feet and thinking there was nothing worse than being singled out. Naivete, that's what they call it -- a flowery name for such a grim condition. In those days, when imagined pain ruled over all other emotions, an idea spawned from somewhere deep inside my teenage mind. I imagine my mind found reason in the jumble of thoughts and anger, though I couldn't tell you now just where that reason lay. It was -- and is -- a calming ritual, this one that I began. This one that I am damned to repeat again and again.
There in a room that is not my own, my lungs breathing in air thick with darkness and broken promises, I strip. Every piece of clothing shed is an amazing weight off my shoulders. Every second brings me closer to the one moment of my day where the thin barrier between myself and insanity falls. I throw the clothes onto chairs, the floor, the bed. It doesn't matter where any of it lands. It will all be picked up when I return to normality, when the craziness that lives inside has been let go and I've been forced to return to the simple life of masks and make-believe.
Freed now from the confines of my clothing, I move silently and swiftly to the drawer beside the bed. My movements are spiderlike, deliberate and smooth. There is no question in my eyes, no apology in the way I carry myself. For one moment, I am in control. I am prepared. I like to think of myself in those ways, as though I'm actually capable of anything but incapability.
My hands search the drawer, touch guiding me over sight. All the senses are of little use in the dark, all but that of feeling. For this ritual, the dark is good. The dark allows sight and sound to slip away, leaving only raw emotion and pain.
I find what I am looking for. The corners of my mouth curl up slightly, knowing what will happen next. I sit down on the bed. I want this to last. I want to look down on my soon-to-be creation and know, every day, what it means. I want to run my hands over it years from now and remember with perfect clarity the way I felt upon its creation.
My mother always told me that blood was thicker than water. I never believed her, at least not about my own blood. I hated my family then, hated them with venom. Over time those feelings have softened. It was the opposite way with my friends, who then were the support I had in this world. I couldn't see, then, how I could be more tied to those I hated than to those I loved. But in the end my mother was right, one way or another. I have discovered that, in every way, I am more attached to my family. I have long forgotten the betrayals of friends. I will never forget those of my own flesh and blood.
I chant my mother's words again and again in that darkness, my heavy words slicing through the air as the metal blade slices through my flesh. Someone once asked me how I could stand to "hack" away at myself. I couldn't understand how they could refer to it in that way. I do not hack. I slice. I create. I transform. I deliberate. I take from my body the fluid of life, a liquid so symbollic and so vital, and I remove the waste from within.
I rock back and forth, settling into a trancelike state. The razor goes forth and returns, goes forth and returns, goes forth and returns. The gashes reach to the very extremities of my body. The blood drips slowly, individual droplets coming together to form pools, pools joining to increase their size. A small waterfall of blood runs onto the bed from the gash in my knee. I sigh, rocking back and forth, both loving and loathing the pain. "Blood is thicker than water," I whisper.
A knock sounds on the door. Not the bedroom door, but the front door. I know, without question, who is there. There is only one person who will knock even where a doorbell presents itself. I hurridly wrap a length of bandage around my left leg and foot, hoping it will absorb the small lakes and rivers of blood. My hands as well are bleeding, cut through rough handling of the blade. I pay them no mind, limping down the hall, my leg screaming in pain with every step and my eyes fluttering softly in morbid delight.
I finally reach the door and yank the key from inside the lampshade next to it. I fling open the door and fall into her arms, exposed and trusting.
She catches me, of course. She has never let me down.
It takes hours and five cups of tea before I am coherent enough to talk. Kat made the tea, of course. She also wrapped me warmly in her robe, dressing me like a child, and rebandaged my wounds. I have no doubt that she loves me. There has never been any doubt.
We were both five years old when we met. I was a tiny child, constantly ridiculed by the other, bigger, children. She was the girl everyone respected, though they talked terribly about her. There was no disrespecting Kat. If you tried, she would change your mind in an instant. She wasn't intimidating or terrible, like so many other children. She was just Kat. Kat had her own way of doing things.
It was on my front porch that she first approached me. I was alone, as usual, watching the other kids play ball in the street. She came and stood next to me, licking a cherry popsicle. There was a red ring of sticky juice around her mouth. She had grinned at me, holding out one juice-stained hand in greeting. "Heya, I'm Kat. With a K." She stood there for a moment, staring down at me, then shook her hand pointedly in my face. I ignored her. She plopped down next to me, licking some drips of juice from her wrist. "What's your name?"
I stared into her big brown eyes. She was pretty, this Kat with a K. She had long blonde hair and huge dark eyes. Her skin was bronzed from spending hours in the sun. She had tiny, perfectly curved ears with teeny silver rings in them. The rings glimmered in the sunlight. She had a kind face, not drawn in with hostility like those of most of the other children I knew.
