Porcelain Skin

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Weeks go by, my bandages are removed, and the verdict is decided: I have lost complete feeling in the tips of my left middle finger, and pointer finger. There is still some time to heal, so the doctor says there is hope, but I shouldn’t hold my breath. For the first week after the incident the doctor had me do warm bath treatments and finger flexing exercises to help in the healing process, but the damage remained.

I had nearly had a complete mental breakdown when the word amputation had first been discussed. If I lost my fingers, my dreams of playing the violin would forever be shattered. He told me that we would give it a few months before bringing up the topic again.

Now that the time has arrived for my follow up visit, I’m not sure I want to hear what the doctor has to say. Since I’m spending Christmas break with my mom, we’ve decided to find a local doctor who can perform my check up. Dr. Witzel is a long time friend and a member of my mom’s church, so she feels that she can trust him.

I am now sitting in Dr. Witzel’s office, waiting for him to waltz in and exclaim a miraculous full healing. He would pat me on the back as I skip out of the room. But, when he steps through the door, the look on his face is all I need to see to know the truth.

He pulls his glasses off the tip of his nose, holding onto one earpiece while swinging them around his hand. I grab my mom’s hand with my right one and squeeze. She tightens her grip around my fingers while keeping her gaze trained on Dr. Witzel.

“Hello, Linda,” he nods at my mom with a tight smile and then turns towards me. “How are you feeling today, Emma?”

“Nervous,” I tell him honestly.

He bobs his head in understanding while sliding his glasses back on and flipping through my chart. After heaving a tired sigh, he drops the chart onto the end of the bed I’m currently sitting on, and grabs my free hand with his own. After a quick inspection, he crosses his arms over his chest. I watch anxiously as he pulls off his glasses, rubs his eyes, and then sticks the frames into the pocket of his scrubs.

“Emma,” he sighs again and brings his gaze up to meet mine. My heart squeezes inside my shrinking chest cavity. “I wish I could give you good news, but it looks like there hasn’t been any improvement with those two fingers. My nurse, Nancy, informed me that you said you’re still not having any feeling in those two fingers, along with some joint pain, correct?”

I nod wordlessly.

He gives me a sympathetic look. “I’m so sorry,” he sighs, reaching for my shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

I just stare at him. I can’t speak, or move, or even breathe. My entire hope has just been torn in half like a poster off a wall of dreams.

“Thankfully,” he goes on, “there is no need to amputate, but it’s very possible the numbness and joint stiffness could be permanent. Some people find that these symptoms fade after a few years, but there’s no guarantee.”

The rest of my visit goes by in an echoey, mumbled blur. I follow my mom’s footsteps as she leads the way to the car, never once lifting my head to watch where I’m going. I don’t care.

I fall into the passenger seat like a wilting flower; slumping against the door as my mom slowly pulls out of the parking lot. The ride is quiet, and I hate it. I need noise to drown out the truth that’s bouncing around inside my aching head. My fingers flex beside me, but I refuse to look at them; they’ve let me down, and I hate them. I hate them! My dream really did die along with the tissue on the valuable tips of my fingers. I did everything. Everything. And they couldn’t heal just enough to bring my dream back to life.

A quiet sob lodges itself in my throat, and I cough to cover up the noise. Music was the one thing that kept me going. When life wrapped itself around my throat like a snake, music was the one thing that could hypnotize it into loosening its grasp. Without the ability to press the strings and express my sorrow through quivering chords, I was worthless.

Mom pulls into the driveway, and I bolt from my seat. I wait impatiently at the door for her to unlock it, and then slip inside. I don’t even make it to my room before I completely fall apart. I crumble to my knees in the small hallway that separates the bedrooms from the dining room. My shoulders throb as I fight to control the pent up brokenness. I’m working to pull in breaths of air as I cry out everything inside me. It’s loud and uncontainable.

I feel a pair of warm hands encircle me, and the gentle murmur of my mother’s voice next to my ear as she reassures me that everything will be okay. I’m trembling as I turn in her embrace to bury my face in the softness of her arms.

“M-mom...” I gasp into her shirt. “I can’t... I...” I’m out of breath. The fight to control my emotions is lost, and I let loose as I scream and sob into the comfort of my only parent’s arms.

I don’t know how long she holds me, but when I’m finally pulled together, my eyes are swollen, my throat’s dry, and my head is throbbing.

“You want some coffee baby?” my mom asks softly while rubbing my shoulders soothingly.

I nod with a hiccup as I wipe angrily at my wet eyes.

“Come on,” she says, helping me off the floor and leading me to the couch in the TV room.

I sit and allow the fluffy seat to engulf me with all the comfort it can bestow. I curl up into its embrace and try to pull my thoughts from the gutter of self-pity.

Several minutes later, my mom putters into the room with a steaming cup of coffee and places it into my hands. I stare at my left hand, using it as a plate for my cup to sit on. The contents inside the mug are scalding as it seeps through and absorbs into my hand, but part of me doesn’t care. Why not just spill my coffee all over my palm, or chop it off and throw it into a fire; it’s useless anyway. I hate it.

