raw then red

Anna Kaye-Rogers

There are many different ways to be a girl, but I wonder if I am alone when I am surprised about all the blood. There is so much of it, unexpectedly, in the strangest of places. Each nervous meeting of index finger to thumb leaves little red pricks, the places we worriedly tear at our cuticles and question if our naturally growing nails do not look healthy and polished enough. Gloss mixes into blood and a girl I remain, only with brightly colored nails.

I taste it in my mouth and watch the pinkness swirl down the drain; different blood, unless I’ve stuck my fingers to my tongue to staunch the bleeding. My fingertips seem far from my heart but they bleed easily, bright red blood. The light blood in the sink drain comes in the evening as I brush my teeth, irritating gums and desperately erasing any proof of humanity throughout the day. Teeth must be perfectly straight, perfectly aligned, perfectly white. Wine stains, food leaves black flecks, and lipstick smears across my two front teeth, minutes spent fixing errors I have made with a knockoff brand tissue. Nothing has changed except for the coloring, yet without the right shade of red I am not trying my hardest nor doing my best. Dark purple and empowered maroon exist, proud burgundy and playful teal. I feel as though the unnatural colors are too much, when I am trying to make a natural, perfected version of myself. If only fashion was the same as dressing up, tutus akimbo and fairy wings askew, flower crowns tangled in ropes of party beads in my favorite colors.

Sometimes there is blood in the morning, when I have worried myself in my sleep and marked my own inner lip. It is an exquisite form of torture, a bite mark that will continue to be bitten for weeks, each time I attempt to eat the foods I love and keep myself alive. My inner organs wear away with the stress of it, and the raised sore spots turn white. I turn my lip down to examine them and wonder why I am designed to hurt myself, why my flaws are kept open like exposed wounds.

There is blood in my hair, and this I know to be unnatural, but I do not tell anyone else about it, not until now. When I was a preteen I had dandruff, tiny white abnormalities that settled like dust on my shoulder. I wanted to be like the girls in commercials with long eyelashes that caught snowflakes under pure white furry winter hats and gloves, and dance in the snow, but instead I would be vulnerable in the shower, scalp aching from the attention, my mother carving her nails into my skin to lessen the failure. Even my skin did not want to stay where it was supposed to. It was too much and too little at the time, and I, a ferocious ball of pent-up fury, could not find the ability to empathize. Everything was wrong with me, everything was different. My voice was too high-pitched; my vision too bad, my face too small to securely hold my frames on my face, they slipped down my nose; and even the things I liked about myself–my freckles, the shape of my nose- seemed doomed to abandon me when I needed somebody, anybody the most. I worried at my nails and I worried at the way my bones protruded, my veins stayed raised on the back of my hands, my classmates grew and I did not. And I tried to keep the dandruff away, until my skin was raw and then red, and the pockets of dried blood did not have time to heal before I had picked them clean again.

There is blood behind my ears where my piercings have not finished healing, where doubles must be occasionally reopened and metal is constantly pushed through, minutes spent twisting hoops through ear lobes and rotating posts to prevent a wound from closing. I love my piercings; not allowed though they were as I was growing up. They have become a sign of adulthood, this childhood ritual; and they have become my dearest form of self-expression and bodily control. I was told that it would hurt, that it was unnecessary, that it was too much work, and I wait impatiently for when I can pierce my triples, my cartilages, until my ears can be filled with shapes and colors and all the pretty things I have chosen for myself. The pleasure has far outweighed the pain, yet still I wince when I must force something through, a slight gasp escaping my lips.

My tattoo bled. It hangs on my right hip, unseen, unremembered by most, acquired in secret and hidden under baggy t-shirts and swimming shorts for years. The pain was so clean, so strong, so pure and undiluted I had to return a second time to finish what I could not believe I had started, to add detail work to a design I had chosen for myself. Tattoos were not allowed, forbidden, and unheard of, and I cannot understand why they horrify my family so. Mine is personal, meaningful, permanent, and I love it for being so. It is not a flaw on my skin, the way my pimples and scars are, my unasked-for moles. I have chosen to put it there because I thought it was beautiful, and I so rarely think that beautiful things belong with me. Hairstyles that do not fit my face shape, that hurt to twist and pin into place; outfits in beautiful colors and textures that do not work for my body type, in shades that play poorly with my pale skin and tiny frame; rings that do not fit on my fingers and heels that need far stronger ankles and far better coordination than I can provide. But this tattoo belongs to me and I have claimed it for my own, and when the artist assured me bleeding was common he wiped it away carefully, gently, respectfully, and ensured my human flaws of feeling did not affect the quality of his work.