"What's your name, silly?"
I looked at this girl I had known for less than five minutes, this Kat with a K, and smiled shyly. "Cate."
From that moment forward, we were all shy smiles and giggling. Within a few days of meeting we were inseperable. Years passed, and nothing changed of that. It was the one thing I could count on, Kat and I. She would always love me. I would always love her. We never gave up on each other, even once, in all those years of friendship. I asked her once if she thought this was remarkable.
"Not really," she had replied. "We've been friends for long enough that I don't think we'd understand how to survive without each other. It's instinct not to give up on you, Cade. I don't know how."
Even now, sitting on a kitchen chair, crying over a cup of cold tea, I can see that same little girl I met all those years back in her eyes. That little girl wants to know, too. She wants to know why this grown up Cade ever wanted to make himself bleed.
The words rush out, water flooding forth from the broken dam of my soul. "I can't live like this. I'm tired of living like this. This is hell. This is worse than hell, because at least when you're in hell you know you're dead. I covet death. I can't do anything right, Kat. Nothing. I was born a failure and I haven't fixed it. I hate myself. I hate everything about me. I don't even look right. I don't even feel right. I have one friend in the world and I do sick things like cut myself on her bed. I don't know why I like to watch myself bleed. I don't know why I live like this. I'm crazy, maybe. Do you think I'm crazy, Kat?"
Most friends would say no, without thinking. Kat's not that kind of person, not the type to say anything without thinking it through. "We're all crazy, Cade," she says finally, cupping her mug of luke-worm coffee in her hands. She cocks her head to the side and her eyes take on a thoughtful glaze. "Who can really say what's crazy, anyhow? Crazy is set on the basis that there is something normal. Noone is perfectly average, correct? So is everyone not crazy? And if we're all crazy, is it really crazy at all?"
Kat runs circles around me with her thoughts. I wish I could think like her. I wish I could do anything like her. She says I'm terrible to think that way. She says she doesn't want a mirror for a friend, she can buy one of those at the discount store. I wonder if a mirror wouldn't be a better friend, though. Mirrors can't run away. Mirrors can't make you cry.
I just nod, as if I understand anything at all right now. She catches my eyes. "Don't give up on yourself, Cade," she says softly. "And don't give up on me."
I couldn't do that. I think she knows. I don't have the heart, the courage, the strength to give up on her.
That would mean letting my lifeline go.
Without Kat, I would plummet into darkness.
I left my house at sixteen, not a runaway but a castaway. I remember clearly the despair I felt that morning upon waking up and finding I was no longer welcome. My mother had found my journal that morning, the contents of which my family was never supposed to know. I'd awoken to the smell of cooking bacon and the sound of bitter tears. My mother had stood in the door of my room, her face buried in her hands.
"Cate," she'd whispered, "tell me this book..." She had brandished my journal, holding it between us as a barrier. "Tell me it's all fiction. Tell me you made it all up."
But I hadn't told her anything. I'd only fallen back into bed, exhausted dreams overtaking harsh relaties. When I'd woken a second time, my meager collection of clothes was packed into a duffel bag that sat at the foot of my bed. A piece of notebook paper had been neatly folded on top, my name on the outside. I'd reached one trembling hand out and snatched the letter, which turned out not to be a letter at all but a note. "Kat and Pops say you may stay with them. We hope you will come back when you are thinking clearly again." There had been no signature, no 'love Ma and Dad', nothing to remind me -- or them -- that I was their own.
I'd walked to Kat and Pops' house with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. Kat had met me at the door with her own tears and heartache, her arms wrapping me in comfort and safety the moment I'd stepped over the threshold. "You're a part of our family now," she'd whispered, then smiled. "I think you always were."
I haven't talked to my other family, the one that raised me for the first sixteen years of my life, since that day twelve years ago. I wonder if they even know what's happened in my life since then.
I wonder if they know what has become of their "baby girl", their Catherine turned Cade.
Their daughter turned son.
Kat dials the phone for me. "It's okay, Cade," she tells me, stroking my hair. "They asked you to call. They can't hang up on you if they asked you to call."
I'm unconvinced, but I nod. The phone has been ringing for hours it seems. Finally, after 13 rings on her part and just as many near-heart attacks on mine, my mother's voice is heard through the receiver.
"Hello?" She still hasn't lost her southern accent. She's lived in New Jersey for 30 years now, yet she hasn't let go of her drawl. I smile. Kat's watchful eye notices, and she grins and gives me a thumbs-up.
