It started with a hangnail.
        I’d always been a fan of picking at myself. Acne, blisters, scabs; you name it, I’d sit there unconsciously toying with it for hours. I have a relatively fair complexion so family trips to the beach as a child would, if I were lucky, result in hours of entertainment. Sometimes, I could even get entire parts of my body to peel without breaking the seal.
        When I hit 15, I started to get pretty bad eczema on the backs of my hands and scalp. My parents began to notice the scratching, started to see the flakes I’d leave on my pillow. Mom got me a special shampoo, some dark blue, sulphur-smelling stuff that somehow reminded me of the river of hades. It was supposed to work wonders, but why would I want that? I’d pour a nickel-sized drop in my hand and rub it along the edge of my hairline, lathering it just enough to get the scent on me in case she chose to smell me. I’d let the mounds of dried skin build up for a few days and then absolutely go to town. That was always my favorite. Sometimes, moving slowly and carefully, I’d be able to extract entire inch-wide chunks from the desiccated follicles, little bits of blood flanking the pale greys and whites. I almost felt like an artist.
        It all took a turn for the worse a few months later in Mr. Robertson’s English class. He’d been droning on about Baudelaire for about 10 minutes, his usual fare, and I’d been working on a sizable chunk. Sometimes, it would burn as my fingernails dug into my scalp, but it all added to the the experience. I leant my head into my palms and went crazy, scraping my nails in my favorite crisscross pattern.
        I was in bliss.
        Back and forth I raked, imagining waves crashing into each other in a harmonious swell. I don’t know how long I drifted off for, but the scream which pierced my veil of pleasure was loud enough that I almost fell out of my desk. Reeling, I glanced around and realized the entire class was staring at me. Casey, the short brunette who sat behind me was dry-heaving. I slowly brought my hands around to my desk to find that they were drenched in blood, chunks of scalp poking out from under my nails. The back of my head was on fire. Mr. Richardson didn’t know what to do, he just sent me to the office. My parents were called. That’s when everything changed, when small warning signs were apparently hoisted into huge red flags.
        That’s the day I began seeing Dr. Schiefer.
        He was calm, calculating, collected. He assured me everything I was doing to myself could be healed – both physically and mentally – with time, patience, and diligence. All we needed to do was flesh things out, go deeper past the surface and extract what was festering underneath and fostering this pain. With his long, thin fingers ending in neatly-manicured nails folded under a chin bereft of a single hair, he was the picture of poised perfection – someone to trust. He smelled of old leather and something deeper, something of the earth. Our first few sessions went fine. We explored my basic interests, activities I liked, and how I was feeling about myself on a day to day basis. He even shared a few tidbits of his own life with me; his favorite movies (we both loved the classics), a fun memory of a barbecue he and his wife has hosted last Fourth of July. Good, simple things. During my sixth session, things changed. I remember waking up that day feeling particularly… good? I felt good about myself, and not in a way that was brought on by my favorite hobby. In the previous sessions, we’d worked out the realization that this obsessive habit wasn’t *truly* making me happy, and only diverting my attention from the depression and anxiety I’d suffered from as long as I could remember. Over the course of those two weeks, I found myself picking and pulling and peeling less and less. Some of the wounds even started to scab over and show signs of healing. Scabbing would always be the best part, it was like getting two for the price of one. This time, I just watched the skin grow and reform.
        I woke up that day, slipped on my favorite red sundress, and actually took the time to apply a little makeup. A sickly-looking girl stared back at me from the spotty mirror. I absentmindedly brought a hand up to my pockmarked face and brushed a strand of hair behind my ear. Dr. Schiefer had said I was a beautiful young woman and, again, time and patience could heal most of my wounds. The way he made me feel with his simple yet obviously sincere words was something I’d never experience before.
        Stepping into the office annex and nodding a hello to Amy at reception, I sat down and began going over last session’s notes. Dr. Schiefer always had me copy down what my goals were for the next session, whether it be overcoming some new obstacle or simply keeping up progress. I set my hands on my lap and stared at them. Left hand, index finger. A lovely little hangnail. I could feel my eye twitching, so I started cracking my knuckles. I mainly wanted to stop picking at my cuticles – my nailbeds were practically destroyed from years of nervous repetition. All I wanted was to get better, to be able to paint my nails and do my hair and a little bit of makeup and be a tiny bit more effortlessly pretty like the other girls. I could get there. I knew it. I glanced at the clock – 8 minutes until my appointment started. I liked being punctual and, since the third session, mom started letting me catch a bus downtown by myself. She said she was proud of me. She trusted me.
