Michelle Lyn King



1. When my mom notices how smooth my legs suddenly are, she asks me if I’ve started to shave without her permission. No, I say. The hair must’ve just fallen off. She does not say anything. A few weeks later, I nick my ankle with my dad’s razor. I call downstairs for help while blood starts to paint the bathroom floor a deep red. The grout will have to be bleached four times before returning to white. The bathmats will have to be replaced. But for now, my mother stands in the bathroom doorway, wanting to know, Why can’t you just trust that I know when you’re ready for things? She soaks a cotton-ball with hydrogen peroxide and warns me of what I already know: This will burn very badly. My mother will always view my left knee as confirmation that she knows what I’m capable of and when.

2. That winter I eat only oatmeal and ride the treadmill down to the double digits. The gym in my dormitory’s basement closes at 10pm, but a student ID slipped across the lock means I can get in at anytime. I run with all the lights off, going nowhere. This is where secrets belong—below ground, hidden in the dark. My desire to melt down my body shames me. I know wanting to be thinner when you are already thin is such an ordinary, predictable aspiration. But I want what I want. When I fall, I scream out—not a cry for help, but a cry from pain—and someone from the janitorial staff rushes in. Through tears, I can see the skin of my shoulder on the black treadmill tracks, looking like a piece of red and beige cloth. I came down to the basement aiming to change my body. I achieved my goal.

3. At recess, I take off my shoes, and I become a fairy. It was just one year earlier that the other kids played with me, but now it’s fifth grade and rules have changed. The girls sit on top the painted red wood picnic tables and find out whether their future holds a mansion, an apartment, a shack, or a house. The boys are no better. They break spider webs with their fists and cut the tails off of lizards. I play alone, making wishes on flower petals and dancing until the moment I feel something pierce my left foot. My entire body focuses in on this point of pain. Seeing me hobble toward the table of teachers, my classmates stop what they’re doing and race toward me. They crowd in a circle as I show them the nail sticking out from the bottom of my foot. It is as if I am spotlit. From then on, every time I look at the bottom of my left foot, I am reminded of the attention that pain produces.

4. I’ve only known my roommate a few hours before knocking on her bedroom door to say, I am very sorry but I think we have to go to the Emergency Room right now. I hold a wet paper towel over my left eye and explain to her the situation. I cut my eye on the sink faucet while washing my face. I am sorry. I know she is busy. Once we are in the waiting room, my roommate turns to me and says, You’re going to want to wait for a plastic surgeon. Otherwise, your face will be fucked for life. I do not wait for a plastic surgeon. The work of the ER doctor leaves my left eye drooping, just slightly. I tell myself it makes me unique and eventually I start to believe it.

5. We’re deep into the New Hampshire woods when my right arm starts to swell. I want to keep walking, but the man I love insists we hike back to town. He is a natural caretaker, this one. He takes the shirt off his back and keeps it wrapped tight around my arm until we reach the walk-in-clinic where a doctor says I’ll be just fine. Most spiders are too weak to be dangerous to humans. I’m left with a centimeter sized mark on my right forearm and the memory of how my lover once tended to me. As I wrap my legs around his body that evening, he grabs my face and says, You might not believe me, but when I saw your arm, my arm started to hurt, too. I am shaking as he tells me this. Of course I believe him. With my tongue, I trace the crescent shaped scar on his back, a souvenir from a childhood skateboarding accident. He is so warm. I am so lucky. Four years later, I have left that man and there is a new one I love. This new man is less tender, and this time I’m the one who is left. A month after he has gone, I hear through a mutual friend of his bike accident and subsequent shoulder surgery. I cannot believe I have to be told this news in order to learn it. Shocking that when his shoulder was sliced open, I felt nothing. The way I understood love, it should have destroyed me.

6. My high school best friend insists that rain on the day of my pool party is good luck. She says, It rained the day of my parents’ wedding. I remind her of her parents’ divorce. It is not until I slide on the wet grass and mangle my leg on a sprinkler head that my best friend admits I am right: rain is not good luck at all. Years later, with the evidence of being right still on display across my left calf, I consider the once preoccupying pain and the once loyal friendship. I cannot remember why being right was ever so important to me.

7. My manager says, Your cut does not need stitches and hands me a red and white First Aid kit that looks like a toy. I bleed through bandaid after bandaid, getting angrier with each application. I am angry at my manager, but I am angrier at myself for not knowing how to perform simple tasks like how to properly cut an apple. The bleeding stops by the time my shift ends. The pain does not. Back at home, I wash my hands for 15 minutes straight, warm water and soap, warm water and soap. My hands smell of lemon and glycerin for days, and the people who ask me what happened to my hand suggest I make up a better story. A cut like that deserves a worthy narrative. Months pass and I land in the bed of a boy I will only ever see once. He touches my scar the same gentle curiosity he uses to lick my hipbone. What happened? he asks. Wolf attack, I tell him. It is such a dumb thing to say. Still, his eyes grow large. I remember that he doesn’t know anything about me. To him, it is entirely possible that I am a woman who roams with wolves.

8. There is a two-inch mark on my right knee from I do not know. How can my body remember something that my brain does not?

9. My father encourages all three of us to climb up the white plastic slide of the community pool from the bottom of the slope to the top. Like it’s a mountain, he says. My brother goes first, mastering the task with the same dauntless attitude he uses to master all tasks. I’m up next. I am scared of heights, but I am more scared of being a disappointment. I lose my footing three quarters of the way up, cracking a ceramic potted plant with my back on the way down. When my mom files for divorce two years later, the only explanation she provides me is, The two of us have very different outlooks on how to raise children.

10. When the lead of the spring musical pulls me into the handicapped stall, I think she is going to braid my hair but instead she rolls up her sleeve and says, I experience pain more than other people. I believe her. I’ve seen her cry on stage during Little Women, when Beth dies. I want to experience pain more than other people too, but when I press my stepmother’s straightening iron against my wrist, I feel nothing.

11. I fall in love with a man who is in a serious relationship. A man in a serious relationship becomes curious about me. This man is a pathological liar—he claims to have a modeling contract with a top agency, he claims to love me back, he claims to speak twelve languages. “When I’m famous” is the beginning of so many of this man’s sentences. A few months into our affair, I make the two of us dinner while he speaks, not for the first time, of his girlfriend. He loves his girlfriend. It’s just so hard, her being in Los Angeles. He thinks that one day his girlfriend will become his wife. Upon hearing the word wife, I work very hard to keep my face still. I succeed. It’s later, when we’re talking about nothing that I lose my focus. Instead of slicing into a mushroom, I slice into my right index finger. We spend what winds up being our last night together under the florescent lighting of the Emergency Room. With time, the pain of heartbreak erodes, but on the tip of my right index finger is a fossil of all I once felt.