My parents thought I was suicidal, so they sent me to see a psychologist. Okay, so I guess they knew I was suicidal. When you end up in the hospital after slitting your wrists, it isn't questioned whether you're suicidal or not. It's obvious. Along with the social worker and the events that followed, it led me to talk about more feelings than I initially thought I had. It also helped me to figure out some stuff.
I think I've always had some degree of abandonment issues, but I guess that's just implied when you're an orphan. Or at least, I used to be an orphan. Maybe that's where everything stems from. My biological parents dropped me off at St. Catherine's Orphanage when I was born. I was told they couldn't afford to keep me. All you need is love, right? That place was my home for a really long time, until my new—and, as far as I'm concerned, real—parents found me, and I learned what real love truly feels like.
For as long as I can remember, whenever I felt alone or bored or angry or anything, really, I would hide away from everyone else and draw. It was my escape. So most of my time was spent in my bedroom, drawing in my sketchbook and listening to music. And thinking about him.
This is the aftermath that is my life, with all the conversations I had along the way still living inside my head.
On the corkboard above my dresser there's a photo of my best friend and me. It was taken at a sleepover last year, and he has this huge, genuine smile on his face, because my dad (behind the camera) is making him laugh. I'm smiling back at him, but there's a distant look in my eyes that isn't in his. He's never questioned me on this.
Around the photo are snapped wristbands from the neighbourhood pool and art galleries, a ticket stub from the first concert we ever went to downtown by ourselves (he has the other one), and a handful of leaves we found in the park one day last summer. They've dried up now, but he likes seeing them when he comes over, because it reminds him that summer is coming again. So I keep them up.
The sky this evening is a dark blue streaked with a luminous pink. The clouds seem to be retiring, and they create a purple hue as they become sparser and sparser. I try to recreate the image on canvas, with my watercolours bleeding into one another while the light is still available. This one will hang in Mom's office at work.
There wasn't a drop of rain in the city today, which is too bad, because I love when it rains. Every time one of us sees that it's about to start spitting, he calls the other and we go biking just to get caught in the showers. It's become an unwritten tradition.
While I'm painting, the birds perched at the top of my window, aware that I'm finished with them, take off and soar across the street to the neighbour's rooftop. This window is great for people-watching or, as Liam calls it, spying. We've been guilty on many occasions.
From downstairs, Mom yells that dinner is ready. "I'll be right down!" I yell back.
On my bed, my notebook is flipped open to a previous drawing. I'd gotten sidetracked by the sky and traded in my pencil for a paintbrush. I grab it quickly and hide it out of sight in my desk drawer.
Beautiful, symphonic Brit prog-rock fills my room before I turn it off, grab a hoodie from the hook on my door, and run downstairs.
"What are you working on up there?" Mom asks as I slide in at the table.
"A new painting," I tell her. "The sky was too interesting not to copy. Do you want it?"
"I'll make room in my office," she says with a smile.
"How was school today, Park?" Dad asks me, steering me away from a topic I love to a topic I hate. "How did the science exam go?"
"It was okay," I say with a shrug. "I studied all night and really tried, but I'm pretty sure I just failed again. I'd just rather be drawing or something."
"You're gonna be a great artist someday," he says. "But don't forget about school just yet." He pauses for effect and then hands me a flyer he was keeping in plain view on the table. He does this act as if he'd completely forgotten that he'd staged it there for this exact purpose. I saw the paper on my way in. "By the way," he says nonchalantly. "I found this lying on the sidewalk when I was walking home from work."
My dad is really into being environmentally friendly, so he takes the bus or rides his bike to work every day, and he sees interesting things all the time. Taking the piece of paper from him and reading it over, I see it's for the art contest at school.
"I thought you might want to enter. It's in two weeks, which doesn't give you a lot of time, but I know you're working on something in your art class right now, aren't you?" he asks.
I break my gaze away from the flyer and look over at him. "Yeah, I am. Thanks, Dad."
We smile at each other, and then he looks over at Mom. "What happened today with the Hendersons?" he asks her.
The paper stares at me from the table. I've known about the contest for a while, but I wasn't sure whether I should enter. I've been working on my charcoal drawing at school for months now, so I guess I might as well.
They talk to themselves about work as I stare at them, with my elbow on the table and my head in my hand. My adopted parents, Mark and Sarah Knight, couldn't have kids of their own. After years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and the final realisation, they found me. It was just six weeks before I turned twelve. I don't know exactly why they chose me. I've never really asked. I've just been grateful that they did. Pretty much from the very beginning I've called them Mom and Dad, because that's just what they are to me.
Interrupting my thoughts, Dad asks, "Don't you think so?"
I look at him with a face that says I obviously have no idea what you're talking about. "Oh … yeah," I say.
He smiles at me with his approving face. Apparently, I agreed with him. They go back to talking among themselves.
I'll always think of them as my real parents.
Dad cuts into my thoughts again. "We were thinking," he says, "that you could invite Liam to Kelowna for spring break."
"Seriously!" I ask, already thinking about the fun things we could do on my grandparents' vineyard in the country.
"Yeah, we thought it would be fun for you to bring someone," Mom says.
"Thanks! I'll ask him tomorrow," I say, excessively excited.