        The door swung open and my savior stood there, a warm, inviting figure of health and safety. I brushed past him and he patted my shoulder like he always did. This time, he didn’t let go. I stopped abruptly and looked up into calm, dark brown eyes. He simply smiled and closed the door. He led me over to the familiar red leather couch and sat down with me. His other hand appeared on my knee, just below the hem of my dress, the bright red offset by the pale white of his skin. My heart crept into my throat and my mouth went suddenly dry.
        “Today, we’re going to try something new,” said Dr. Schiefer. I blinked. “You’ve been doing so well for the past few sessions that I thought we’d move on to the next part of the course I’ve been working on.”
        I began to speak, then shut my mouth. I felt slightly uncomfortable but admittedly pretty excited. He must have sensed the unsureness in my face or the hesitation in my body because the hand resting on my thigh gave the slightest of rubs. It sent electric waves rolling towards the center of my body and I could feel myself flush.
I took a deep breath and murmured “I’ve felt so good over the past few weeks. Anything I can do to feel better. Anything you want”.
        He let go of my shoulder, took his hand off of my knee, and stood up, walking over to his desk. Opening the top drawer, he took out a thin black magazine-sized box with gold trim and set it on a pile of invoices. With a tap of his index and middle fingers, he turned to me and smiled first with his eyes, and then his mouth. “This is going to be your new diary”.
        I’d always loved diaries. I’d filled out dozens since I was about ten years old and could spend hours recounting the woes of the day. Coincidentally, I was just about to run out of space in my current one. Without hesitation, I stood up and paced over to the desk, picked up the box, and excitedly flipped it open. A red velvet slip with a similarly gold string greeted me. This was one of the nicest gifts anyone had ever gotten me. I pulled at the string, wondering if the beauty of the book would match its container. To this day, I will never forget that feeling of my stomach slipping out of my corporeal form and slamming into the ground. What greeted me was not the “diary” I thought it would be.
        The gorgeous stainless steel glinted sharply in the dim but warm light of the office. Hooks and barbs intertwined over crocodile-teeth pliers; tiny monstrous mouths. My mind was reeling. What did this mean? How was this my new diary?
        I raised my eyes to Dr. Schiefer’s placid face, poring over it, looking for a hint of anything telltale I could latch onto. There was nothing there but the same caring expression he always carried in my presence.
        “What is this?” I asked. A simple question, but all I could muster.
        Through the warmth of his smile, he returned “like I said, your new diary. I know you’ve been keeping notes of all of our sessions, but there’s only so much that words can do to help heal. I like to take a more practical approach with some of my special clients. And you, Charlotte, are very special.”
        My eyes flicked back down to the box. Ten beautiful and extremely sharp-looking tools sat in perfectly-formed divots, a dark burgundy background hugging them in neat rows. The majority were blades of varying sizes, from a small scalpel with a black rubber base to a larger serrated knife. The latter had a dark red jewel set in the handle, most likely a ruby. To its right sat a playing card sized sheet of metal with slightly raised pinprick holes. It looked like a cheese grater. At the bottom, the longest of the lot, a pair of what looked like eyelash curlers lay parallel to each other, one slightly more curved and sharp at the edge than the other. The last was a normal pair of pliers, the type you would find in a tool chest, save for the intricate white-gold inlay set in the handle. In the dead center of the box, a jewel that matched the one in the largest knife sat surrounded by a simple black border. Entranced by the simplicity and elegance of the tools before me, I jumped a bit when Dr. Schiefer spoke next.
        “I’d like to start you on a new program I call Regression Therapy.”
        Coming back to reality, I tore my eyes away from the box and frowned.
“My parents can barely afford the sessions we have right now, and I go to public school so it’s not like they can help.”
        He held up a hand.
        “There’ll be no change in the cost. In fact, it would be better if your parents didn’t know about the new course, as it’s been proven to be most effective when it’s entirely personal and confidential for the patient.”
