I used to cut myself back in high school. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't one of those kids that would cut the same places over and over, going deeper each time. My scars - such as they are - are small, long faded, and invisible unless I'm really tan and you hunt for them. Even the one from the time I tried to slit my wrist has nearly disappeared. It was a fairly futile attempt. I was thirteen, and used a razor to make a long, shallow cut along the blue trail of a vein. I was so scared by the blood and shocked by the pain that I dropped the blade and ran.

No, I tell myself, I was never a hard case. But the pain was addicting, and it gets to be a compulsion. But I never thought I could lose control like that. It was just a way to blow off steam. I'd seen people whose arms and legs were more scar tissue than skin. I would tell myself I was never that bad. They were in it up to their necks; I dipped my toes in the pool. Over time I forgot what it could feel like. By the time I left for college, I hadn't cut for years, and hardly anyone knew I ever had.

I went to a sex club for the first time on my nineteenth birthday. It was sort of a, "Congrats on lasting this long!" present to myself. I wore a short black dress under a blue silk corset. I went to a workshop beforehand because I was nervous and clueless and scared to death of falling flat on my face in my stupid shoes. The woman presenting asked for a volunteer. I stood, and tried to look cool. She led me through the demo step by step, kindly covering my idiocy. Then she drew a long silver knife. The blade caught the light and for a moment it was all I could see. I felt drawn inexorably, needing, wanting. I felt a hideous, all-consuming hunger for everything I thought I'd forgotten. For the bright shock of pain, for the brief, blessed moment of numb release before the blood comes. After the demo I went home to be alone.

I'd never thought I had it in me. It was like giving birth to a demon; you never think you could carry this ugliness inside you for so long without noticing. Until, suddenly, its there in front of you, horrible, squirming, and real.

Flash, flash

Slash, slash

sit and smile-

as the blood runs down.

The next day I was walking through Union Square. I wandered into William Sonoma, one of my favorite shops. I tasted the expensive delicacies up for sample, and browsed through the over-specialized toys of the wealthy foodie. I paged through cookbooks. And eventually found the knife display. Below the boards full of shining chef's cutlery was a bin full of little French picnic knives, some with wooden sheaths, and some that folded up into their glossy wooden handles. I took up one that folded, felt its weight in my hand. I opened it, the blade caught the light, and for a moment it was all I could see. It was carbon steel. I prefer that to stainless, carbon keeps a much better edge. I don't know how I know this, any more than I know how I carried this frightening need for so long without seeing it.

I bought the little knife. It cost eight dollars. I felt like I had sold my soul.

I took it back to my scummy hotel room that night and opened it. I set it under my lamp. What could I do? I wanted to put it away, and burry it deep. I didn't want anyone to see me like this. But then again, I want them all to know. I want to tell the truth, make it gift to those I love. I want them to see everything, even this deep and deathly part of me. I want them to take all of me just as I am. But I can't think what I could possible say. And I don't know how to make them understand. I'm drowning in a sea of words and nobody can save me.

I picked it up, and pressed the edge into the soft skin on the inside of my arm. It stung, and left a tell-tale red line. Everything got so quiet, it was wonderful. I felt so contaminated, but it felt so good. How could I live without the release of the pain? How could I deny it, now that I know? How could I possibly be redeemed? I moved the blade over an inch and did it again, and then again.

I shivered and a chill went up my spine. The demon, clawing at the inside of my skin, frantic to be free, laughed.

I fold the knife up, and put it on the table, under the lamp, and turn out the light.

But only for so long.