I always noticed when she swallowed her fiber drink before going to bed. I was curled up in a chair, a blanket pulled up to my neck when my mother came into the room and stood by the couch behind me, slowly drinking the mixture as she did every night. The swallow, an act of nature during an act of habit. It was only a distraction, a moment of discomfort, like a piece of breath caught in my throat. One minute, two or three went by until she was finally finished and released a short sigh before returning to the kitchen to rinse the glass. I felt a sting in arm as I felt my muscles relax, not realizing I had tensed them at all. Looking down, I saw crescent-shaped indents in my skin, the red nail marks striking against my pale skin. Luckily they did not bruise, as the next day it happened again, and again for the weeks to come, up to the point I finally gave up trying to sit through those slow few minutes and got up and left the room until I heard the tap in the kitchen spring to life.
I never saw it as "hurting myself". More like containing the anger.
We had burgers one night, cooked on the new charcoal grill we were given by a neighbor; they had gotten a newer one, so we got their red Weber. My mother was booting up the movie we rented from RedBox, one we missed in theaters, but knew we wanted to watch eventually. Sitting down to eat- yes in front of the television like the bum Americans we are- we relaxed into the too familiar feeling of being around each other, but not really being around each other, if you know what I'm saying. I ate quickly, something I'm guilty of all the time, and soon all I had left in front of me was a pile of fries. I picked one up and took a bite, surprised at how crunchy it was. It appeared as if the show was more important than making sure nothing burned in the oven.
I made my way through the rest of my meal and sat back in the chair with my knees against my chest. My parents were still eating as I focused all of my attention to the movie. That is until my father started in on his fries. He's always had a louder chew, and he had a tendency to swish his beverage around in his mouth before swallowing because he "wants to clear his mouth" after eating. He also chewed in a circular motion; when I watched him to figure out how he made so much noise, I would see his jaw working extra hard to make sure his food was ground up before consuming it. I could hear him chewing the fries from across the room. But the first bite made my heart lurch in my chest, first bite after first bite, fry after fry.
My chest started burning. I dug my fingernails into my arm, but they did not detract from the frustration rising in my body. The sound was greater than any distraction. I knew that if I spoke up and asked for him to be quieter, I would get a stern comment from my mother, who had it in her mind I was trying to get people to stop eating or drinking, because "he has to chew if he wants to stay alive", and that I should "get over it" because I'm "making a problem out of nothing". I was tired of her not taking my comments seriously, especially since my father would always apologize and try to accommodate for me.
The frustration of not being able to speak without being snapped at, and the pain of the sounds made me start to claw at my skin. I ran my nails down the length of my arm, but decided I did not want to draw attention to myself while the movie was playing. I noticed my shorts had ridden up past my thigh, and I started in on the exposed skin. I took my forefinger and dug the nail deep into my leg as I continued to scrape the skin. I noticed an area getting redder and redder, and I focused in on that spot. When my father wiped his hands on a napkin and sat back in his seat, I knew it was over and I could stop. What was left on my thigh was a stretch of skin that had been scratched away. I could see the various layers I had taken off, and got lightheaded looking at it. I didn't mean to do it. I hid it from view with longer shorts or jeans, but the fabric kept irritating it when I walked.
When it disappeared, I told myself I was not going to do it again."What did you do in public?"