So this is where they put in those trigger warnings, right? OK. This is a story about cutting. If that’s not a topic you want to read about then please turn away now. Otherwise, this is Road Map. This, like all my stories on here, is a first draft. Accept it as such.
When I was young the setting of the sun meant an ending.
The end of the day.
The end of adventure.
The end of fun.
It wasn’t until I was older and was taught the magic of night, the mystery of the moon, and the dangers of darkness that I learned that the setting sun is just one part of a cycle of life and death, death and life, one stepping aside to give the other the stage.
I went from running in the street, playing in a yard, and screaming at a lake to smoking in the woods, drinking in the backseat, and fucking in a field.
Maybe the old me had to die to birth the new me.
Some days I like that, that transition.
Other days I hate it.
Today I hate it.
Today is a red day.
They aren’t all red, which is why I never go deep, but a lot of them are red, which is what leads me to the relative darkness of my room in the first place.
Privacy, something I was never really afforded as a kid, feels like it is everywhere as an adult. The places I can go that I couldn’t before. The things I can do. The fact that I can close a door and not have someone feel the need to open it because they can.
It was my door.
I paid the rent to have that door and even if I shared the apartment, that door was still mine.
As was the dark.
I didn’t always love the dark but red days I did.
Loved it as much as I hated it.
That’s why I started painting, with my skin as my canvas and a blade as my brush.
It was a friend that opened that particular door.
A friend long gone now, drowned in their paint, but someone whom I loved, and missed, and who helped form who I am.
For good or ill.
I saw the scars on her legs once, after we’d played a gig together, and I reached out to touch them, instinctively, without even thinking, and she recoiled from me, dropping her guitar over her thigh to hide it, not realizing her shorts had climbed high enough to reveal what had clearly been a secret.
“Why?” I asked.
And she answered simply.
“Because there are things that tears, and words, and music, and nothing else can speak life to. Only pain can. Only blood can.”
She looked around to see if anyone was near but we were sitting on the back stoop of the coffee house and no one was out here but us smoking heathens. She pulled out a tissue from her back pocket and opened it to show me a razorblade. I leaned in and saw the red on its edge.
I asked her to show me.
Fascinated by this.
Drawn to it.
I think she thought I was turned on at first but I wasn’t.
I am not.
But I was drawn to it like it was fire.
She pulled the blade out and looked around again before moving her guitar aside and sliding the blade against her thigh. I watched as her skin tore open and a thin line of red appeared and then wept gently down her leg.
She hadn’t cut deep but she had cut.
She went to do it again and I grabbed her hand.
As drawn as I was I was also scared.
She smiled at me.
“Oh, you never cut deep. Not unless you want to drown. This is just swimming for me. Not drowning.”
And it was.
I watched has her legs and then her upper arms became a roadmap of whatever she was dealing with.
I never quite knew what set her off.
Happiness or sadness or both.
Eventually she started to swim out deeper and deeper and I couldn’t keep up.
We stopped playing shows together.
We stopped going for coffee at all hours.
We stopped catching each other when we fell.
I watched the scars deepen.
I watched her friends change.
I watched her eyes change.
The last time I saw her I knew she was looking to drown.
We were booked to play the same night at a new bar. I hadn’t realized I had booked to directly open for her. She was the headliner, I was the middle act, and some guy who played Uke was booked first. She was the headliner. She booked the gig.
All of the songs she played were happy.
They were love songs, they were dance songs, they were things that she would pepper into her performance but never lean on. I watched her from the back of the bar, nursing a whiskey and sour about having to play the gig but I was in awe of her. She owned these people.
She owned me.
It was the best I had ever seen her play.
When it was done the bar had made her do two encores because the crowd demanded it. I went to see her, to talk to her, to see if she was better, had changed.
I caught sight of her as she was getting into a cab with a couple other women who’d played backup with her, she waved at me and was gone.
And then she was gone.
She drowned a week later.
They found her in the tub of one of the girls.
She was drunk.
She’d done a sloppy job.
There was blood everywhere.
