Excerpt: The Scarring of Soul Mates by Jessie Atkin
It’s a small group, it always has been, but the fact that there’s still a group says something that no one seems willing to discuss. Destiny has never been all it’s cracked up to be.
You can tell in the hallway who’s bound for my session by the long sleeves and the lack of eye contact. We gather in ancient and creaking folding chairs. The room is of multipurpose design, meaning it’s big enough for everything but not good enough for anything. The white tile floor is scuffed and matches the dented coffee percolator standing sentry beside a stack of styrofoam cups on an otherwise empty table. We shouldn’t be encouraging teens to down caffeine but it’s the only thing anyone’s budgeted for. Sometimes I’ll pay for a box of powdered donuts but they never seem to make a difference.
There are seven today. Seven slouching sentients, too embarrassed to look at anything beyond their own shoelaces.
Folding my hands in my lap, I smile at the down turned faces and try to keep my arms steady and still. The cuffs of my shirt slip slightly up my wrists.
“Well it’s about that time,” I say, as if we were waiting for more arrivals, rather than understanding that there are only so many of us left. “Let’s just go around real quick and introduce ourselves.” They know the drill, except for the girl directly to my left. She I’ve never seen before. I wonder if she’s really new or if her parents only just found out we exist.
It’s first names only, mumbled, whispered, combined with the shifting of a leg or a glare challenging anyone else unwise enough to look up. “Ariadne,” the new girl recites. She looks only at me. Her eyes seem enormous in her head; they seem to be asking me, begging me, but for what I can’t say. I nod at her, telling her that she has been heard, that she has been seen. Her face falters. She looks back at the tiles.
“Well, welcome to Ariadne, and welcome back to everyone else. As always, for all of us, every day can feel shocking. We live in a world where most of the people around us know exactly where they are going, what they are doing, and whom they are going to meet. We, on the other hand, live with a sense of injustice, perhaps of guilt or blame. We may feel helpless, but that doesn’t mean that we are. This is a safe place to share and to heal.
“This group is about grieving as well. It’s okay to feel you have lost something. All of your feelings are adequate and they are acceptable. Our time together is about sharing. There is no pressure to participate, but just remember that your experiences, your stories, can remind someone else that they are not alone, just as their stories make you feel more connected and seen. Again, remember our hour together is about respect. We may all share a history of self-harm, but that does not mean we are all the same. Everyone here will keep everyone’s stories and feelings in the strictest confidence. Alright?”
There are a few nods, grunts of acceptance.
“Does anyone want to start?” I ask, as if this week will be different than any other. As if thirty days will have changed seven souls enough that they will be willing, and eager, and ready. As if thirty days has taught them all that, while the world isn’t fair maybe, just maybe, it is worth it. I begin instead, as usual, practiced and precise. I remind them why I am here, that I am here, that it is possible to survive past fourteen, past eighteen. There is hope, even if it’s just the hope of multipurpose rooms and bad coffee.
“Well, as you all know, my name’s Callie, and I’m ten years scarred.”
“Hi Callie,” rumbles its way around the circle.
I use the fingers on my right hand to unbutton the cuff on my left arm and push my sleeve to my elbow. I hold up my left hand, the inner part of my wrist facing outward for everyone to see. Ariadne stares, eyes round and wondering. A few others look up before quickly averting their gaze; my injury is not new to them. It is known and oh so familiar. They have the same, or similar, raised slashes decorating their own wrists. Lines that crisscross the face tattooed by biology on their inner arms since birth. Each of us born with the image of our soul mate inscribed on us by our genes, though we have all altered ours in unimaginable and irreparable ways.