TRINITY - Loving and Letting Go
His name was Justin, and he was eighteen years old when he took his own life.
Yes, I know, it's a rather abrupt and slightly disturbing way to begin a story about what, to most people, would just a simple (if not somewhat boring) cutting story. But you see, Justin's departure from my life was also rather abrupt and more than a little heartbreaking, the basis for what because a driving need for closure and comfort, and as usual I found it in the strangest of places.
By relation, Justin was my cousin. By nature, he was more my twin brother and best friend. Six months older and more than happy to lord it over me every chance he got, Justin was a role model and a bad influence all rolled into one. We grew up together in Newfoundland, weathering many a harsh East Coast winter and spending every holiday together. He moved to Calgary when I was nine years old, and rather than his constant company I instead found myself on the receiving end of at least a letter per week, excitedly detailing all his adventures in his new home. We wrote each other faithfully, and it always brings a smile to my face to recall how I would jump for joy when my mother came in from the mailbox with a letter from him, my name and address messily printed on the front.
Eventually my family moved to the West Coast and I found myself only one province away, so more often than not I would be on the first Greyhound out of Vancouver when special occasions and school holidays came about. Nothing could make me light up more than seeing him waiting anxiously at the bus terminal when I arrived, ready to sweep me into a hug and take me to the nearest McDonalds so we could park ourselves in a booth, eat overly salty french fries, and discuss everything that had happened since the last time we saw each other.
He was always regarded as the black sheep of our family, mostly for his tendency toward cutting. The summer before I turned seventeen, we were sitting on his back deck and he pulled up the leg of his cargo pants to show me his newest creation - a beautiful keloid of a spiral running from his ankle to his knee. He was so proud of it, and I just sat there in fascination, wondering how on earth he'd managed to make a scar look so beautiful. When I professed my love for it as well, he then yanked up the sleeve of his shirt and displayed another piece. This one was the word TRINITY carved into his upper left arm, the letters carefully shaped and perfectly sized.
It was a nickname he'd adopted for himself, he'd told me, not intended to be religious in any sense. If anything, it referred to the three faces he wore - the one he showed his parents, the one he showed his friends, and the one he reserved especially for me, the only person he thought understood him. I remember touching the scars, marveling at how perfect they were, and the way he spoke of them made them so much more than just a series of letters he'd carved with a hunting knife. They were HIM, and the thought that he'd shared this private part of his life with me made me feel like we had a secret pact between us.
I went home the end of that summer, back to the rainy Vancouver weather and my last year of high school. Our busy courseload and preparing for graduation made our letters sporadic at best, but Justin's were always filled with excitement and wonderful stories of the hijinks he was getting into with his friends. He went on a school trip on spring break, but wrote me as soon as he got back telling me how he was looking forward to graduation, to the summer, to us spending lots of time together before heading to college.
One week after graduation, Justin hung himself from the railing of his back deck. And just like that, my entire world fell apart.
I wish I could say that I handled it well, but I didn't. I turned to cutting to try and ease my grief, turning my hands into weapons against myself, slicing my skin open not to channel my pain but to simply create more to get my mind off how I was feeling. It didn't work, of course. If anything, it just made it worse.
Fast forward to the end of summer, 1999. The heavy, wet August heat was thick in the air, and the only sound through my open window was the buzzing of the streetlight that tried to keep the midnight darkness at bay. I was sitting on my bed, Swiss Army knife in one hand, candle in the other, with a fan of Justin's photos and letters spread in an arc around me. I didn't feel much other than the cold, heavy numbness that had become my sort of trademark emotion.
I pressed the knife into the tender skin of my inner upper left arm, feeing the hot pinch of the initial penetration and then the tingling ache of the blade biting through my flesh as I started to drag it toward my elbow. I hadn't intended to do anything more than a long, ugly line from my shoulder to my wrist, something to at least help me get to sleep that night, but after only a centimeter of cutting I paused. I pulled the knife away, my eyes vaguely registering the thin red line of blood that welled up through the little incision and beaded on my skin. I let my hand drop into my lap, and closed my eyes for a moment, letting my head fill with memories and voices, experiences and thoughts of the good times.
Opening my eyes, I dug the knife into my skin and started cutting again.
T. I thought of summer BBQs, of lying in his back yard staring up at the sky, either making shapes in the clouds or counting the stars, tracing our own constellations. R. I thought of watergun fights when we were just little kids, of the cold Newfoundland winters and trudging through the thick, heavy snow. I. I thought of the long bus trips to Calgary, my excitement growing every second as soon as I crossed the Rockies. N. I thought of his smile, his messy blonde hair that never stayed blonde more than a week or so, of his funky septum piercing and the vast assortment of hoodies that I always stole to take back to Vancouver with me.
I was crying too much by this point to even pay attention to what I was doing, so I just let my hand think for itself and guide the knife where it wanted to go. And when it was finished, I felt this sort of calm, controlled understanding wash over me. I guess that was the moment that I moved from denial to acceptance - Justin was gone, I realized that now, and all the misery and anger in the world wasn't going to make him come back. If anything, I was just dirtying his memory with all my grief and fury that he had left.
I hung my head and cried the most pure, honest tears of grief I've ever cried in my life. I just sat there on my bed, my arm bleeding my pain out until it just decided that it couldn't bleed anymore, and finally managed to let him go. And when I had finally regained my composure, I tiptoed into my bathroom and tried to clean myself up. Staring in the mirror, I wiped the last patch of smeared blood from my skin and saw it. TRINITY. Justin's word, now my own, carved into my body.
I'd done a pretty shoddy job of it all. I had started with thin, shallow lines that I had intended to heal quickly and invisibly, but the last couple letters looked as though they'd been gouged in with a miniature chainsaw. I taped a gauze pad around it and took myself to bed, hoping that it would still heal well. Four days later, my wish had partially come true - the TRIN had healed to a point that the letters were little more than faint red lines that looked as though they'd been lightly scratched with a safety pin. The ITY, however, was not only nowhere near healed, it was also sporting the early signs of what looked like a bad infection.
Thankfully it only LOOKED that way. Within another few days the purplish redness had faded and healing progressed as normal. When all was said and done, those last three letters were the only ones that scared - not as keloids as my body tends to (I've learned the hard way after two major surgeries), but as relatively thick white lines that are only really visible when I have a tan. Being on the inside of my arm, that's not often.
However, during the summer, a lot of observant people will ask me why I have ITY on my arm. A condensed version of the story later, they usually ask my why I haven't recut it, or perhaps tattooed over it. And to be honest, I've thought about it from time to time, recutting my TRINITY along with my failed little star (my first attempt at scarification) on my foot. But the more I think about it, the most that recutting it doesn't appeal to me. I never intended for it to be permanent - indeed, I never intended to carve TRINITY into myself at all. It was just a spur of the moment thing, brought about by a painful urge for SOMETHING to make the pain stop for a while. Having Justin's private name for himself on my arm gave me comfort when I needed it most, gave me closure, and over time it healed just as I did.
I look at it now and sometimes I just laugh out loud at those three little letters. There's no doubt in my mind that, when we meet up again after all is said and done, he'll point out that he even cuts better than I do.
submitted by: osiri
on: 06 Nov. 2004