One Step Forward, Two Steps Back - Short Story
Again, he woke up to an empty bed. Frank sat up and looked at the clock, the red lights stinging his eyes. He rubbed them, getting the sleep out of his eyes and seeing the time. 5:13 AM. He almost wished that he could wonder where she was, but this wasn't an uncommon situation. He ran a hand through his hair, stalling for time. He could go to sleep right now and pretend he was never awake. He could deal with it later. He laid down in the bed, but couldn't sleep. It would be wrong. What kind of a boyfriend was he?
He swung his feet over the side of the bed, getting his balance before walking towards the bathroom. He opened the bathroom door, finding her exactly where he knew she would be. His stomach churned, seeing her curled up on the bathroom floor, her flawless porcelain skin rubbing against the grimy rug. She looked so peaceful, despite the fact that her upper arm bled from deep red gashes, cut in a dozen different directions.
"Sweetie? Glynda?" He gently nudged her shoulder, favoring her arm. He moved her so she was laying on her back and noticed that her other arm was as bad as the one he had already seen. He swallowed hard, regaining his composure. No matter how many times he woke up to this, it didn't make it any easier to take. She stirred slightly, but squeezed her eyes shut against the harsh bathroom light. He stood up and ran some warm water, saturating a washcloth with it, "Sweetie, wake up. We have to take care of your cuts, okay?" He asked, kneeling down next to her, again.
"Frankie?" She asked, her voice hoarse. Her eyes opened slowly, taking in the reassuring smile of her boyfriend. She smiled in return, sitting up, "Hey, what time is it?"
"Probably like five thirty...Brace yourself." He pressed the wash cloth to her wounds and she flinched, "Sorry." He said, not pleased with causing her pain.
"It's okay. Why are you up?"
"I just woke up and noticed you weren't in bed. I...didn't know the fight affected you this badly." He said, his concern and guilt evident in his voice.
"Baby..." She moved her hand to his cheek and kissed him, "It wasn't only that. Don't blame yourself, alright? You didn't do this to me. You didn't make me do this. It's never you." She said softly, comfortingly.
"It's hard to believe." He said, looking at her wounds to judge what to do with them, "All I know is that after we fought, we went to sleep. I fell asleep before you did, and when I woke up, you were sleeping in here, covered in cuts."
"I've done worse." She cut him off, looking at him seriously.
"I know you have." He sighed, opting against the ointment. They were too deep for that, just yet, "But, still. It isn't the point. How many times are we going to have to wash the blood out of the rug before you get help for this?"
"I don't need help." She said, shaking her head lightly. She took the washcloth from his hand and stood up, running it under some more warm water. Frank frowned as the water turned a murky brown. As soon as it ran clear, she moved it back to her arm, wiping out the cuts.
"Careful." He said, watching over her movements, "You don't see how you need help?"
"No, not really. I mean, if it helps me, what is the harm?"
"Except to your body, Glynda. Does that not count?"
"You know I don't really think highly of my body. And, it's my body. Why does it concern you?" She asked him, looking up into his eyes. There wasn't a stitch of accusation in her voice - she wanted to know.
"Why does it concern me? How could it not?" He shook his head, looking troubled as he reached under the sink and pulled out the first aid kit, "Sweetheart, it would concern anyone to wake up at five in the morning to find the one they love gone from the bed. More than that, to find them in the bathroom, sleeping and bleeding simultaneously. I love you and it kills me to see you hurting like this."
"This isn't meant to hurt you. It's just...it's a coping mechanism and - "
"I know, Glynda. I understand it to some extent. In addition to what I've experienced through you, I've read up on it. I just..." He shook his head and trailed off, unwrapping some butterfly strips. She sat on the counter, by the edge of the sink.
"Just what?" She asked, trying to take his attention away from her arms and make him look at her face, "Frankie, you don't have to be my doctor like this. You know that, right? I mean, I can see how this could be hard on you. You are amazing to take care of me like this, but you don't have to."
"I want you safe." He said simply, applying many of the strips to her arms.
"Could you please look at me in the eyes?" She asked him, starting to get upset.
"What?" He asked, looking at her in between strips.
"No, Frankie." She took the dressings out of his hands and put them to the side, "Look at me." He sighed and finally looked at her, fully, "Frankie, what are you thinking?"
"What do you mean?"
"As you bandage up my arm, what are you thinking?"
"I don't want to talk about this." He made to reach for the gauze, but she grabbed his hand.
"Glynda, please." He took his hand back and looked away.
"Frank, what do you think of me?"
"I love you. What kind of question is that?"
"Do you think I'm weak? Do you think I'm crazy? What's going on in that head of yours? You never let me in. How can I tell what's going on?"
"I don't let you in? When we have a fight, I'm not the one who hides out and cuts myself instead of talking it out." He said, then realized how harsh the words came out. They needed to, though. For a long time, he needed to say that.
"It just bothers me. Why can't you talk to me? You always have to hurt yourself to feel better. If I can't make you feel better, what good am I?"
"Frank, I told you...my self-injury has nothing to do with you. I'm addicted, sweetie. I am. I can't just stop because it's how I learned to deal with things."
"But, why can't you learn a new way? A way that doesn't hurt you and me?"
"I don't want to hurt you." She said quietly, looking down. For the first time in a very long time, her wounds made her feel ashamed of herself. She knew that he didn't like that she hurt herself, but she was so used to the apathy of others that she really didn't know how much. Now, she did, and it made her feel terrible. What made her feel worse was that she wanted, at that moment, to hurt herself.
"Well, you are." He said, slowly, looking at her, "You know I will never leave you, no matter what. And, you know that I will always be here to take care of your wounds after you've had a bad night, but I don't think it's necessary."
"Could you please get help? Please?"
"What if I didn't?"
"Please, Glynda. I want you better."
"So, what am I now? Damaged? Am I ugly because of what I've done to myself? Have I fallen below your standards of what's acceptable?"
"Glynda, no." He sighed, moving closer to her. She wasn't speaking out of anger, but out of pure paranoia. He knew of her past and how many people had deemed her unacceptable and ugly because of her habits. He would never be one of them, "Glynda, I love you. I love everything about you and you could never be anything but perfect to me. This isn't about me, though. This is about making you healthy."
"You think I'm sick, don't you?" She asked, and he put his arms around her, as she had started to tremble.
"You're not sick. You're not crazy. There's nothing wrong with you. This is just how you get through things. I don't understand it, but I understand the thought behind it."
"Frankie?" She said softly, her head in the crook of his neck.
"I love you. I'm sorry. If you really don't like it...I'll try to get help. It just scares me. For such a long time, this is what I did. I hurt myself and I feel better. I don't know why, but it works. It's not...normal. I realize that. I don't feel bad about hurting myself, but I feel bad about hurting you." She fell quiet and felt his arms tighten their grip on her, "I love you so much." She said, putting her arms around him.
"I love you, too. And, that's why I only want what's best for you. We'll find you a therapist. There's no need for you to go to a hospital or anything. Okay? Does that sound alright? Just someone to talk to. That's all."
"Okay." She smiled, nodding her head.
Frankie held onto her, tightly. He couldn't help but smile as she began to calm down in his arms. He finished bandaging up her wounds and brought her into the bedroom so they could both go back to sleep. Neither one could, however. Frank's head was buzzing with thoughts of different places he was going to check for therapists and he was just happy that things were pointing in the right direction, again. Glynda's head was going through the things she was going have to do to better hide her cuts from him, knowing full well that even if she quit, there wasn't a chance in hell she'd stop.
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