I have seven fading scars on the wrist of my right arm. I put them there, twelve years ago. I used cigarettes. I used to smoke menthols.
I was in Finland when I put six of these marks on my wrist. At the time, I was depressed. Sad, really.
I went to Finland as an exchange student after high school. My first choice was somewhere in Sweden. I had a fascination with Scandinavia at the time. Finland, I quickly learned, is not part of Scandinavia.
While there I started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. If you’ve never been to Finland, you won’t understand how important alcohol is in the cultural dynamic of the country. I started smoking cigarettes because I couldn’t find any decent weed.
I left for Finland on August 18, 2001, leaving behind my high-school-sweetheart and family. It was supposed to be a cultural exchange that would change my life before I went to university. It did.
I don’t regret having gone, but I do wish that I had done it differently.
While I was in Finland, I was missing a girl. I missed her a lot. She was, for all intents and purposes, the greatest love that I had (up until then). She opened me up to a whole new way of seeing the world. At eighteen, I hadn’t seen much, but still. She was beautiful and I loved her.
She had scars on her left forearm, because she would cut herself. Only the fingernails of her left hand were painted, because she wasn’t comfortable enough when using her left hand. She never cut herself deeply, always along the width of her arm, and the cuts were never more than about half an inch long. She used to soak in the tub and watch the blood evaporate from the broken skin and into a cloud.
When I was in Finland, I missed her. I wanted to be close to her again, even though I knew that she had already left. I once put the blade of a Swiss Army Knife against my wrist, but I couldn’t do any more than create an thin, unlasting impression. I don’t think “unlasting” is a word.
I had to find a way to externalize my pain. My misery.
We wrote letters to each other for a short while, but they stopped. I was too emotional, and she was falling in love. I couldn’t do anything to win her heart, but I didn’t stop trying. A fool – a buffoon – I was.
When I arrived in Finland, the first stop was a week-long language retreat. I called her as soon as I learned how to say “I love you” in Swedish. Jag älskar dig [yag else-car day]. I used a payphone, making a collect-call. It was the only time that I would ever need to know that Swedish phrase.
I got myself a mobile phone while I was in Finland, because I never wanted to miss her call. We would talk on the phone, but only sometimes.
At some point, I can’t remember exactly when, and the journal I kept is forever sealed in a box in the basement of my parents’ house, I needed to feel pain. I needed to release the pain that had welled up inside of me. I needed to see what it was like to suffer. That was when I put out a cigarette on the palm of my hand. It hurt, but it didn’t scar. There was no evidence that I could look at to remind me that I was suffering.
I tried it again, butting out at least three more cigarettes on the palm of my hand. The skin on the palm of your hand is incredibly resilient. I needed to scar. I needed to see, and not simply feel, this pain. I put out that fifth cigarette on the inside of my wrist, and then the sixth.
I had blisters on my wrist for over a week. They were there, bubbling up and pronounced. A long-sleeved shirt has never been more uncomfortable. People knew they were there, but said nothing. I said nothing about them, either.
I burned my wrist four more times. Twice more on the inside of my wrist, and twice on the outside.
I smoked my first cigarette by myself, while sitting on a bench in the park outside of the Turku Castle. I skipped school – a common practice by this point – and rode my bike there. I bought the cigarettes at a shop not too far away from the bench. I smoked two cigarettes before standing up. I sat back down, dizzy and with my eyes feeling as if they were glazed over.
I swore that I would never smoke again. It just wasn’t me, I thought. I threw out the rest of the pack.
Not long after that I was on an overnight ferry to Stockholm, and there was a discotheque on board. My travel companion had a pack of cigarettes and offered me one. I ended buying a carton for myself on the way back.
When I look back on my life and wonder what experiences changed me in a significant way, I often caress the wrist of my right arm. I pull the skin tight, and look for what remains of the scars that are there. I wonder if they will ever be completely gone. Sometimes I wish they weren’t there, but I also want them with me forever. They remind me of a time when I was younger, and no more foolish than I am now. They remind me that no matter how much pain I can see, it’s never worse than the pain that I may be feeling. They remind me that I was once in such buffoonish love. That they’re fading away is a sign that I am growing, even though I don’t often feel much differently than I did then.
You know, I was a real asshole while I was in Finland. It was probably the only time in my life that I didn’t care about the people around me. My eyes were closed off to the world, and I shut the door tightly against what would’ve been a great experience. I hurt myself.
When I think about the scars on my wrist, I sometimes wonder about the girl. What does it feel like when she runs her right hand down the length of her left forearm?
Does she ever paint the nails on the ends of the fingers of her right hand?