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Blue Veins

February 26, 2010

I’m always amazed at how white they are. Even in the summer, as if parts of me cannot get anything from the light of the sun. Blue veins poke through the surface, revealing how thin skin really is. I’ve never touched the veins, though, well—I did once but I didn’t mean to—and that doesn’t count. This is the only place I do not hide my arms. They are my own. My dialogue with myself, one I began three years ago with the end of a paperclip. Just to see. To see what it was like to feel.

“I—did something to my arm last night,” I said, testing him. Dr. Myers didn’t take my case seriously. He made me draw pretty pictures and feel guilty about my depression. “Maybe you should volunteer somewhere,” he’d said last week. “It might make you feel better.” Volunteer—where, exactly? I could barely get out of bed. Maybe the International Dust Mite Proliferation League?

I nervously pulled my sleeve down over my fingers.

“What did you do?” he arched his eyebrow in that damn stereotypical way. Do all psychologists have to be clichés?

Really, I’ve made too much of this. I simply traced a diamond over and over in my skin. Grazing, not cutting. Wimpy. I’m embarrassed.

After a lengthy pause he said, “Well, can I see it?”

I pulled the sleeve of my jacket back up. He asked me to come closer. “How’d you do it?”

“With the end of a paperclip.”

“What is it?”

“A diamond.”

“What does a diamond mean to you?”

Hell if I know.

That night Chase noticed my arm as I was making supper. “Babe, what’s that?” He caught my wrist and held my arm up to the light.

“It’s nothing,” I said.

“Wait—did you do this?” Silence. He looked closer. “Really nice piece.” Chase, eternally the artist. But he frowned.

I jerked my arm away. “Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”

He stared at me. “Really?”

“Really.”

That night in bed I stared at Chase’s arms. They glowed bluish white in the moonlight streaming through the window. Ghostly. I connected the lines between his track marks in my mind, trying to make constellations or at least some type of pattern I could understand.

Chase didn’t believe in suicide. It was the easy way out. That’s why he did things like snowboard down the apartment stairs at his mother’s complex.

Next week Dr. Myers asked me if I’d had anymore paperclip adventures.  I hadn’t. I pulled out the drawing he’d asked me to do, one of myself. One tree, divided in two. One side bent down, red and purple with puffs of smoke like a dragon. The other side bent as well, simultaneously crying and kissing the ground. Like a weeping willow.

“Maybe those two sides should have some dialogue with each other.”

For once I think he took me seriously. For once I took him seriously.

“What do dragons mean to you, Chase?” Chase had an enormous dragon tattoo covering both shoulder blades. It’d always fascinated me. But I’d never asked him what it meant.

“I like dragons because they have two sides. They’re creators and destroyers. Angels and demons. But, above all, they are powerful.”

“Powerful in what?”

“Whatever they want to be.”

I formed dragons in my mind with the track marks that night.  I redrew them, naming and renaming different constellations in my own personal zodiac—one in which we shared the same stars.

The next night he didn’t come home. Nor the next. I got a page at midnight. “Babe. In trouble. Running. Don’t contact. Erased your # in case they find cellphone. Will get back to you. Love.”

Damn him for selling. I knew this day would come.

I slipped into the bathtub, crying.  Had forgotten to run the water. Turned the faucet on and poured in the entire bottle of Mr. Bubble. Effervescent lightness. The perfect ambience, the perfect backdrop.

My first thought: Razors draw sharp, clear lines. Less aesthetically messy than the ends of paper clips. The command of line is important. I drew a dragon, lightly, with just the razor’s edge. I had trouble with the curves. I felt nothing, or, I felt everything but it was far away. I had to go deeper.

I redrew. Deeper, deeper, deeper. Now with feeling. Harder. Steam fogged up the mirror. Messier, messier. No control now. I felt—me! Spray, red rain. Flood. Me—it felt so good to be free…

They questioned me when I woke up. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was simply trying to draw dragons. They wouldn’t listen. Chase got me out of the hospital a week later. Evidently he’d been able to come up with the money and was back home.

