One of my students asks me if I used to cut myself.
This is not a usual conversation, but then we do not have a usual relationship. She thinks I saved her life.
I tell her, I did, sometimes, but more often I would muff cigarettes out on my thighs.
She didn’t know I smoked.
“For fifteen years,” I tell her. “But I haven’t done it for over three years now.”
The cigarettes or the burning?
I smile at her. She decides on the answer herself. She’s a smart girl.
You must have started young.
I nod and look at the bracelets covering her wrists. Her long sleeves in the spring time. I wish I had a cigarette now, wish I knew what to say, or what answers would help this girl. There is no manual, no instruction, no class, to truly prepare a teacher for the reality of human connection.
Did they scar?
“I have a few.” I hike up my skirt a bit and show her a constellation of circular scars across my right thigh. “They are all pretty faded,” I assure her.
She nods as I lower my skirt. She is silent.
“Yours will fade too,” I say. I never had a conversation like this before. It is terrifyingly honest. I never had the guts to ask anyone the questions she asks me, but I am so familiar with the look in her eye, with the stutter in her throat, the way she seems to shiver through her skin.
“They will heal. In years, people won’t see them. There are creams to reduce the scarring.”
She asks me what kind and I scrawl a few names on a list for her. She glances at it and shoves it in her pocket.
“Alice,” I say. “I don’t do it anymore.”
I know. She gives me her signature shy smile. I don’t either.
She gives me a hug. She seems like a girl who doesn’t receive a lot of hugs.
I’ll see you tomorrow.
I smile at her although I recognize sadness behind her eyes. I feel empathy swelling behind my own. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She ducks her head, offers a half wave, and slips out the door.
I lean back at my desk, let a hand linger over the scars on upper thigh. I can’t remember the last time I wanted a cigarette so bad.
“Scars” is previously published in Electric Monarch Monthly (2016).
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