Creative Nonfiction: Friction by Christopher Locke

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Photo by Matt Moloney

The day after my 16th birthday, I noticed a small, sharp thing on my bedroom floor. I picked it up as if looking for it my whole life. It could have been metal. Or a piece of glass. I don’t remember. But I do remember what it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t a knife, or a razor. Razors came later, and at that point holding a tool whose only job was to cut would have been too obvious, and my actions telegraphed not just to the world, but to me. The item had to be as ambiguous as my intentions. If someone walked into my bedroom as I sat on the edge of my mattress, slicing back and forth across my bare thighs and asked me what the hell was I doing, I could look up at them, holding this bent piece of anonymous whatever, and smile. Oh, this old thing? Why it’s nothing at all.

***

I loved bands like Fear, 7Seconds, Circle Jerks, Black Flag. Punk rock allowed me the release that living in a small town didn’t. When David pressed play on his tape deck in his parked car, and the Dead Kennedys shouted “Nazi Punks, Nazi Punks, Nazi Punks, Fuck Off!” I grabbed Jules by his leather jacket and spun him around in the field we were drinking in. We spun faster. It was exhilarating not knowing how it would end. Tim passed a joint to Steph. Bea said 5 Balls Of Power were playing in Kittery next week. Scooter said he was getting some acid from his friend in California. David opened the car doors so we all could hear the music better. Finally my spinning slowed and Jules held onto my shirt, laughing. I laughed too, kicking at the weeds and asking for another beer. No one could touch us. We were a million miles away from parents and cops. My mother’s black eyeliner was running and stinging my eyes. Steph said next week his parents were out of town, party at his place.

Later, Jack showed me the burn marks he made on his skin, a single repeating welt across his bare shoulder like a rough mosaic.

“You just heat the tip of a lighter red hot,” he said.

***

There was this older punk from Arizona that now lived in Portsmouth. Steph spoke of him with a kind of reverence.

“At this party, he took off his shirt,” Steph said. “And then he dragged a razor straight across his chest. From shoulder to shoulder.”

“Seriously,” I said. “Holy shit.”

“Fucking badass,” Steph said.

***

Steph’s party was packed. Oz showed up late and held two beers, saying he needed to catch up. My sometimes girlfriend Laura was there, dressed like a fucking preppy. But she was beautiful, and I didn’t know how to talk to her.

Steph then raised his hand at me across the dining room and glinted his prize: a fresh razor between his fingers.

He smiled.

Upstairs in his room we took a few hesitant swipes, small scratches high up on the shoulder, where no one would see if wearing a t-shirt. A few kids hung around and gaped, duly impressed. I peppered the razor down the length of my right arm, and then made three parallel lines from elbow to wrist.

“Duuuuude,” Oz said.

Laura watched me closely. “I don’t like razors,” she said, and left the room.

Good, I thought. Fuck you.

I then pushed the razor deep into my left arm. Pulled. It opened like a baby’s mouth.

At first, the blood was shy. Then it overran everything. I cut a tic tac toe board and felt no pain.

I win, I thought.

***

I woke up on Steph’s bed, my left arm stuck to the sheet. It was Saturday and my father was coming to pick me and my siblings up for the weekend. I washed my arm but it started bleeding again. I wrapped the wound in toilet paper and pulled both sleeves down.

***

The whole weekend I spent trying to hide what I’d done. My dad and his new wife were kind, tried to offer fun activities for all of us to do. That night we made Buffalo wings. I watched as the chicken skin bubbled and hissed in the hot oil. My brother stirred the sauce on the stove, a slurry of bright red.

“Who’s hungry,” my dad said.

I kept checking my sleeves to make sure they didn’t slide up.

***

In school on Monday, I showed Steph my arm and he laughed with me, said I was crazy. I know, I said. I know. We talked about the weekend, maybe going to Boston.

“Who’s playing,” I asked.

Gang Green,” Steph said.

“Okay. I’ll see what I can do. I’m probably grounded.”

We laughed at this. My running joke: I’m always grounded.

“See you at lunch,” I said.

“See you.”

I stood at my locker for an extra second, touched my sleeve, the ache beneath. I felt so lonely I wanted to fall to my knees.

“Hey, you’re late, you’re late,” Mr. Delcroix said, stepping from the language lab.

I looked at him. He had made it his personal mission to get David expelled. It worked.

“Not yet,” I said, moving in the other direction.

“You’re on my hit list, Locke,” he called.

I hurried down the hallway, through the science wing and its corny posters about planets and the universe and how fun it is to learn. I imagined for a second what it would feel like to float in space, untethered; past all those things that could hurt you.

Christopher Locke’s essays have appeared in such magazines as The North American Review, Parents, The Sun, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Slice, Atticus Review, Jet Fuel Review, and New Hampshire Magazine, among others. He won the 2018 Black River Chapbook Award (Black Lawrence Press) for his collection of short stories 25 Trumbulls Road, and his latest book of poems, Music for Ghosts, is forthcoming in 2022 from NYQ Books. Locke received the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, and state grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. He has been nominated for Best of the Net and The Pushcart Prize many times.

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