        Alarm bells went off in my head, after school PSAs and endless warnings from my parents, teachers, and other adults bouncing off of each other. That familiar childhood warning of stranger danger, of the “secret promises”. Simultaneously, a growling warmth began spreading in my stomach and up into my chest at the thought of having a secret to share with Dr. Schiefer. Not to mention those tools… there was just something so incredibly attractive about them.
        “What am I supposed to do with them?” I asked.
        “The exact same thing you were doing before, just more efficiently. More comfortably”. I gulped, my mind racing back to my days of picking and peeling, scratching and cutting.
        “I thought I was supposed to stop, that that’s why I’m here.” For the first time since I’d entered the office, his smile faltered.
        “There’s nothing wrong with what you were doing. You just didn’t have the right tools at your disposal, and you didn’t have the proper guidance. Sometimes, the only path to actual recovery and healing is to go back the way you came, to find the source and flesh it out.”
        I nodded, not fully understanding, but desperately wanting to. I just wanted to please him. To fix myself. I didn’t really care how I did it, and if this was going to help, I would do anything he asked of me.
        It started with a hangnail.

My bedroom door didn’t lock anymore, but since I’d been showing so much progress in my sessions, and with a few encouraging words from Dr. Schiefer, they’d started letting me have some privacy back in my life. After that sixth session, I’d hurried home, the box tucked deep into my backpack between my school binder and a copy of Seventeen magazine. I didn’t look at a single person on the bus, trying to dissolve my thoughts within the beats pouring out of my headphones, my heart racing in erratic parallel patterns.
        Once I’d gotten home, I’d sat on my bed, legs dangling and swinging over the edge, toying with the edge of the box. It really was a beautiful object; I hadn’t gotten much of a chance to observe it in the office, but now that I had it all to myself, I could see geometric patterns crisscrossing over the entire surface. Running my fingers along the dozens of intersecting lines, it felt as though there were untold stories buried in each curve. With a heaving sigh, I threw the box to the foot of my bed. Was I really going to do this? Continue damaging myself after I’d made so much progress? I hadn’t so much as picked at a scab or popped a pimple in a few days. Dr. Schiefer had said anything I did from this point on would be different, that it wouldn’t be damage I was inflicting but rather “true healing”. Through fire, through pain, I could fix myself, make myself whole again.
        That’s when the hangnail caught my eye. Left hand, index finger. Lovely and little. Hangnails were fun, so hard and sometimes unruly. They could shed blood so easily, or just pop off in between your fingers or teeth. I glanced at myself in the full length mirror on the back of my door, and saw a puzzle staring back at me. Maybe this was just the final piece.
        Did I really have anything to lose?
        Bringing my hand up to my mouth, I slid the nub between my teeth and began to chew. Then I remembered the box. Dr. Schiefer had said that I lacked the proper tools to fix myself before, and here he had provided me with a perfect set. “How can I make a hangnail more significant with a bunch of blades?” I asked to no one.
        I opened the box, running my fingers over a few blades before stopping on a relatively small one, the tip split in the middle. It felt cold and heavy in my hand, despite its size. I could just bite the hangnail off, but I figured there’s no harm in trying something new. Placing the nub in-between the split portion of the knife’s blade, I pushed down and in, flinching as the steel bit into my flesh and a line of blood formed at the nailbed. I stopped, breathed in deeply, and continued. It felt… clean? As though this was the first time I’d ever actually picked at myself. I felt in control. Then, I sneezed.
I couldn’t move the blade in time. It slid forward. I dropped the knife, clapped my other hand over my mouth, and muffled a scream that would have brought my parents thundering up the stairs. My hand was on fire, my head throbbing. I sat rocking back and forth, big, hot tears streaming down my face. I didn’t want to look, but I knew I had to. Slowly, I raised it up to my face. My entire arm was covered in blood from the tip of my finger down to my elbow. Fat drops fell in indistinct patterns on my dress and bedspread. Starting from the edge of my nailbed, I had shorn off the skin all of the way to my last knuckle. It dangled loosely from my finger, pulsing with new, uncovered life. I felt sick. Throwing the knife to one side, I ran to the connected bathroom (thank god I didn’t have to go downstairs) and vomited into my toilet, the flap of skin slapping against white porcelain.
