I don't understand cutting very well. I've never been in a place in my life where it might have seemed the thing to do. When I was going through my roughest teen years it wasn't even something I'd ever heard of. much less imagined. I do think I know two things about it now, however. First, it's not an actual suicide attempt, but rather a cry for help, a last resort for someone who needs another, more powerful human being in (usually her) life to see them and help them. Second, it's a way, amidst all the pain in this person's young life over which they have no control whatsoever, to gain some illusion of control, even if it's to inflict pain onto themselves in order to temporarily distract from the overwhelming pain that is uncontrollable.
Today a phone call brought the news that a young girl of my acquaintance is in the psych ward of an area hospital after cutting herself on her legs, arms, and breast, including cutting the words "kill me" on one arm.
I'm going to tell some of what I know of her story, while maintaining what I can of her privacy. I'll call her "Missy", simply to indicate her youth and gender. It is nothing like her actual name.
I first met a member of her extended family back in the early 80s, some time after returning to Minnesota following my divorce. In the intervening years, I have had occasional contact with various members of her extended family, perhaps on a holiday or birthday, an afternoon picnic with a charcoal grill out on the lawn, maybe a funeral. Missy has not so much been seen as she has been the changing school photo on the shelf and a brief subject among many subjects of family news. What I know and tell of her life is very much from the outside, the onlooker piecing the bits together.
I first actually saw Missy when she and a cousin were running through the family house as 3 and 4-year-olds, laughing and carefree, carelessly wearing the dirt from the day's activities, hair messed from exuberance, cute as only children of that age and innocence can be. They were being attended to as needed, kept out of harm's way with the cooking going on, alternative activities suggested when necessary. After getting help sorting who belonged to which parent, something I occasionally needed repeating over the years, I sat back and observed while carrying on with conversations.
As years rolled by, I discovered she was affectionate, had a minor speech impediment that her school was helping her work on, and didn't particularly like to read. The most recent picture of her, having just turned 15, was with that same cousin, both changed so much in the previous year that I hadn't recognized either until told who they were.
I knew a lot more from family conversations. Missy lived mostly with her mom and older half brother. Her father is a member of the family I know, and there were times when she lived with him. Her mom was pointed out to me at a funeral, though I don't remember if we ever directly greeted each other in the chaos. I have to think a while to even remember her name, and wouldn't recognize her if I saw her again, unless perhaps it was while she was with Missy. Even then I'm doubtful.
I'm sure part of that is that I don't want to know her. Several years ago, before Missy even hit puberty, her half brother molested her. Now I'm spare on the precise details, which is fine. But I do know that Child Protective Services got involved, removed the brother from the home for a while for "counseling", and then when it was deemed (how?) that he had been punished or counseled enough or whatever yardstick they used, he was allowed to return home. Only it wasn't quite that straightforward. Mom was told that the two children could not live together in the home. She got to choose which one would live with her.
Mom chose her son.
Missy got sent off to live with her father, much to his delight and relief. That put her back in the hub of much of the extended family, including an aunt, uncle, and grandmother. They were somewhat spread out in two apartments of the same building, unified in helping with Missy's care as well as supporting each other. From Daddy's standpoint, this was the best possible outcome. It just wasn't to last.
Eventually Missy went back to live with Mom. And brother, of course. There were no more reports of abuse, but I saw her once during this time and she was not a happy child. I wondered how much she feared her brother, how she dealt with her mom's choosing him over her, if she trusted she would be safe.
The one thing I did hear about her was that her mother kept telling her that she "knew" that Missy would wind up pregnant by the time she was 16, saying it in a way that indicated Mom thought it was going to be all Missy's fault, that she would become a slut or worse. Missy had apparently been hearing this rubbish from the time she was too young to know just what it all meant.
It would be very easy at this point to ask where was Daddy in all this and why hadn't he sued for full custody? Let's start with the family living way out in the middle of nowhere, job-wise. When you don't start with the "right" kind of education, you don't qualify for the job which actually pays a living wage. You can't afford to live in the expensive metro area, and a low income, complicated by a work history punctuated by accidents, illness, and recession layoffs, doesn't provide one with the ability to acquire a dependable vehicle to get the hour and a half each way to work, spiraling into periodic homelessness if not complete hopelessness. If you throw all that together, all the love in the world isn't going to convince a court to change custody, even given the actual alternative. When the extended family comes together. a safe secure home is provided, but the situation is fluid enough that it's hard to convince a court to trust it. And who can afford an attorney for the fight?
Time rolled on, and Missy bounced back and forth between the two homes, with no pattern to it that anybody was ever able to explain to me. About a year ago, her brother, now in high school, brought one of his friends home to spend the night. The friend was 19. Late that night, after the brother was sleeping, this "friend" went down the hall to Missy's room and raped her.
Missy was immediately moved to Daddy's home again. Now I presume that the brother's friend got himself a ticket to jail, though I've not been told what's happening. I also have not heard whether she got any counseling, either for this or her previous molestation. Nor have I heard whether her brother is walking the straight and narrow these days, which matters because Missy is yet again back living with Mom.
And finding the only way she thinks she can to scream for help.
Among the many questions I am left with is whether anybody from the family will actually tell her therapist at the hospital what Missy has been having to cope with, or can Missy herself do so? As a person on the outside looking in, I am convinced it is both relevant and vital. As a person on the outside looking in, I am also aware that I have no standing to do so.