FridayFlash - Cutting
by Tony Noland
"Mr. and Mrs. Eckston? Come right in." The counselor was petite and happy looking, not at all what Paul had expected. His own guidance counselor in high school had been a fat, dumpy woman who'd been killing time until retirement. She'd been as uncaring and useless as all of his teachers, a complete waste of an office. This woman, though, seemed much more committed to her job. He still didn't know why she'd called them in.
"Please, sit down," she said. Amanda Parlemente, that was her name. The sign on her desk had a sticker of a smiling bullfrog on the upper right hand corner.
"Mr. and Mrs. Eckston -" she began.
"Please, it's Paul and Allison," said his wife. She was always the one to insist on first names. Paul would have been just as happy to keep things professional, but whatever.
Ms. Parlemente - Amanda - smiled.
"Paul and Allison it is." She turned serious. "I know you're wondering why I called you and asked to speak to you about Janice."
"I’d say we’re wondering a bit, yes," Paul said. "Jan's grades are fine and her scores on the SAT and ACT were pretty good. Is something going on that we should be concerned about?"
Amanda paused, then folded her hands in front of her.
"Mr.... I mean, Paul..." She stopped. She looked down, opened a folder on her desk, then looked up at them both. Paul was getting a little worried, and he could tell that Ally was, too.
"Janice is doing very well in all of her classes. Her grades are good, her teachers like her, she has lots of friends and gets along with everyone. The articles she writes for the school paper are really quite good. She hasn't mentioned journalism as a career option, but I think she would do well to consider it, or another field where she could use her gift for writing. There are any number of colleges that she would really thrive at."
Good news first, Paul thought. She's giving us the good news first. Oh, Christ, here it comes, whatever it is, here it comes.
"However..." Amanda paused again.
"What is it?" Ally's voice was calm, but very measured. She was worried, and he could hear it.
"I noticed something that, well, it bothered me. I wanted to talk to you about it. I spoke to Janice in a roundabout way, but she said there was nothing to it. I'm not sure that's really the case. I thought you should know."
"Well, what is it, for heaven's sake? What are we talking about here?" Paul was worried, too, and unlike his wife, he didn't bother to hide it. "Is she pregnant?"
Both women stared at him for a moment, Amanda in surprise, Ally in horror.
"No, no, nothing like that!" Amanda said. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be elliptical. What I saw was some... well, on her arms, I noticed... Mr. and Mrs. Eckston, is Janice, well, happy at home?"
"Happy?” Paul said. “Yes, of course. I mean, I suppose so. No, that's crazy, yes she's happy. What is this? What are you talking about?" Paul was getting scared.
"The fact is, her arms have a series of cuts. On the forearms, just below the elbow. Her shirt sleeve was open and I noticed them this past week. I've noticed in the past that Janice always favors blouses with long sleeves, although the tees and tank tops are more the fashion with girls these days."
"Cuts?" Ally sounded confused. "What do you mean, cuts?"
"I mean shallow cuts. More like deep scratches. She said it was from her volunteer work at the city gardens - pruning roses and the like. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.”
“What are you talking about?” Ally was still very controlled, Paul thought, so she must be freaking out inside.
“Some girls develop a, you might call it a kind of addiction to harming themselves. I'm talking about cutting or scratching themselves. It's more commonly associated with girls who suffer from bulimia or anorexia. I don’t see any evidence of either of those with Janice, but cutting can be a standalone issue. Is there anything that you've seen in her home life that would suggest there's a problem?"
"In her ‘home life’? You sound like she's in a mental institution!" Paul said. "No, everything is fine at home. I mean, I wouldn't let her have the car last weekend, but that's just a normal thing, right? I mean, for a teenager to not get what she wants all the time?"
"I don't mean normal things like that." Amanda said. "I mean, and traumas or major concerns. Things that might push her to seek some kind of solace with cutting."
"No!" Ally's voice was indignant.
"Well, that's reassuring. I just wanted to explore the possibility, to bring it to your attention in case there was something going on that needed to be addressed." Amanda's voice was placating. "Janice is a great kid, and I just wanted to be sure. I felt that I should discuss this with you, let you know what I saw, and what it might mean. If there were any real reason to be concerned, I'd ask you to ... keep an eye on her. Maybe discuss things, have a heart-to-heart with her about how things are going. But if there's nothing going on, then we can just go forward."
She doesn't believe us, Paul thought. And she knows that we WILL keep an eye on Jan, and WILL have a talk with her. Sneaky, aren't you, Ms. Amanda Parlemente?
After some final conversation about more mundane matters, all three of them said goodbyes that were forcibly relaxed and cheerful. Ally had to visit the ladies' room on their way out of the school. Paul stood in the hall, waiting.
He was so confused, his mind so muddled. Jan? Hurting herself? Why? It didn't make any sense. What could possibly be encouraging her to do such a thing?
He closed his eyes. It was all too much. He just couldn't seem to think straight. He reached into his pocket, took out the car keys and gripped them, tight.
Tighter. Tighter. The keys dug into his palm, and the familiar rush of pain in his hand rose and rose until his eyes flew open at the breaking of the skin.
As always, the pain cleared his mind, and he was once again master of the situation and master of himself. He put the keys away and dabbed at his palm with his handkerchief. He would talk to Janice as soon as they got home and get this nonsense cleared up.
No daughter of HIS would do something so foolish as to cut herself!
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