I moved out two weeks later. I now have a beautiful sun porch where I sit everyday. My arms are safe here. I meditate and trace old patterns. Their background: so, so white. My favorite pattern is the diamond I can now barely see. I keep it safe from the blade and only every so often perform red dragons. I command their line lightly. Like I’ve come to feel.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 2:47 pm

    friday flash
    Very powerful, very beautiful, writing here.
    Last paragraph is magic.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 2:56 pm

    hopeful
    It’s not often in a piece like this, about our mental demons, that I come away with hope. But, I did this time. I love the image of her sitting in the sun room, being gentle and kind with herself. I love that she got away instead of destoying herself. I simply love this story.
    Shannon

    • February 26, 2010 4:33 pm

      Re: hopeful
      Thank you! I think there is a glimpse of hope at the end, albeit perhaps only a small one. But that can make all the difference.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 3:04 pm

    wow
    The layers in this are awesome. Emotionally powerful and draining – that two-sidedness again.

    • February 26, 2010 4:27 pm

      Re: wow
      Thanks, Laura. Interesting-powerful and draining. I like that…the two-sidedness and it works well with the loss of blood… Glad the piece isn’t too long, though… 🙂

  4. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 3:31 pm

    painful
    This is a complex piece, and I’m not sure if it’s a hopeful one or not. I hope your protag comes to peace with herself.

    • February 27, 2010 1:50 pm

      Re: painful
      Thanks, Tony. I hope she does, too. I think there may be a tiny bit of hope, but the outcome is definitely ambiguous. She’s made some progress, but…I don’t know if she’s figured out a healthy way to feel yet…

  5. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 4:03 pm

    Beautiful writing and true-to-life characters. Very well done.

    • February 27, 2010 2:02 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m glad they came across as “real.” That can be very tricky at times!

  6. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 4:05 pm

    wow
    Whoah – heavy stuff here!
    Loved the description of the first time she carved the dragons in the bath. And how she traces them lightly these days
    The ending has left me wondering – she feels “lightly”: drugged up and thus content? Or has she managed to move beyond the depression?
    http://mazzz-in-leeds.com

    • February 27, 2010 2:41 pm

      Re: wow
      I want everyone to come to their own interpretation…but I’ll give what I had in mind. The “feeling lightly” isn’t because she’s drugged up (although that’s a great interpretation, too) but points to two things–both a type of numbing out compared to the raging feeling still inside, but also a tentative move forward because she’s feeling it–has consciousness of it–at all. In my mind she hasn’t figured out how to get in touch with it yet except still through a destructive means–but she’s moving in the right direction intuitively (protecting the diamond). And she left, of course. Her fate, though, in my opinion is ambiguous.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 4:26 pm

    Blue Veins
    Melissa, I love your artist’s visual sense that you bring to your written work. Your conjure up such a rich visual feast, which I live savouring.
    Thanks for this piece
    marc nash

    • February 27, 2010 7:08 pm

      Re: Blue Veins
      Thank you, Marc. It’s funny b/c I’ve never really thought of my work this way–I’m glad it works visually, though, because being able to be descriptive was one of my goals as a writer when I began writing #fridayflash last year.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 5:44 pm

    Powerful and disturbing
    Both people carving their arms, but for different purposes. Or not? Both to feel, move beyond pain? The red dragons very interesting — did you realize that dragons are street slang (in some parts) for heroin?
    Peace, Linda

    • February 27, 2010 7:10 pm

      Re: Powerful and disturbing
      You’ve got it–the both/and. I had no idea about the red dragon being slang for heroin. That’s perfect, of course. 😀 (Maybe I had heard it and my muse dug it out of my subconscious!)

  9. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 7:40 pm

    Flowing
    Beyond the neat descriptions, the overall piece has a very nice flow between thoughts, details and dialogue. The usage of short paragraphs helps it fly along. Well done!
    -John Wiswell, http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com

    • February 27, 2010 7:11 pm

      Re: Flowing
      Thank you!! I’m glad it flowed and that the short paragraphs weren’t distracting. I like short paragraphs a lot. Maybe too much at times. 😉

  10. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 10:50 pm

    powerful
    Strong flash. I like the “personal zodiac” marking constellations on flesh. And as Linda pointed out, dragon refers to heroin among other drugs depending on time and place, which makes another connection drawing on the power for anything.
    The ending hints at a positive future. Wonderful story.

