Me and My What Ifs

I sometimes think back to my parents kitchen. When the floor was white laminate and the bench tops had a wooden veneer. I think back to when my sister said something hurtful, I don’t remember what, and I yelled back, ‘Nobody cares!’

I was standing in the corner of the room, in front of the cupboard that held plastic bags. My right hand was next to the utensil draw and I pulled on the handle. I took a carving knife out, yelled ‘Nobody cares!’ again, and placed the blade across my wrist.

‘That won’t work,’ my sister said. She then held her wrist out to mirror mine. ‘The bone will stop the knife.’ She ran her finger down her forearm, drawing a pressure line between the radial and ulnar bones. ‘You have to cut along the vein.’

I think there were tears in my eyes. I remember looking at my skin, the knife, my sister, the floor, and then my skin again.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had pressed down. Pressed hard enough to break the surface, pierce the vein, and pull away from the palm. I wonder if things would have been better.

Maybe I’d have gone to hospital.

While I bled on the floor my sister would have called an ambulance. She would have put a packet of frozen peas on my wrist, or perhaps the base of an ice cream tub, and sat with me. At first I might have squirmed, but then shock and blood loss would have lowered my resistance.

I wonder how quickly I’d have gone from crying to relaxing. If the whole thing would have been like a server form of acupuncture. The prick resulting in a blood letting so the harm could run free. I would have watched it leak out before the paramedics arrived to stitch the cut.

Actually, I’d probably have been bandaged and driven to triage. There the wound would have been washed and disinfected, and then finally stitched. I’d have seen a nurse and some doctors. People would ask questions about school and home. They’d ask if I had any friends I’d like to visit. Someone would make my class sign their names on a big card and the teacher would send it in. They could have made an afternoon of it.

A doctor without a white coat would talk to me. He or she might have used a soft voice and waited with me for hours. They’d ask personal questions and lie complements. It’d take hours for her or him to come to the wrong conclusions. Hours.

Of course there would be protocols and tablets and forms. Maybe even a doll to cuddle and point to when it hurts. After a week or two of observation I’d be discharged. A prescription of TLC with follow up monitoring.

I’d start a new school, perhaps one not so posh. A co-ed school where the children would be louder and the teachers would be louder still. At first I’ll try to hide. Sink into my desk, avoid eye contact, don’t speak, don’t wear noticeable clothing, don’t make sudden movements, agree with everyone, be a speck, just get through the days. But a new kid would attract attention.

I’d probably be made to share something. A show and tell to introduce myself. I’d bring something from home and stutter through an explanation, then some upstart kid would ask a question about the scars on my arm. Hopefully, contrary to what my old principle had advised, it would actually be easy to start again. It’d actually mean starting a fresh.

Of course there’d be check ups and appraisals. Probably an investigation. I’d have to sign some things and my sister would be upset for a while. My parents too. At some point the squeeze in my head and chest would fade and I could sleep through the night. Whether anyone else did or not.

One day I could have met a girl, and then a woman. I could stop shaking. Meet strangers. Travel with friends. Start my own business. Had results. Left impressions. I could have been different.

Or I could have died on the floor. My sister, frantic, may have called a friend for advice and got side-tracked talking about shoes. Or she could have tried driving us to the hospital and crashed into a ditch.

I could have been locked up. Supplied with drugs to help. I’d be sent to live somewhere social. Where I could be watched. Somewhere with co-residents, a big TV and prepared meals.

Or maybe, near death, I could have seen a light and been brought back. Then I’d have had something to aspire to. Failing at first I could have tried again with Valium or turpentine or carbon monoxide. Something cunning. Something without witnesses.

In truth none of these came true. I let out a sob, put the knife on the counter, and ran to my bedroom. I slammed the door and dived onto the bed. Clinging to the sheets I wet the pillow with tears and bit into it. I tried to swallow a corner. It didn’t work.

My sister opened the door, stood, watched and asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and I yelled ‘Go away.’ Partly muffled of course.

Hours later Mum came home. She made dinner. I wasn’t hungry but I ate it. It was my roll in the routine. My sister didn’t say anything, and neither did I. Mum was thankful for the quite. From there the routine kept going. There was just more life.

In hindsight, I don’t like the never was. The things I wish for and imagine. What is the point of them? How can desired memories help? Every morning I curl under my bed sheets and warm myself on trapped body heat. I waste an hour there. Imagining what it would be like to wake with someone, to wake with an endorsed purposed, to wake with friends to meet. Instead I waste time wishing for things that never were.

The reality is that the kitchen has been remodelled. There’s a marble pattern on the benches and the floorboards are exposed and polished. There’s an island counter where my sister once stood, and I’m living home again after failing at an independent life.

Right now no one else is around. I could take the knife once more from the utensil draw, this time its next to the plates, and I could slit my wrist. I could do it correctly and change things for good – or should that read permanently?

The draw now has a push release magnetic. It sighs as it rolls out its tray. A measured presentation. It would be easy to tap the panel open and skip the middle man. Pass go and head directly to stop. Not to have to trudge through the coming decades. I could take action, if I thought nothing could change.

Strangely, despite my hate of them, it is the imagined that keeps me going. The what ifs. Like a carrot to a horse I rely on them. They give ambition. That one day something might make life stick differently. Something I do. In a better way. This, it must be said, gets harder to believe as I get older. For now though, the imagined is a reason to keep going. A very poor one, that I hold onto.


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