I slumped against the floor between the toilet and the cabinet and dry-heaved a few times. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at my hand again, so I blindly felt for the loose skin, gingerly folded it up against its separated host, and wrapped far too much toilet paper around it. Aside from a few broken bones and sprains, this was the worst I’d ever hurt myself. There was nothing I could do. I felt my eyelids fluttering, a sense of drowning on dry land, and I succumbed to a sleep deeper than any I’d had in a while, if only for self preservation.

When I woke, I felt like I was underwater. There was a ringing in the air that I could just barely hear above the sound of my own heart beating and it felt like my arm had been sitting in an open flame for hours. The memory came flooding back to me like a shot; the blade slipping, the searing pain. Unsticking my cheek from the side of the toilet, I lowered my eyes to my hand and cringed. The toilet paper was soaked straight through, red as an apple. I’d really done it this time. I’d straight up disfigured myself. I was disgusting. Weak. Pathetic. This wasn’t therapy. This was mutilation. What the fuck was Dr. Schiefer thinking? Hot anger welled up and burned inside my chest. Then, the fear set in. How was I going to explain this to my parents?
Gritting my teeth, I picked at the edge of the toilet paper. It was stuck, crusted to my skin. I wondered how much blood I lost. I didn’t want to look, but I knew I had to see how bad it was before my parents did. Taking a deep breath, I braced myself and peeled back the toilet paper from the top where the skin had opened.
I stopped and blinked. Nothing.
There was nothing there. No cut. No gristle. No hangnail. No damage.
Mind blank, I tore away the rest of the paper. Aside from dried blood, it was completely fine. My finger was perfectly healed. *Was I dreaming?* I asked myself. No. The pain was far too real.
On unsteady feet, I picked myself up and stumbled back into my bedroom. There it was; pristine, glinting in the light of my bedside lamp – the knife. There were small splashes of blood on the bedsheet around it, but the blade itself was spotless, just like it’d been when I first opened the box The air was practically humming. Oddly enough, so was the red jewel in the center of the box. It sounded like it was singing to me, soothing my self-imposed pain, and praising me for a job well done. I sat down softly on the edge of the bed and picked it up. It felt electric, alive. Then, I realized, so did I. It was as though a new life had flowed right into me, picking up scattered pieces as it went.
I turned the beauty over and over in my hands, its previously cool surface now glowing with an inviting warmth. I didn’t really understand, but I didn’t need to. One little cut. A tiny amount of pain. Okay, well, a lot of pain.
If a hangnail could make me feel this good, what about a bigger cut?
I guess you could call me impressionable – I’ve always been that way. Quick to jump at anything offering me a better chance. This time, I felt like I could really take it.
Without hesitation, I stuffed a handful of blanket in my mouth, took out one of the larger knives,  and dragged it deeply and swiftly across my thigh. The skin split like butter, right over an old scar. The pain was intense and blinding. I pitched forward, screaming into my self-imposed gag, and grabbed for the other end of the blanket, wrapping it around my leg as quickly as I could. Shaking, I tied a knot and sat rocking back and forth, gripping my leg close to my chest.
Worth it. This was worth it. I could be new. Whole again. Fresh.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Scrambling, the blood pounding in my head, I rushed to throw everything back in the box and shoved it under my pillow. I clicked my lamp off and turned on my side, placing my wounded leg beneath me. As I held my breath, the door quietly creaked open.
“Char?” Mom’s voice was always soft as a feather. She never so much as raised her voice to me.
I feigned sleepiness, dreams dripping from my tongue, and answered “yeah mom?”
She came closer and I could see her silhouette faintly against the light grey of the wall. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she placed a hand on the back of my head and stroked my neck for a moment before sighing deeply.
“Your father and I are so proud of you. I know things have been difficult lately, but you’ve been so strong in the last few weeks. Your birthday party is coming up in just over a month, and we want it to be perfect for you. If you think of anything special you want, just let us know.”
She leaned down, kissed me on the forehead, and left.
Leg burning beneath my blanket wrap and a lump set deep in my throat, I cried myself to sleep. Most nights I dreamt of darkness, the surrounding envelope never nearly enough. That night, I dreamt of the beauty I wish I could be.