She became the new posterchild for tortured artists and suddenly people wanted her bootleg tapes and CDs. Her last performance became the stuff of legend. The stuff of masturbatory prophecy.
But I was there.
And it was legend.
But it was also tragic.
And it broke me.
It was painting that saved me.
Painting lead to where I am.
A map to a road I had never taken, to a roadmap I needed to write.
A story written as song.
A song written as prose.
So I dove into the red water to see how it felt.
The first time I went too deep and just barely made it to the ER before it was too late. I struck a vein with my pocket knife but was able to stumble the fourteen blocks to safety. I was embarrassed but they were scared.
An Attempt, they called it.
They knew who I was, that singer that knew that other singer, so they nodded and patted my back. It was two months after she had died.
I wasn’t famous but in the city, I was known.
I was patched up, I was given the card of a Professional, and I was sent home to rest.
‘No partying’, they said, seeing me as a typical artist with an addiction.
My addiction though was my disconnectedness.
I wanted no one.
Being a performer there were always people wanting to talk, play, touch, kiss, fuck, or take.
There were always drugs.
I wanted nothing.
The music had been my refuge.
I wasn’t me on stage, I was a performer hiding behind an acoustic guitar.
I was a second name on a bill.
But now that she was dead the spotlight had tipped my way because I had been so close to her.
I was the next hot falling star.
I hated it.
I stopped playing.
I picked up shifts at a diner downtown.
I hid in my room.
But they wouldn’t stop calling, or writing, or coming by.
And I needed to play.
So I painted to build a bridge between me and the performer I pretended to be night after night.
I was lucky in that I made enough performing that taking these side gigs could just be for extra dough or for a break. I wasn’t rich, by any means, but I was lucky, and I was good, and I had the zeitgeist, at least for the moment.
And it felt dirty, but I didn’t abuse it.
I didn’t write some fucking opera about her. Or make anything about her or my pain over her loss.
I just sang.
Once in a while one of hers, when it felt right.
And I missed her.
But the painting helped.
After that first dive I realized that that was my bottom, or close.
I had been pulled under and had to be careful not to go under again.
I wasn’t ready to die.
I just wanted release.
So I didn’t go deep.
I sat in the dark, listening to one of her tapes, the first one she made, she and I splitting the cost to record, she getting one side of the tape while I got the other, and it was there, in the dark, engulfed in her memory, that I started making my map.
I started on my thigh, like she had, but over time the map changed as I changed.
Relationships guided it.
The record contract that never got signed.
The one that did.
All of it chronicled across my legs, my stomach, my chest, my arms.
Tiny slices that stung as the blade dipped into the ink and burned as the air hit the cut.
It didn’t make me feel good, doing it, no, but it was release.
It was focus on something other than me and the bullshit that I was.
I would look into the mirror and see the failures and fuck ups.
In the darkness I could make my own red dawn, a crying sun that would burn into my skin and create another piece of the roadmap of my life and one day I would be able to run my fingers over it all and know where I was and who I was and what had made me.
I was lucky, like I said, in that my gigs allowed me to cover up anything that I didn’t want seen.
Sure, I liked to fuck, who doesn’t, but I did it at clubs, or in cars, or anywhere it was dark and where there was no need to talk.
I didn’t want a relationship.
I didn’t want more heartbreak.
I had had my fill.
I just wanted release.
I never cut too deep, just deep enough to leave a scar.
Deep enough to carve more of the map.
Sometimes I went too far, carving at myself like I was a pumpkin, stabbing and gouging behind a veil of rage filled tears.
I hated those times because it meant recovery, and rest, and it meant me reflecting on what the fuck I thought I was doing.
I knew what happened to my friend.
Is that what I wanted?
I wanted a sunset that lead to a night that lead to the day again.
I didn’t want one or the other.
I wanted the cycle.
The cutting let me live through a red night while the scars were my dawn, my reminder that I survived with the knowledge that if things got hard, there was always darkness to hide within.
Maybe it was sick.
Maybe it is.
But it’s me.
It’s my addiction.
My red bliss.
I don’t want to die.
I just don’t want to live like anyone else.
I want to live like me.
And the only way to do that is with a roadmap.