By Joyce Carol Oates
There was no reason.
There were many reasons.
There came the razor blade
between my fingers.
There came the current like
electricity through my arm—
through my fingers—
directing the blade into the soft,
yielding flesh of the inside forearm.
Why doesn’t matter.
How requires precision.
Now Merissa was alone.
For the first time since early that morning, when she’d wakened in the dark before dawn and the heaviness of GOOD NEWS! GOOD NEWS! CONGRATULATIONS! sank down on her like a low-lying toxic cloud.
Quickly shutting the door. In her room, and safe.
Listening to hear if her mother might be following after her—no?
And in the little bathroom adjoining her room, with trembling hands—trembling with excitement, anticipation!—opening a drawer beside the sink, and, at the very back of the drawer, seizing the handle of a small but very sharp paring knife—bringing out the knife, and pressing its tip against the inside of her wrist, where the skin was pale and thin and the little blue veins just visible—”I can do this. Any time. Nobody can stop me.”
Her voice was gloating, joyous. In all of the week of Good News, not once had Merissa spoken in such a voice.
“The Perfect One,” Tink had teased Merissa Carmichael.
But not even Tink knew about this.
In the mirror above the sink, a luminous-pale face hovered. The wide-set eyes were shadowed, shining, and fierce.
At such (secret) moments Merissa could bear to see herself.
For it was not herself she saw but another—a stranger—with the (secret) power of life/death in her hands.
Just an ordinary paring knife, stolen from the kitchen downstairs.
Where there were so many knives—some of them gorgeous, glittering, Japanese-honed stainless-steel carving knives, very expensive—no one would miss this little knife.
This (secret) Merissa had cherished for the past eighteen months—when she’d first cut herself, clumsily, foolishly, in an act of desperation and not of sublime cerebral design.
Now Merissa was in control.
Even Tink hadn’t known. (But maybe she had guessed?)
For the girls at Quaker Heights, maybe for the guys, too, Tink Traumer had shown the way. You didn’t have to like Tink—in fact, Tink had more detractors than admirers, by far—but you had to admit, Tink Traumer had not only taken her own life in her hands, she’d had the guts to throw that life away.
This week of GOOD NEWS was making Merissa sick, finally. Just so many times you can smile and say, “Thank you!” when someone congratulates you—at a point, you want to say, “Please just leave me alone! It will never happen again.”
High grades, class offices, yearbook staff, field hockey, girls’ chorus, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, every honor list you can think of, plus, now, early admission at Brown—she was feeling guilty, selfish.
Like her belly bloated with Diet Coke. Just—disgusting.
Still, Daddy was proud of her. And if Daddy was proud of Merissa, that meant that Merissa was all right to keep going, for a while at least.
(Secretly) lifting her shirt, to check on the most recent cut.
Just a small cross, on her upper abdomen, each stitchlike scab about an inch long. Already Merissa had forgotten why she’d cut herself there—what the particular reason was scarcely mattered—but it looked good. Healing, and not infected.
And if she prodded it with the tip of the paring knife, a quicksilver flamelike pain leapt from the tiny wound like a muted shout.
Now Merissa was happy.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2012, p. 1514
“The author is a master at portraying the complex, emotional inner lives of these teens, and their contemporary adolescent voices and perceptions (and misperceptions) ring true. … What appears at first to be a bleak worldview does in fact make room for healing, change and standing up for what’s right. Intense, keenly insightful, nuanced and affecting.”
Daniel Kraus, Booklist, May 1, 2012, p. 104
“[cutting, cyberbullying, suicide] Yes, these are problem-novel concepts, but in Oates’ hands they become realism itself: a fast pastiche that is as much a triptych of pain as a reminder of resilience.”
Laura Lehner, Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2012, p. 268