“You’re changing, darling” he said, his gaze level and serene. I fidgeted nervously but happily. “All for the better.”
I’d walked into the office with a clouded head for the first time in weeks. The morning after the accident and the subsequent test, I’d felt rejuvenated in a way that words could never touch. I’d woken up, looked at my hand, and then checked under the wrapping on my leg. Both were clear as a perfect Summer day. The skin around the hangnail was smooth and soft. The spot where my scar had been like untouched cream. I was dumbfounded. I knew I hadn’t dreamt any of it. Even if the events hadn’t been so clear in my mind’s eye, the blood spoke volumes. I’d quickly trashed my bedding that morning before my parents could see any of it and got new sheets from the closet. The entire time I was remaking my bed, only one word ran through my mind: perfection. I could carve out the bad. I had the power to remake myself. I could make myself perfect.
“What are you?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
Dr. Schiefer laughed, the sound a deep, hearty rumble. He leaned back in his chair, twirling a pen in his fingers. “Just a doctor, Charlotte. A doctor who wants to see his patients extinguish the parts of themselves that cause them so much hurt, to feel like they’re anything other than beautiful.”
I looked out of the window for a long time, counting the birds landing on the branches of the tree outside. I got to five before I could say anything else.
“How far will it go?” I wondered aloud.
“As far as you’d like.”
“What if I cut too deep?…”
He waved a dismissive hand. “Avoid major arteries and use your best judgement. You’re a smart girl. Trust yourself. Now, come, let me see this week’s diary entries.”
He slinked over to me and sat down on the red leather couch. With hands shaking just the slightest, I lifted my my dress up past my thigh and held my breath. I could hear his own sharply enter his lungs.
“Beautiful” he murmured.
He set warm fingers on cool skin and I felt the same sense of satisfaction I’d gotten from my new toys. The rest of our session was quiet, a conversation based on the currency of exchanged breaths.

The next few weeks flew by in a blur of pain, pleasure, and blood.
I’d perfected my methods, learning how to just barely graze the surfaces of mutilation without running the risk of an overnight infection or parental intervention. I felt like I’d truly become an artist. My blades, the brushes. My skin, the canvas . The doctor, my adoring audience. Every session, he would admire my work and pore over the finest details and provide constructive criticism and praise in spades. He was my angel, my benefactor, my muse,
I learned to dance the edges across my skin in wondrous arcs that would’ve put ancient Rome to shame, dazzling the stark white of my skin with crimson notches and mottled violet stars. Every time I cut away a new piece and gave myself to the cycle of sleep, the skin would regrow and reform into something else. Something supple and new. Something beautiful.
With my progress, the pain grew as well. But so did my tolerance and understanding, my respect for the art of feeling in extreme. Eventually, I was shaving off entire half-foot-long patches of flesh, planting the seeds of perfection in my waiting soil and watering them plentifully with my tears and prayers.
For each session, Dr. Schiefer seemed to grow more and more proud. With every new development, his eyes and fingers began to linger for longer, taking in the taut new flesh as though it were the first painting that’d ever struck him silent and numb. Our sessions devolved into explorations of the body and ministrations of the mind. It was everything I’d ever wanted.
Things at home couldn’t have been better. My parents had never so frequently told me how good I looked, complimenting my hair and skin and even clothes left and right. They were so happy with my lack of picking and general positive attitude that they never seemed to notice I’d stopped wearing shorts and t-shirts. Not that there was anything to hide – I never retained a single wound. I just didn’t want to share my newfound glory with anyone but Dr. Schiefer. Thankfully, I’d learned to contain the blood during my nightly sessions to the point where there was almost nothing to clean up anymore.
Everything was going so well that I didn’t realize I’d started to run out of imperfections.
Almost all of my scars were gone. Some places, I’d gone over twice, maybe even three times, but there was nothing left to fix. I looked in the mirror, hatefully marveling at the glowing girl looking back, and wept for my loss.
For the next few nights, I barely touched myself. I couldn’t bring myself to cut open my favorite patch of skin from my stomach or raze the meat on the back of my calves. I didn’t mention anything to Dr. Schiefer. I could feel myself becoming despondent in our sessions, but there was nothing I could do about it. If he noticed, he didn’t let on; he was far too enthralled in the thickets of Spring’s new garden, freshly bloomed.
