Initially I moved in with Andrew because he asked me. I was searching for love, even though I was married to someone else at the time. But bored with my first marriage, I thought all I needed to be happy was to switch partners. After a divorce and living together about a year, Andrew and I decided to marry. The morning of our wedding, however, I awoke with a headache, my muscles stiff with the responsibility of maintaining a relationship: yes, too ordinary, committed, boring. Not as intense or exciting---not as short-lived---as a one-night stand or an affair. Scant weeks before the wedding I'd even come close to having sex with the president of a company where I was doing "temp" work for $4.50 an hour. I'm not sure why I said no to that president, except maybe this time I really wanted to make a stab at marriage.
I'd ordered my "wedding dress" out of a catalogue. It was a red cotton floral outfit, marked down to nineteen dollars.
Andrew urged me to buy something nicer. I couldn't.
How could I tell him I bought the dress because I felt marked down? How could I wear white or cream or tan when red is my true color?
Three-thirty in the morning. The silence of our house, our marriage, wells up around me. Night is a thick humid wall. I need a way out. I push back the sheet and retrieve a lavender wood box I've hidden for years in my closet. I sit on the floor. Inside the box is my stash---stuff hoarded for when I need a fix---these mementos of men almost as good as a real man. Letters, photos, jewelry, books, pressed flowers. A maroon cashmere scarf that an older married man gave me when I was a college student in Boston. I drape the scarf around my neck.
From my dresser I remove khaki shorts, underwear, socks, a few wrinkled T-shirts, a pair of gray sweats, and place them in my canvas suitcase. I slide my fingers along metal hangers in the closet. Short skirts. Silk and lacy blouses. Rainbow Motel blouses. I also own blazers and oxford shirts, professional clothes, from various past jobs, even though I am currently unemployed. Size-four dresses to clothe my anorexic body. Size-eight for when I'm eating. But little in this closet is appropriate for a hospital. On a shelf in the back I find an oversized white T-shirt with the stenciled message: stranded on the strand. It is so old the seams are splitting, the print fading. I bought it in Galveston, where I once lived, in an area called the Strand. I always read the message literally: I have felt stranded. Everywhere. I decide to wear it tomorrow.
I tuck the maroon scarf between the shirts in my suitcase.
Next to my bedroom is the bath. I collect deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb. No makeup. Not even lipstick for this new sober self I will try to create tomorrow. In the medicine cabinet is my supply of Gillette single-edged razor blades. Why not? The metal feels cool, comforting. The blades are to slice small cuts in my skin. How peaceful, whenever I drift into a trance of silver razors, obsessed with watching slivers of blood trail down my thighs. Small hurts always distract me from the larger hurts. Blood, starvation, promiscuity, are managed pain, meant to relieve larger, unmanageable pain.
I slip a razor blade under the bar of Dove soap in my pink plastic soap dish and put it in my suitcase.
Copyright Sue Silverman 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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