Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A5: S6 - A Haunting Awakening

So, this happened a few weeks ago, but I've been putting off talking or writing anything about it...

Partly out of... well, fear, I guess, and partly because I wandered whether it would be insensitive to do so. However, when it comes to matter such as these, I've concluded that if it makes me want to write, then I shall write it, and in doing so, preserve the utmost anonymity and protection for those involved.

For this evening, and what it held... However much I need to, I find it hard to write about. I think it's because of how hard I find it to process it in my mind.

Because what happened this night will stay with me until the day I die.

It was a Friday night and there was a birthday house party next door of our very good friends, and despite the fact that we didn't want to go out clubbing after, a few housemates and I thought we may as well pop over to say howdy.

The party wasn't exactly pumping, but the music was loud, the liquor was in abundance and the faces were pretty - there wasn't a lot to complain about.

Budweiser in hand, we congratulated the birthday boy and played a few rounds of beer pong, a standard ritual of any student house party.

But about an hour into the our arrival, there was a sudden commotion in the hallway.

We turned down the music to face a sea of either confused or oblivious faces. People's voices were suddenly hushed and urgent, and the nearer toward the door you got, the graver people's expressions became.

I pushed past a few people to find a howling girl, curled in a ball by the front door. I felt somewhat relieved - after two years of Uni we all had a wealth of experience dealing with that one girl who got too drunk, threw up in her shoes and started bawling her eyes out because she thought her friends were prettier than her.

But there was something different.

Something wrong.

She was howling in a way I'd never heard anyone howl before... expect in some deep, dark place within my memory.

Then, she looked up and everyone gasped.

Her arms and dress were covered in blood.

Holy shit.

Drunken party-goers began to panic, either surrounding and pressing in on her to see if she was okay or running back to the main room to tell everyone what was going on. My brain just switched to auto-pilot.

I quickly ushered everyone back into the main room, and ran to the kitchen, desperate to find something to stop the bleeding. All I could find was a sock. I decided it was good enough and sprinted back into the hallway. I threw the sock at the boy by her side and he gently wiped at one of her arms.

Then he paused, and looked up with a face of stone.

Because that was when it became apparent that this was so accident.

Wiping away the blood had revealed a dozen or so neatly spaced slashes across her forearms.

Holy shit.


After about twenty minutes of cleaning her up, making sure she was going to be okay and ensuring she could do no more harm, we discovered the reasons behind her actions.
Leaving her in the safe arms of two of our friends, me and two residents of the house went into one of the bedrooms, and silently sat on the bed, our heads in our hands.

"What do we do?" I whispered.

They looked as lost as I was sure I did. 

Although there were many, the cuts weren't actually that deep, and certainly not life-threatening, so there would be no need to call an ambulance. If anything, that would probably just have made it worse. All her housemates had vanished so we couldn't have taken her home, and she couldn't have stayed in this house, as everyone was leaving for the club soon and she certainly could not be left alone.

"Someone needs to stay with her." One of the boys said.

I hang my head in shame as I admit this, but my first automatic thought was 'Don't leave me with her.' I'd come to the party on a whim just looking for a few hours of fun, and now I was to be put on suicide watch for a girl I didn't even know the name of?

But then I recoiled in shock and disgust of my own selfishness.

I heard my own words echoing inside my brain, haunting my selfish annoyance and chasing away any doubts in mind as to what I was going to do next.

'Katie, this is not about you...'

'Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them...' and I suppose sometimes that means you have to sacrifice a part of yourself, to save a part of someone else...' 

'Maybe that's what growing up is. The realisation that life is not just about you anymore. It's about doing things that you don't like, for the sake of other people. It's about swallowing your own pride and overcoming your own barriers to reach out to help someone in need. It is about coming to terms with the fact that you might be the most important person to yourself, but you aren't everyone else's priority...'

"I'll do it." I said suddenly. The other two looked up at me in surprise. 

"...You sure?"

"Help me bring her to our house next door."

"Sure, but... you can't leave her, you'll have to-"

"I've got nothing to do tomorrow, I'll stay up all night if I have to. Bring her and put her on the sofa in the kitchen... you just... just make sure you enjoy the rest of your birthday, okay?" I gave him the most reassuring grin I could muster. 

As I walked back toward her, I was in genuine turmoil. 

Half of me was protesting wildly, you don't have to do this, you owe no responsibility to this girl, you don't even know her, why ruin your night and tomorrow? And the other half fought back angrily, how can you possibly think that? She has no-one else in the world, and if she's left alone and kills herself, her death is on your hands. You, of all people should know how to deal with this. This isn't even about empathy, this is about common human decency.

I kept walking. 

We carried her into our house and set her up on the sofa as she continued to wail and lash out at us. The others left to celebrate the rest of the night in the Student Union Nightclub, and my other housemates sat with us for a bit, making tea and telling silly and irrelevant stories to try and make her smile, but before long, they too went to bed.