My birthday party was fun but completely overshadowed by my distant, nagging sorrow. But I put on a happy face, the happiest one I could muster, if only for my parents. Especially for mom. She’d been so proud. So proud of my happiness and healing. That night, I’d laid awake staring at the ceiling, willing the small cracks to open up and swallow me whole. They just sat there, dark blemishes on an otherwise white surface. I was exhausted, desperately hoping for the embrace of sleep. It felt years away.
Then, my mind wandered. To my box; my brushes. I hadn’t been ruining my canvas, like I had all those previous years – I’d been prepping it. I could paint myself a whole new surface. Throw a fresh coat on the entire thing and start anew.
I hopped out of bed, put down a towel, and got to work. I tore through layer upon layer, summoning rivers from my driest banks and letting the wildlife lap at the shores. An ocean of blood pounded in my ears and my bones creaked in opposition, but I just sliced and scratched and picked to every organic rhythm.
Oozing from dozens of fresh strokes, I bandaged myself up, took an Advil, and went to sleep, the sound of my ocean crashing waves in my ears.
When I woke up, I was drowning.
My entire frame felt like it’d been soaked in gas and thrown in a wildfire. I sat up with bile rising in my throat, the rush bringing a chorus of shrieking angels to dance on my skull, and tried to run to my bathroom. My legs gave out midway and I crashed to the floor. As my arms landed in my field of vision, I saw a gruesome carnival of wounds peppering my skin. I screamed. Thankfully, my parents were both at work that morning, but I’m surprised the entire neighborhood didn’t come pounding on the door. Panic running wild, I scrambled into the bathroom and stopped dead when I saw myself in the mirror. I looked like one of those illustrations from an old anatomy book. A good portion of my skin was just flat out missing or horribly riddled with gruesome patterns, every conceivable space weeping red.
I had to see Dr. Schiefer immediately. My next appointment wasn’t until two days from now, but I needed him to see this, to fix it.
Blind with fear, I covered myself as best as I could, gingerly dragging clothing over my ruined skin. I looked ridiculous in the heat, dressed head to toe in a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and a scarf. Thankfully, I hadn’t touched my face or hands. I grabbed a pair of sunglasses and ran to the door. Then, it caught my eye. My box. My brushes. My tools. They’d been so good for me, I’d derived so much pleasure and growth from them. They’d betrayed me. A flash of anger coursed through me, and I grabbed the box, shoving it into my bag.
The bus ride felt like it took eons. I could feel everyone’s eyes burning holes in my clothes, seeing the carnage underneath. The second I saw the corner with the office, I jumped up. The woman next to me gasped. Looking down, I saw her staring in horror at my seat. I followed her gaze and my stomach lurched. A small pool of blood had formed, and more was dripping from underneath my shirt. She raised her eyes to meet mine and I could see her lips forming words she didn’t want to speak, but the distant whoosh of the bus door sliding open saved me. I ran out, across the street, and didn’t stop until I saw Amy at the receptionist’s desk.
I’d called ahead while waiting at the bus stop, and I guess she’d grown a soft spot for me because she’d penciled me in; there’d been a last minute cancellation.
I nodded a thank you and made a beeline for Dr. Schiefer’s door. The brass handle felt cold and uninviting in my hand. I wrenched it open and stepped inside, slamming it behind me. There he was, his demeanor calm and collected as ever, until he looked up at me. I don’t know if it was the expression on my face or if he maybe saw the blood that’d been seeping through my clothes in the 20 minutes it’d taken me to get there, but as soon as his eyes met mine, he paled. The facade of collectedness dropped like a curtain drawn on a badly executed play.
“Charlotte… Amy said you were coming. Are you alr––”.
“There’s. Something. Wrong” I breathed, each syllable a pained effort.
He stared at me. After a moment that felt like an eternity, he put away the notepad he’d been writing in and patted the chair. “Come and sit.”
“I don’t want to talk.” I said. “I want you to fix this”.
“Fix what, darling?” The last word felt like so much poison on his lips. I cringed.