    • February 27, 2010 7:13 pm

      Re: powerful
      Thanks, David! By the way, I’m impressed with that under 500 effort. I might have to challenge myself and try one. I’ve one flash under 500–but it’s not really a story in my opinion. Thanks so much for the comments!

  11. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 11:28 pm

    A great divide
    Such a rich and complex verbal painting here Melissa. The bifurcated tree (of life?), bifurcated relationship with chase and sanity, the bifurcated flesh beneath the razor. Chase – like dragons – is also drug related, and the constellations of tracks on Chase’s arms (chase the belated saviour) owe a nod at least to Christ’s piercings, no? This is so deep. I will come back and read this again. What a stunning piece.
    Simon.

    • February 27, 2010 7:23 pm

      Re: A great divide
      Thank you, Simon. I was hoping the story would work on multiple levels. I do think there’s a nod to Christ’s piercings, but when I was writing the reference was more general (but I like your connection. Maybe the muse knew what she was doing…), the type of violence waged in order to form relationships between people, oneself, the earth, God (also waged as a way to form identity). In my dissertation I’m looking at the “atonement” very differently. Death and suffering do not save us and do not form the best relationships–or, they can, but only at a high price–with more healing that must be done. But I do see much of our destructiveness as a misguided way to try to feel, to try to connect, to try to come to peace. And that in and of itself is, of course, not a bad thing. I think there’s more to be said, but I fear I’ve said too much for readers who may come later. I really want people to take their own meanings from this.

  12. Anonymous permalink
    February 26, 2010 11:31 pm

    Great story, well told.
    -Cathy Olliffe

  13. Anonymous permalink
    February 27, 2010 1:39 am

    G.P. Ching says,
    Fantastic foray into the mental gymnastics of the depressed and suicidal. The warped sense of reality and self. I loved how you twisted the ending to give her some personal power to free herself. I think it was a much more original way to end it than in tragedy. Great work.

    • February 27, 2010 7:25 pm

      Re: G.P. Ching says,
      Thank you. 🙂 I really like the ending being open in the way it is. There is hope, but there things are definitely not peachy-keen.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    February 27, 2010 12:02 pm

    Pause – breathe – wow!
    great writing.

  15. Anonymous permalink
    February 28, 2010 3:27 am

    This is almost too long for a flash fiction, but you have so much to say that I don’t know how you would make it very shorter. Very complex, very layered. Just plain awesome writing.

    • February 28, 2010 2:29 pm

      I’m fairly new to writing flash, but I’ve used 1000 words as the guideline. This piece is 872. I’m wondering, though, if it feels much longer because of a “draining” quality that Laura mentioned (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad effect given the subject matter). (She’d said emotionally powerful and draining–two-sided). I’m glad you enjoyed it, though–and–thank you!

  16. Anonymous permalink
    February 28, 2010 8:16 pm

    Lovely!
    Such a lovely piece, the last paragraph was my favorite 🙂

  17. Anonymous permalink
    March 1, 2010 5:52 pm

    I wasn’t sucked right in like I have been with your past pieces, but it comes together nicely. You definitely did a great job evoking the POV character’s feelings and emotions. By the end I started to feel somber and depressed myself.
    -Scott King
    http://www.scottking.info

    • March 1, 2010 11:59 pm

      I *guess* that’s a good thing. 😉 It’s great to evoke emotion, but I don’t want people drawing their own personalized forms of red dragons later. 😉 Kidding. Appreciate it.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2010 11:46 pm

    Disturbing
    but beautifully written. There’s a sickening sweetness on that sun porch.
    >“Maybe those two sides should have some dialogue with each other.”
    For once I think he took me seriously. For once I took him seriously.<
    Here is where the hope is.

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