Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 49

Carrie was a picker. She had been for many years and it was a habit severe enough in its manifestation to be considered self harm. She was not particular as to what or where she picked, unlike some people. It was a whole body system of self scrutiny and removal. If she noticed a hangnail, a tiny thread of skin flapping loose on her finger, she would peel it back and rip it off. Then, the edges left behind would be peeled back, until there was nothing but smooth - though raw, shiny and bleeding - skin. If Carrie had a pimple on her chin, a blackhead on her nose, an ingrown hair on her groin, it would have to be removed. She prodded and squeezed and scraped until any trace of it was gone. This would almost always leave a scab, which would be the subject of the same violence. Carrie picked her ears, scouring them first with cotton swabs, then with pencil tips, bobby pins, tweezers, even the dull tip of her pocket knife, trying to expunge the thick yellow wax that built up in them. She scraped the inside of her nose until it bled, then until it was infected, then until it was scarred and her septum was at risk of collapse. Carrie picked at home, at school, at work. She sat in the back of every class, making a point of arriving early so she could get a seat where nobody was behind her. University was certainly better than high school had been, and it was rare that anyone tormented her, but she still found it impossible to sit still with people behind her. She knew what they thought, what they wanted to do and say, staring at her. Besides, she didn’t want them watching her as she scratched and scraped her scalp, pulling the scabs from under her stringy black hair. She was working towards an internship at a funeral home. Her mother thought it was a tragic decision, but Carrie thought it was kind of funny. Her marks were low-average. She spent her time listening to music, mostly French death metal, and reading pulp horror that always disappointed her. She was vaguely interested in the occult, particularly demonology, but had no belief in any of it. She doodled obsessively, but never developed the talent or enthusiasm to consider herself artistic. Some of her classmates would say she was preoccupied with death, but in truth she was just more comfortable with the idea than most people. Her social life was limited to intermittent spurts of online chatting with strangers and weekly phone calls with her mother. Carrie wore mostly black, but She was not what anybody would mistake for goth or emo. She was utterly without glamour, void of style. She wore black because she didn’t understand color and she felt it attract- ed attention. She wore no makeup, no jewelry, no accessories. Her hair was long, but plain, greasy and limp. Her body was forgettable, the curves to shallow to be voluptuous, too droopy to be slender. Her skin was pale and littered with scars from her constant digging, raking and poking. She gave off a barely perceptible but always present oily smell. Carrie had tried cutting once. She’d been sixteen. The familiar revulsion was rising inside her like a black tide. She felt a desperate, suffocating need to escape the nauseating loathing she felt. The overwhelming disgust was like being held under rancid sewer water, unable to breath. She was disgusted with herself, by the world around her, by the things she had done. The feeling was like having something cold and wet and writhing pressed into her naked back and trying not to pull away. She could feel it along her spine, between her shoulders, in her hips and throat and crotch: revulsion. So she’d tried cutting, a narrow slice along the inside of her leg. Watching the blood bead up and then drip down had helped a little, but it wasn’t enough. It felt artificial. It felt pretend. Carrie had even tried therapy. That had been a laugh. It had been when she was much younger, twelve or thirteen. Her parents had set it up after things had come out about what “uncle” Bill had been doing. But the therapist had only wanted to talk about what had happened, to dig into things head on. It had been like burying herself in the disgust she felt, drowning herself in shame and self loathing. When they’d talked about it, it was as bad as if it had been happening all over again. She felt the revulsion as strongly as if Bill’s sour little dick was stabbing at the back of her throat again. It hadn’t helped. The picking had started slowly, naturally. She’d gradually realized that the satisfaction of squeezing a zit, the sweet pain of peeling a hangnail or the sickening mental clarity that came after pulling off a toenail, all of them helped to calm the boiling sea of anger and disgust she felt. It was like the peaceful tired feeling she had after violently vomiting. It pulled her mind away from the revulsion, gave her something to focus on that was under her control; something she could manage. One day, Carrie discovered, entirely by accident, a new and satisfying facet to the picking while sitting in the back of a crowded lecture hall. The proof was delivering a particularly dry lecture that only repeated what she had learned in the prerequisite course. Carrie had been scribbling little ex-eyed skulls in her notebook when she felt a slight tickle in her throat and she coughed quietly. Something spewed up into her mouth, almost gently, but it wasn’t phlegm. She spit it into her hand: a small, hard, pale green nugget.