“You going to be okay?” My mom’s sweet voice pulls me out of my disturbing thoughts, and I glance up at her with a sad smile.

“Yeah... yeah, I will,” I tell her, before taking a small sip from the mug in my hands.

“Good.” She smiles back. “You’re a strong girl. You’re gonna get through this. My heart breaks for what you’ve lost, but please don’t lose hope, okay?”

I nod, but I don’t respond. I feel that I’ve already lost hope. My two most important fingers are stiff and achy; numbness tingling through the digits. How can I play my violin if my fingers refuse to cooperate?

I fall asleep shortly after finishing my coffee. I guess the caffeine couldn’t even cut the weariness. Crying has a way of draining a person, and with my throbbing head I just want to stuff a pillow inside my skull to soften each pounding blow.

I sleep most of the next day away. My mom brings me breakfast and lunch in bed before I finally feel the need to peel myself from my sheets. I shower and then plop myself in front of the TV while I watch the screen unseeingly. I don’t realize that I’ve been watching Saw II for the past ten minutes until my mom walks in and shoots me a worried glance. That’s when I know I can’t live like this.

We sit through a quiet dinner, mom trying to cheer me up while I shoot her pathetic smiles and fake laughs. She finally gives up, and I drag myself back into bed like a slug.

I wake up a few hours later and find that the sun has lowered behind the horizon, leaving the world in a peaceful shadow. I notice the light outside my door is still blazing, so I shift my way out from under the sheets to investigate. I shuffle through the hallway and peer around the corner to see my mom filling out a crossword puzzle while watching FOX News.

I make my way towards her, and her eyes pop up to meet my droopy gaze with surprise.

“Hey, baby. Can’t sleep?” she asks, while patting the spot beside her.

I fall into the cushions and pull a spare blanket over my legs.

“No,” I say, tugging a strand of hair away from my face and tucking it behind my ear. “I noticed the light on and thought you might still be up.”

She eyes me closely for a moment before setting her crossword puzzle on the coffee table in front of her. “What’s on your mind?” She asks as she grabs the remote and puts the TV on mute.

“Not much,” I mumble, pulling my knees into my chest. “Just wondering when this sinking feeling in my chest is going to dissolve.”

Mom offers a gentle smile as she turns to face me. “You’ll be fine. You’re stronger than your father ever was,” she tells me. “I’ll never understand why he chose to be an attorney. That was just...” she chuckles softly, “stupid.” She shakes her head slowly. “I think he wanted to prove something. He had always been known as the tender-hearted, thin-skinned softy, and he hated that. You’re not like that, though,” she says, looking over at me, warmth radiating from her glassy eyes. “You’ve always been strong. You’ve been through things that no one should ever have to overcome, and to see you smiling today makes me so proud.”

I can’t help but smile sadly back at her. If only she knew the turmoil eating me up right now.

“Maybe I’m just better at hiding it than most,” I tell her.

She shakes her head in disagreement. “Wouldn’t that just make you stronger?” she counters. “To be able to feel so much pain while hiding it convincingly behind a smile.” She places her hand on my knee. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

“Thanks, mom,” I whisper, a lump forming in my throat. I’m grateful for the pride my mother has for me. She probably doesn’t even realize how badly I crave her approval. I need her to be proud of me.

Now that my mom has drawn my attention to my father, I’m hit with a question that I’ve wanted to ask for a long time.

“Did you ever get any vibes from dad that he wanted to end his life?” I ask quietly. I don’t want my blunt question to disturb her, so I watch her expression closely as I ask. She doesn’t appear affected, though. The years have healed her well.

“Oh, no,” she responds immediately. “It was never premeditated. Your father didn’t plan it. That’s why it was so sloppy and sudden.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh dear, I can’t believe I never told you this,” she says into her fist before folding her hands into her lap. “No, your father had no intention of ending his life. I believe the stress of that night was just too much, especially after being let go.”

I gasp. “What? He was let go?”

No wonder he was so overwhelmed. He’d been hit with guilt on all sides. He’d unintentionally been the cause of an innocent man’s death, he’d separated a mother from her child, and he’d lost his job—all in a single day. He was completely broken and hopeless.

“Oh my goodness,” I gush in shock.

“The night you found him, the police told me that they had found his computer open to a page about—” she stops to clear her throat, and then continues in a much more hushed tone, “how to cut someone’s throat so as to effectively drain them as quickly as possible. If it had been planned, I’m sure he would have chosen a less horrifying and gruesome way to end his life. Maybe with an overdose. But he didn’t have those options.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m not sure if you remember this, but his drinking problem became pretty serious towards the end. He was extremely drunk that night, and I don’t believe he ever would have done something like that if he had been in his right mind.”

“How did you deal with it?” I suddenly ask, desperate to know how she overcame her pain so quickly.

She looks at me for a moment before I notice liquid swimming just above the rim of her bottom eyelids. Her lip quivers and she shoots her gaze into her lap.

“You,” she whispers, her voice hoarse.