"Hey, Ma, it's me." Kat raises her eyebrows, and I bite my lip. Will she recognise the voice? It's changed since I left -- it seems everything has.
"C-Catherine?" I hear breaking glass, then muttering in the background. I think I catch my father's voice -- "Did she finally call?" I bite harder into my lip. Kat squeezes my hand.
I crack my knuckles. "It's Cade now, Ma." I hear her sigh. "Please," I beg, my voice squeaking the word out.
"Cate, sweetie, please just think about this. Think about us. Your family. We love you, Catie, sweetheart. You don't have to do this." She pauses, then adds in a quiet voice, "Only children with bad families act this way."
Kat sees my face fall and holds my hand tighter. "Ma," I manage, tears welling in my eyes, "that's not true. I love you. I do. This has nothing to do with you -- it's about me."
I hear her quietly sobbing. "Sweetie," she says between bursts of tears, "I miss you. I miss my little girl."
Heat rises in my chest. "You don't have a little girl. You never have." I hang up on her. Then the sudden flash of anger is gone, and I wish with all I have that I hadn't said that.
Kat gathers me in her arms and holds me so tightly that I can hardly breathe. "I can't believe you said that," she whispers into my ear. For once, even Kat cannot find the healing words.
"She hates me," I manage before the tears flood forth, and I'm lost amidst my grief and might-have-been's.
Pops shakes me awake in the middle of the night. I stare into the face of the man who might as well have been my father, the man who has taken me in as his own for twelve years, the man to whom I owe my life. "There's been an accident," he whispers.
Time stops. I can't breathe. I can't speak. I grab Pops's hand in both of my own, gripping it to keep me on the surface. "Kat?" I manage, the single most important word I know falling from my lips wrapped in a veil of anxiety and ugliness.
"We lost her," he tells me. I sink back from the words, dropping his hand and letting my own fall limp.
I hear him leave the room as I sink back into sleep, numbness and unconsciousness melding into one.
I stumble to my desk in the mid-morning light. Sunshine floods over the piece of paper before me. My pen quivers in my shaking hands as I scribble out senseless words of death and despair:
She fell in love and fell apart,
Blood flowing from a broken heart.
Apologies were shallow; hollow.
Lies were a hard act to follow.
She penned her feelings in a letter.
Ink worked well but blood looked better.
And then last night she ceased to be.
I'm damned to suffer. Woe is me.
I rip the paper into shreds and toss them over my shoulder. One clings to my hand, and I flick it off with annoyance. The words don't matter. The only words that have ever mattered are the ones she whispered to me one muggy night two years ago.
"I love you, Cade. " she'd breathed into my ear, and leaned in to kiss me. I'd frozen, staring at the stars before us, and shaken her arm from around my shoulder. I'd ignored the hurt reflected in her eyes. There had been no words to tell her the truth. What was the truth? That for years, I had felt the same way. I had longed for a kiss, for those words to spout forth from her lips. But they hadn't come, and I had given up and moved on. When she moved in for that kiss, every part of me that still felt that way about her urged me to accept her invitation. But in the end I had pulled back and leapt away, fearful.
I wonder if I had kissed her if things would have happened differently. I wonder if she would have spent the night in with me last night. I wonder if she would've lived.
I can hear her voice, laughing, in my head. "I wonder if you need to stop wondering," it says. I turn around, half-expecting to see Kat standing in the doorway.
But there is noone there, and I'm left alone to realise that I'll never hear her voice but through my own insanity again.
The funeral is short and quiet. Pops gives the eulogy, his normally booming voice barely a stage whisper. The small gathering of people in attendance stare up at him blankly, their faces openly showing their grief.
"Katherine will be missed," he says quietly in closing. "And never forgotten." He glances toward me, his eyes searching approval. I manage a tiny, forced smile. I watch a single tear make its way down his wrinkled cheek.
In the beginning, we were two of a kind. Katherine and Catherine, both children with big dreams and bigger hearts, outcast by our peers and accepted by each other.
Twenty-three years later, both Katherine and Catherine are gone. Dreams are long forgotten and hearts newly broken, we're separated by the one thing we can never understand. Kat with a K will never speak again. Cate with a C has metamorphosised, a body changed to fit the man inside. A man who will forever remember the tale of the two children, two lost souls forever united by a bond noone else can understand.
A blackbird flies over Kat's grave just as Pops lays down a lone rose. I stare up at the bird, swooping and turning in the warm afternoon sun.
It flies into the treetops, and on its wings soar Kat. Her voice echoes through my mind, filled with joyful laughter.
"I've found my wings," it says to me. "Find yours."