So it was just me and the girl. For reasonable reasons because of reasons, let's call her Violet.

We sat in silence for a bit. Me, unsure where to begin, and her, slashed wrists upturned, black tears streaking down her face.

"I have nothing... nothing left to live for."

"Yes you d-" I began, but found myself unable to finish the sentence. How did I know? How could I begin to  recite the pointless formalities of things to say to a suicidal person, when I knew nothing of her? If a stranger had said that to me when I was in my dark place... I would have just laughed. "Everyone has something." was the only pointless reassurance I could find.

I sat with her long into the night, sitting in silence as I listened to her tell me about her family problems, all the terrible things which have happened to her in the past, and all about her newly ex-boyfriend. There was nothing I could do but listen. She went through peaks and dips, sometimes getting worked up into a frenzy, scratching at her own legs until they bled, where I was forced to restrain her by the wrists while she wailed and begged me to let her do it. Other times she would just sigh, and lean back against the cushions, eyes black and soulless,  holding an eternity of misery, as silent tears streaked black across her pale face.

I cleaned and dressed her wounds the best I could, and where I could offer wisdom I tried, but from past experience  I knew nothing I was going to say would make any difference. Instead, in the quiet times, I just asked questions to keep her talking and thinking, to keep her mind away from the darkest of thoughts.  

I fed her bread and water, as it became apparent that she was pretty drunk too, and kept encouraging her to just lie down and close her eyes for a bit, but to no avail. 

But there was one moment of the whole ordeal which truly harrowed me. 

She was rising up to a peak, she'd just glanced down and seen the angry red gashes against her pale skin, and began to cry again, which quickly turned into howls and scratching at herself. I did my best to restrain her but she was surprisingly strong and evaded my grip easily, to cause more harm to herself. I began to panic, there was no way that I, alone, could hold her down. I managed to grab onto one of her wrists, shouting above her cries:

"You don't have to do this, Violet, you don't have to do it!"

All whilst she shook her head, tears poured down her face and her frantic hands tore at her own skin. Then I managed to latch on to her other wrist which seemed to anger her. I repeated my phrase;

"Please Violet, you don't have to do this, you don't!"

To which she shouted;

"Yes I do! You don't understand! I have to do this!" Our arms flailed, intertwined. I tried to protest but she interrupted, "I HAVE TO DO THIS BECAUSE I HAVE TO FEEL SOMETHING!" And her arms fell limp. I stared at her in absolute dumbstruck horror, as her face crumpled in despair and suddenly she just collapsed onto me, exhausted from the tussle.

I was speechless. 

Her tiny frame trembled in my lap and she cried into me, and I slowly placed my arms around her slender shoulders. I swallowed hard in my throat and slowly rested my forehead against the back of her head, whispering;

"It's alright... it's okay... you're going to be alright... ssh now..."

But I felt a complete fraud and a liar. Because I knew nothing about this girl, at all. How could I reassure her that she was going to be okay when I didn't even know where she'd come from? Who her friends were? 

Her sobs began to quieten and her shudders began to still, so I shuffled to one side, resting her slowly against the sofa, and pulled the blanket over her. She was asleep within seconds. 

I sank to the floor against the wall, my fingers in my hair, and let out the longest shuddering sigh.

It was over.

It was done.

She was safe.

Now all that was left, was the wait. 

That, I could more than manage.

It was almost dawn when the others came back, one of Violet's housemates in tow. The sky was a pale inky colour and the dew had frosted over, as her housemate came and picked her up off the sofa and with profuse thanking, carried her out of the house. I shut the door behind them with the relief of a thousand liberations washing over me. I could almost have cried with the relief that she was okay, I'd been there to make sure of that, and, in that little selfish part of me, that my duty was done. 

I collapsed into bed in daylight, and, too, was asleep within seconds.


A few days later I got a message from Violet. 

Firstly, it was expressing her embarrassment and humiliation that she could've burdened a stranger with all her problems, but really, that mean nothing to me at all. I didn't care as long as she was safe. The next part was grattitude and thanks, which I smiled at, and the final part was that she'd got help from Doctor's and counsellors and was taking positive action toward getting into a better mental state, which really made me smile.

I wished her all the best.


I don't think I've ever experienced such an unexpected, intense and harrowing experience with a stranger before. 

I can't help but think back to the message of Florentine's play, how every single person has a life, loves and losses, of which we will never ever know, as we are always so preoccupied in our own. And it's only when there's an explosion of sheer emotion and sincerity from a complete stranger, that we may finally open our eyes and understand, despite how monumental our troubles may seem, other people exist too. Other people have lives that are just important to them, as our lives are to us. 

'Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them...' and I suppose sometimes that means you have to sacrifice a part of yourself, to save a part of someone else.' 

Now that's a lesson, I will never forget.