Like lightning, I had the box out of my bag and slammed it on his desk with a crack. He pushed back his chair, the wood scraping jarringly on the floor.
“THEY’RE BROKEN!” I nearly screamed.
A knocking sound pierced the veil of my anger. “Is everything alright in there?” Amy’s voice called through the door.
Shaking just the slightest, Dr. Schiefer responded “Yes, thank you.” He didn’t sound too sure.
He turned back to me with an uneasy smile that definitely didn’t reach his eyes. “What’s broken, Charlotte? I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t work through.”
Seething, I grabbed my left sleeve and pushed it up to my elbow. His face betrayed him instantly. It twisted into an expression of shock, then disgust. I pushed up the other sleeve, and the expression doubled over.
His eyes, now small and beady, flitted up to mine. I could see everything I needed to know. His next words were lies.
“It looks like you went a little too far, sweetheart, but we…” he gulped audibly, “we can fix this.” He reached out a hand to touch mine. I slapped it away.
“Too FAR?” I said. “Too fucking FAR?”
The anger coursing through me covered any sense of pain I had left. All I could see now were fires burning the office to ash and melting the skin from his ever concerned face. I ripped my shirt over my head, taking the scarf with it, and unhooked my bra, throwing them on his desk. He stared in absolute abject horror, struck silent. Unbuttoning and kicking off my jeans and underwear, I stood before him, stark naked, in all my visceral bleeding glory. His hand awkwardly fumbled for the phone at the corner of his desk, but I grabbed it before he could reach it and threw it against the wall. It shattered, sending a wave of plastic across the floor.
“I’ll show you too fucking far.”
Dragging a chair to the door, I managed to block it just in time. Amy was now pounding on it, yelling to ask what the noise was. I flew back to the desk, flipped open the box, and tipped it over, sending my instruments tumbling across the polished mahogany surface. I took my favorite scalpel, looked him directly in the eye, and cut down into the back of my forearm until I hit bone. Blood spurted out, covering both of us. Dr. Schiefer screamed, the sound completely unsuitable for a man of his placid nature, and fell backwards into the wall with a crash. The pounding on the door grew louder, but I didn’t care. I had my brushes and my canvas and my muse; all a girl could ask for.

It took twenty minutes for the police to arrive and bust down the door. In that time, I’d managed to create my best work of art yet. I had a brand new, blank canvas. A good artist is never finished, never satisfied.
This hospital is nice and clean. Very minimal. I’ve been here for almost a week now. They have me on sedatives most of the time, which I don’t really mind, though I do miss the pleasure in my pain – no bother, it’s not like my nerve endings really function anymore. Mom and dad visit me as much as they can. Mom sometimes passes out with her head against my pillow, tears staining the sheets. Dad’s just quiet.
The doctors say my body will never fully recover. You ever peeled a grape as a kid? That’s what the majority of my skin looks like now. Just red, fleshy pulp. The cheese grater thing really did a number on me, and the pliers weren’t too forgiving. I really miss my brushes, but it’s okay. No matter where you are, who you are, what you are, someone in this big wide world will find the beauty and the art in you. The young male orderly who works nights in my wing of the hospital is my newest patron. He likes the freshness beneath my bandages. I guess there really is a fetish for everything. He’s been so sweet, though. Waiting on me hand and foot, bringing me whatever he can sneak in. He found me some new brushes. Beautiful, sterile ones. And he showed me how to hide this file while I’ve been documenting my journey. After a few days and all the psych evaluations, they’d allowed me a laptop to keep a diary because holding a pen was too difficult. I’ve always loved diaries. I keep a second one, droll things about my day, my thoughts, my inner struggles, my hopes and dreams. I know they read it. But this one’s been my little secret.
My exhibit in Dr. Schiefer’s office was a hit. I wasn’t his first project, but I know I was special. It’s a shame that they took him away because of all of those photos and videos and logbooks he kept. He was just an appreciator of the arts.
I’ve given myself three more days. A good artist meets deadlines and isn’t afraid of a challenge. I’ll open my next and final show to worldwide acclaim; I just know it. My canvas burns with desire and I can hear my new brushes singing to me from beneath my mattress.

Pick me.

Choose me.

Become beautiful.