I love visiting my grandparents in Kelowna, but whenever I go, I always end up kinda bored because there's no one my age to hang out with. I have a few cousins, but sometimes they're not there. They're also all girls, so when they are there, we always disagree on what to do. They think it's fun that I have longer hair than the boys they know, but getting a makeover and having my hair in curlers is not exactly my idea of vacation. Spring break is next week, and most people already have plans, so I hope Liam doesn't. He hasn't talked about any plans, at least.
In the kitchen after dinner, Mom walks in as I'm drying my hands by the sink. She stops suddenly and looks at my wrists. I slowly look down at my shoes as I pull down my hoodie sleeves, hiding them so she can't look at them anymore. When I look back up at her, she's giving me this look she always does when she's terribly sad or worried, and tears are piled high in her eyes. I toss the dishtowel on the counter and touch her hand.
My mom is a real estate agent, and she's also the kindest person I know. When I first came to live here she hardly worked, because she wanted to be here whenever I was home, to take care of me and to get to know me. But as I've gotten older, I've had to tell her that it's okay that she works. She never lets me forget that she loves me.
"Its okay, Mom," I reassure her. "I know they'll always be there, but they're just scars now."
She takes in a deep breath and pulls me towards her in a tight hug. I smile while being smothered in her embrace. "I love you," she says.
"I love you, too."
When she releases me, she takes one last look and then lets me go. I run up to my room to get started on my really late homework.
After a shower, I stare at myself in the mirror. I have skinny arms and my ribs stick out under translucent skin. My brown hair is slightly wavy and falls a little past my jawline. I run my hands through it as I stare at my face and green eyes. Everything about me looks like a normal sixteen-year-old, until you get down to my arms. I turn my gaze to them in the mirror. Scars cross my wrists on both arms, as if one just wasn't enough. When I look at myself, it feels as if they take over my whole appearance. They're the only thing I see when I'm not wearing hoodies. I stare at my face again.
I sat slumped in a black chair in front of my social worker, who sat with her right leg crossed over her left in another black chair across from me. We were in a white room with a window and stuffed animals piled up in a toy box. She had her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail that day. She asked questions and wrote in a book.
"And how is school going, Parker?" she asked.
Outside the window there was no questioning. I wanted to be out there.
"Uh … school's fine," I answered.
I looked up at her then, and she was already looking at me. Her name is Clara Hampton, and she works for the adoption agency, checking in with my parents and me every now and then. The questions are pretty standard every time. She just makes sure my parents are not abusing me and that I feel safe and loved. Basic stuff like that. These "social visits" usually last about half an hour, and then I'm free from interrogation.
"It's fine," I added.
"Good, and how's home?" She wrote secrets down in her notebook. "Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"
"Uh … no, not really. Home's good." It was the truth, for the most part.
"Good. Would you like to talk about the cuts on your wrists now?" She said it calmly and bluntly as she stared me down.
I looked at my winter-pale arms resting in my lap. Once again, I'd made the mistake of rolling up my sleeves. I tend to do that a lot. However, it was a bigger mistake back then when nobody knew about what I'd done. I pulled them down and looked at the well-worn beige carpet as I tried to think of something to say. Any lie would do. "Oh, uh … I scratched them on the rake in the garage," I lied. "It was hanging on the wall and I wasn't paying attention walking up the steps."
Wow. There couldn't possibly have been a worse lie than that.
"Both of them?" she asked, unconvinced by my obvious lie. I shuffled in my chair to avoid the eye contact that was being forced on me. Clearly, and I don't blame her after that disaster choice of words, she didn't believe me. "What are they really from, Parker?" She didn't give up. "This is a safe place. You can tell me whatever is on your mind."
I shuffled in my chair some more. How could I possibly have told her what was on my mind? I found a strand of hair to play with, took a deep breath, and held it for a minute. The room felt hot. I could jump out that window, if it were open, I thought.
I eyed her suspiciously. At that moment, I knew she knew what I had done, so what was the harm in saying it out loud? "How do I know you won't say anything?" I asked her.
"Anything you say is confidential. It's strictly between us."
"Even my parents?" I asked.
I felt her hesitate for a moment before saying, "If I thought that something was really wrong, we would talk about it first. And if I thought it was necessary, we would then talk about it with your parents here."
Hm. Do I let it get that far? I thought. My parents finding out? I took another deep breath and finally decided. "I did it," I said. Even though I knew I was going to, I was still surprised to hear myself admit it. "I cut them." I finished by immediately looking down at my beat-up Chucks and waited for the lecture on the value of life and all that.
"Why did you cut them?" she then asked, so patiently.
I looked up at her. Was this how the speech about cutting yourself starts? She was still staring at me; her left leg now crossed over the right, her head tilted slightly, and her notebook and pen ready to take down everything I had to say. "I guess … I guess I just get sad sometimes. No, sad isn't the word. I get depressed. I want to die sometimes." I was suddenly spilling everything, and I couldn't stop.
She continued to take everything very calmly. "What makes you sad, Parker?" she asked.
I opened my mouth to speak.
There's a knock on the door and Mom's voice interrupts my memories. I'm still standing in the bathroom, still staring at myself. "Are you ready for bed, Park?" she asks from the hall.
I look at myself for a moment longer and then walk out. She's waiting for me by the banister.
"Good night, darling," she says, hugging me.
"'Night, Mom," I say. I kiss her on the cheek and go to my room.