Saturday, February 12, 2011

The River

She stood in front of the mirror in a state of undress, her form muted only by a thin, black slip worn the night before. Katie smoothed the wrinkled silk from top to bottom, her hands rising over exaggerated curves of implants falling abruptly to her protruding abs, starved of reserves by liposuction. If she were alive, her mother would be pleased that there was literally nothing left of an awkward and homely girl that lived in the mirror. Most of her mother’s words and thoughts died unexpressed carried to an early grave. When a well-constructed thought passes through a brain scrambled from too much vodka and the effects of a crack pipe, it becomes gibberish. Katie remembered only a single lucid conversation, and having no company it lingered awkwardly until it lodged in her brain like a cancer.

Katie was excited about starting Jr. High, and busy fastening a large blue ribbon in her hair when a knock came at the door. Her mother walked straight that morning and her words were unusually crisp and shrill.

“Girl, when was the last time you ran a brush through that bird’s nest you callin’ hair? Come over here and let’s throw some make-up at that nasty complexion God gave ya. Lord have mercy, your chest looks like your little bothers—grab a box of tissue and start stuffing. I’m just dying to pin up that skirt a couple of inches, but them knobby knees is a show stopper. Katie, a girl unwilling to maintain her own appearance will never get a second glance from a decent man.”

Her mother was nothing more than a painted horse on a merry-go-round, plenty of men were willing to pay for a ride, but they never stayed long and none of them were above beating or leaving them in the end—what did she know of decent?

Katie’s insides ached to the point of throwing up, and the tears were as warm and plentiful as ten years earlier. Slumping over the bed she retrieved her journal, turning to a worn page where all of the names had been crossed through. Each man had a corresponding page detailing the breakup. She had been a hopeless fool to think the latest would be different.

Harley was either oblivious to suggestion or in the running for the world’s cruelest man, she was too upset to decide. Yesterday marked the year anniversary of their first date. Katie had in mind a quiet dinner at the new Italian place on 32nd, and perhaps a movie afterwards, where they paid full admission price instead of sneaking in the side door when the attendant was on restroom break. Splitting a calzone at some dingy pizza parlor felt like a biker boot to the mouth.

Her mother lied. Decent men were attracted to naturally pretty girls like the waitress, and those made of plastic got kicked in the corner like a day-old Christmas toy. This full-time job of hoping for better was for losers. Katie moved back to the bathroom mirror where she found comfort.

Feet, thighs, and upper arms were good places to work, really anywhere rarely exposed to the public’s critical eye. She applied pressure to the box cutter, sliding along until it separated the skin cleanly and a thin line of blood rose to the surface. Over and over she repeated the broken process. Doctors say that scars are a body’s mechanism for healing; they only add obstacles to a cutter’s already misunderstood existence.

It is difficult for me to convey how proud I am of Katie for sharing her confession during our group counseling session. Katherine Ellen Luby is so uncomfortable in her own skin that cutting provides a temporary relief from an otherwise unbearable existence. Her story is only the most recent, but due to its profound impact on a man who hears horror stories each day I am compelled to share it with the world.

We are all but single stones in a raging river called life; moved, shaped and carried by forces beyond our control. For many it is a frightening and desolate journey, whereby dysfunction has displaced hope, betrayal has mired the beauty of the river to such an extent they no longer believe it will carry them to a greater connecting body of water. My station in life is to uncover these stones, convince them that while withdrawing to stagnant water may save immediate discomfort it is only a cruel suffocation in disguise. This story is written for those who have found a comfortable resting place, quite possibly injured themselves; that feel they are too jaded to be moved by the river. It is a difficult and gradual process, but in the end I—rather we will have failed if we cannot convince those within our reach that we believe more today than yesterday that the ebb and flow of the river has purpose.