Why am I still alive?
I thought back to the first day. Coming to school, armed for the first time with the knowledge that (1) I was fundamentally broken in a way I couldn’t begin to understand, and (2) I had this new failsafe with me. If I ever became overwhelmed, if I ever left this new and comfortable state of numbness and entropy, I had a box cutter in my pocket that would keep me safe.
How horribly irrational that must seem. If they had known, they would treat me like a leper, and they would be right. I am sick. I am diseased.
But I didn’t know it then.
Most of my first day at Nishidate is a blur but I remember sitting up against a wall at lunch time and just passing out. I came to a few minutes later, and two girls were looking down at me with a mixture of concern and disgust. I’d fallen asleep with my eyes and mouth open. I looked like a corpse.
I wiped the spit from the corner of my mouth and muttered an apology. I wanted to pull the box cutter from beneath my skirt and show them what I did with it, this new trick I’d learned to die without actually dying. I didn’t though. I just closed my eyes and faded.
“Shiiba, don’t, I need you to stay awake right now.”
Hatori’s voice seemed closer now. I opened my eyes again and the painful heavenly glow was now a dull, fluorescent yellowish-white. There was a scratchy humming noise coming from the ceiling. It was the light tubes, groaning with effort
“I want to sleep,” I heard myself say.
“I know. I know.”
The cold rag stung. The pain, not quite pain, but the sensation, anchored me to the moment. The moment: the blue tile of the bathroom, and the bright red on my arms.
Something was different. I couldn’t look at the cuts. I used to watch in detached awe at the way the blood beaded and ran. It was beautiful. These were something else entirely. The blood did not push through the skin. It flowed, spilled, like a cup of wine. The cuts were not cuts. They were gashes. They looked like mouths, and the white flesh hidden by the blood looked like wet tissue paper. I expected them to start screaming if I looked at them too long. This was worse than the maggots. Why?
Because it’s real , I thought.
It was real. The rent flesh and scarlet blood was real.
I was going to die.
I don’t want to die .
I felt myself sliding into the corner. My eyelids drooped and the world drifted away from my face until-
“Woah, careful. I gotcha.”
Hatori was holding me, leaning my body against the wall in a more stable position.
“I’m almost done cleaning it. I’ll bandage it up after that, and you should be okay.”
I nodded. “It looks bad,” I whispered.
“Well, the good news is, you didn’t hit any nerves or arteries. The bad news is, they’re deeper than any of these earlier ones, so when they scar over, they’re gonna be dark.” She paused. “You’ve been doing this for a while, huh?”
I nodded weakly.
She drew a roll of gauze from the kit and pursed her lips as she dressed my arm.
“All done,” she said a little while later.
The bandage fit snugly around my arm. It was warm.
Outside, it smelled like fresh rain and smoke. We were sitting on the bottom steps of a pedestrian bridge by the park. I don’t know how we got there. Hatori must have helped me walk. I barely had the energy to sit straight up. I looked at the fastener on the bandage, figured that the mechanism worked more like a hair clip than a needle. I thought about everything except the fact that I was here, alive, being taken care of by Miki Hatori of all people. I pulled my sleeve over my wrist and felt around for the button.
“I think it broke off,” said Hatori.
I felt my blood freeze.
All at once, I could feel the maggots, the lights, the talons, the frigid and permeating weight of the rain on my skin. I closed my eyes and waited for a merciful god to kill me.
Now everyone would see what I’d done to myself.
Hatori looked me up and down. “You’re shaking,” she said. I guess I was. She told me to close my eyes, and I did.
I felt her hand grip mine. There was friction, a soft shush ing sound of fabric against fabric, and then a gentle pressure around my wrist. I opened my eyes. Her bright red wristband was covering my bandages. “It’s yours,” she said. I just stared at her.
Something burst in my chest and I was overcome by a heady feeling of safety. I stopped hurting, just for a moment, and the lack of pain was in itself a little painful. I buried my face in my hands and shrunk against a horribly comfortable warmth around me, inside of me. I hadn’t realized how cold I had been.
Hatori took me in her arms, and I clung to her. I wept like a child into her shoulder.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s okay.”
And in a small, strange way, it was.