“Yep,” she nods, returning her silver eyes to my hazel ones. “I knew I needed to be strong for you. If I allowed my heartache to consume me then I might as well have died that night with your father. I would have been useless to you.”

“Oh mom, but you had to have been suffering so much.”

“No,” she quickly says. “Nope. I knew you were hurting. I could see the grief hiding inside you. I could see that you tried to be strong around me, and if I broke so would you.”

“Mom, I’m so sorry,” I say. “If I had known that you were in so much pain then we could have grieved together. You just acted so put together. I did hear you some nights, in your room. I could tell you were crying, but I didn’t know what to do.” I pause for a moment, feeling ashamed for not being there for her when she needed me. “I just feel like, because we chose to do things on our own, it took so much longer to get over it.”

“Emma, I hate to say this, but in reality, it did hurt. It hurt a lot... but, I recovered much quicker than you did because I was more prepared.” She shifts her weight so she’s facing me now. “See, your father and I had started to drift long before he died. Yes, I was heartbroken to find that he was gone, but I also knew that if he had continued on the path he was going it would have killed him eventually anyway, and I think it would have caused a whole lot more damage along the way.

“I wish every day that he was still here and that we could be the three musketeers that we used to be,” she says, “but I honestly don’t believe our family would have ever been that close again. Your father was too stubborn and would rather take the cowards way out than have his pride destroyed. When they let him go, that was the last straw. He didn’t want to face the judgment of the world after that.”

I stare at my mother, shocked by the words pouring from her lips. I never realized that’s how she felt.

“So, are you saying that you’re relieved that he ended things before they got worse?” I ask in disbelief.

“Oh, heavens no!” she gushes. “I would never think that. I guess I’m just saying that part of me is glad that he didn’t allow things to get worse. He thought he was a failure, and he didn’t want to endure failing at anything else. I’m not proud of what he did, but I loved him, and I understand the heaviness of guilt and loss he must have been feeling. I would never ever do what he did, but I can almost understand what pushed him to do it. If I could go back in time, I would have tried harder to change him, but I know there’s no point in dwelling in the past. It’s done, and all we can do is learn from it, and push forward.”

“Yeah,” I nod slowly in agreement as I stare at my fingers.

“How are you doing?” she asks me cautiously. “I know that day will haunt you forever, but do you feel like you’ve slowly been able to let it go?”

A smile curves its way onto my lips, and I look up at her, my eyes dancing.

“Yes. I let go,” I tell her. “I thought for so long that it was my fault, but you showed me that it wasn’t.” I lift my left hand up and she glances at it. “It’s why this happened.” I wiggle my fingers at her and she quirks a brow. “I had gone to the barn that day to play a new song I had written. It was a song about release and at that moment I realized that I had forgiven myself. I acknowledged the fact that I wasn’t at fault, and that I could finally move on. I didn’t plan on getting hypothermia and passing out.” I laugh lightly at my own stupidity.

She puts a hand to her mouth. “Oh, baby. I had no idea,” She pulls me to her and I wrap my arms around her neck. “I’m so proud of you. I hope you know that.”

I smile into her shoulder.

Yes Momma, I know.

When I wake up in the morning, I feel surprisingly refreshed. I pull my hair away from my face and tie it into a messy ponytail. That’s when it hits me; my fingers might have lost a tiny bit of feeling, but my hand is not completely helpless. How much more difficult would it have been to put my hair in a ponytail if I had lost my entire hand? Gratefulness washes over me as I allow my mood to brighten and my lips to widen into a cheesy smile.

Sorrow is still warring inside of me, but a new determination is fighting to win now. I need it to win. I can’t allow pain to consume me again. I can’t allow myself to zombie my way through life feeling like it isn’t worth living. I need to start dwelling on the good things instead of letting bitterness eat at me. I may have been dealt a bad hand, but that doesn’t mean I have to deal it to the rest of the world. This time I will be strong. I will conquer my own selfishness instead of trying to reflect my pain onto others.

I suddenly feel a drastic need to talk to Trevor. I punch his number in and wait. I had left school on Thursday after class and headed home for Christmas break. Since Trevor still had classes, he wasn’t planning on coming back to town until today—Saturday. Anxiety and excitement begin to bubble inside me at the idea of seeing him.

“Hello?” he answers after several rings and a shiver courses through my stomach at the sound of his warm voice.

“Trevor, hi!” I say, surprised at the girly cheer in my tone. “Are you in town?”

“Uh, not yet,” he responds. “Probably another hour. What’s up?”

“Not much. Can you just call me when you get here?” I say and then quickly change my mind. “Or just call me as soon as you’re free. When you’ve had enough of your family just give me a call... please.”

“Yeah, sure.” I can hear humor laced in his voice. “Hey, how did your appointment go yesterday?”

Oh wow, he remembered! I smile like a love-struck schoolgirl before answering. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. It didn’t go very well...”

“What?” he sounds shocked. “What do you mean? What did he say?”

“I’m going to be okay,” I tell him while pulling the fingers of my left hand into a fist. “Just call me later, and maybe we can meet up, okay?”


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