Wings around my sister

Karlee handed the bottle of pills over to the program coordinator and sat down. Someone had ratted her out. She looked around the room at the other girls suspiciously, hiding the hardness in her eyes behind a thick fringe of hair and a demure smile. They were talking crap again. About how this one had said that and that one had done this. It was boring.

She watched Tanya for a while and wondered if it was her who had dobbed her in for the pills. Little prattler was a suck. Even the sound of her voice grated on Karlee’s nerves. It reminded her of a childhood ‘friend’. Bloody memories. But it was too late, one had sucked her in again. She wished she could get the pills back.

The room around her faded as the memory took over: Laughing innocently with the group she thought were her friends. So naive. It was only when they ganged up on her, locked the door and tried to get her clothes off that she began to reassess the ‘friend’ label. How old had they been? 11? 12? Some strange curiosity about sex had made them hatch a twisted doctors and nurses plot, with her in the starring role, whether she wanted it or not.

Beneath the thick fringe, no one could see the pain on her face as Karlee relived the panic and shock of that moment. Was it some kind of silly joke? But they seemed so determined, holding her down while one of them wrestled with her underpants and egged on their male friend to ‘do it’. Was it when she screamed, or when she cried, or just because she struggled hard enough that they finally stopped and let her go?

How and why had she stayed friends with them after that? Had she just kidded herself that it was a silly game, no harm meant? Thankfully, the boy in their group had been as unsettled as she was by the strange scheme, and his ambivalence may have been part of what made them give up and let her go.

This memory slid into another one, as they always did. The next year in school. Junior high school. The bully who targeted her was a swaggering tomboy who singled Karlee out on her first day of school. “I heard you said shit about my sister!”, the strange girl had said in her nasally twang, flying flecks of spittle sparkling in the sunlight. Strange how we remember these small details. The charmer screwed her face into an ugly scowl, and came closer. “No one says shit about my sister. Take it back or I’ll get the fuckin’ Hell’s Angels onto you bitch. I got fuckin’ friends.”

Yeah, well. The school bully might have had friends, but it was looking more and more like Karlee didn’t. Whenever Karlee was confronted by the bully in the hallway between classes, or stalked at lunch, her friends went strangely quiet. Or they slunk off and disappeared. Bloody cowards, though Karlee to herself in disgust. Just like this lot. Steal her fucking tablets and suck up to the psychs for favours. They were all full of shit.

Someone was looking at her. Miranda. And the room had gone silent. Karlee panicked a little. What had just been said?

“Miss Karleena, Miranda was speaking to you. Did you take her leather jacket?”, came the accusing, whiny voice of Tom, the coordinator.

“Why would I have done that?”, she asked in bafflement.

“Well. Your…. inclinations. We know you don’t like leather.”

A snicker rolled around the room like a wave.

“Yeah right. So why would I have taken the fucking thing then?”

“Your language please Miss Karlee. And your tone. You’ve already been given a warning.”

Yep. It had definitely been Miranda who ratted her out. The silly bitch was smirking at her from behind Tom’s back. A set up. Perhaps this whole scene was the trigger behind the unwanted memories, although Karlee seriously suspected the absence of the pills wasn’t helping. The memories were trying to remind her of a lesson learned about friendship and trust: be very fucking careful.

Yeah. It had probably been a big mistake to go to Miranda last week when she was feeling sad. Bad choice. But they had been getting along so well. A new friend, Karlee had thought. One who might watch her back. But no, when Miranda found out Karlee was vegan, a fact she had been keeping carefully hidden from everyone, the news went viral.

She knew the next day when everyone was watching and gossiping, giggling in her direction, whispering…. that Miranda was not a sympathiser. What the fuck had Karlee expected? She was an aberration. Meat was back. Meat was in. And anyone who didn’t eat it was associated with the terrorists. Miranda obviously didn’t want to be tarred with that brush and was finding ways to keep her distance, just like Karlee’s ‘friends’ had done in high school when the bully appeared. Self-preservation trumps friendship every fucking time.

Sweeping back her fringe so Tom could see the flinty fire in her eyes, she leaned forward, looking first at Miranda, and then him.

“Fuck you.”

That was all the provocation Tom needed. He lunged, the fingers of his right hand digging into her arm as he dragged her out of her seat. She didn’t resist. Frankly, being put in isolation would be a godsend at this moment, because she could feel more memories waiting to pounce on her and she knew it was going to be bad. She needed privacy. And something sharp, seeing as the pills weren’t handy. As he propelled her out of the communal room, her hand trailed over the sideboard and she slid a pen up her sleeve. No one noticed.

In the cold room with the peaceful white walls, she could finally breathe again, but her breath came ragged, and she gasped slightly with the pain as the memories hit her. Sam, her favourite duck chasing her around the backyard, blood spurting out of his headless neck. She was so little then! She couldn’t understand how he could still see her without his head and why he was chasing her. It was terrifying. In the background, the sound of her grandfather laughing. He took pleasure in the strangest things. The pain of others. Squirming, she slammed closed the door on her grandfather. Please no, not those memories, she pleaded.

Her mind tottered on the brink for a moment. To distance herself she pulled out the pen and began to deconstruct it, sharpening its edge on the floor by rubbing it back and forth. The door to her grandfather closed, but her mind wasn’t going to give up the joy of torture so easily. Fine. If I can’t have your grandfather, I’ll follow the animal trail, it whispered with venom.

Coming home in the car. How old had she been? 8 years old? Looking forward to seeing her best friend in the world, her dog Toby, when she suddenly realises the car is strangely quiet. No one is speaking or smiling. Mum is crying. And then they tell her. The one person who had been there for her; the one friend who had never betrayed her; the one friend who always had time to listen: Toby was dead.

Why? He was dead because someone hated animals. Dogs, specifically. Her dog had been killed by a man who filled raw meat with poison and threw it into people’s yards. Into her yard. The pain in her heart was excruciating, but the pen was sharp enough now. Not her wrist. The bastards would see it and lecture her again, watching her more closely. Her thigh. Pulling up the hem on her shorts, she exposed the skin and started to cut.

One last memory accosted her before the pain kicked in, perhaps brought on by the sight of blood. But I can’t share it with you. Karlee asked me to promise I wouldn’t tell you about this one, because it might hurt someone. As she sank into the sweet relieving pain of her cutting, she melted into my arms, even without knowing I was there.

I wrapped my wings around her to keep her safe, wishing she could feel my presence. I had tried so hard to keep her from harm and so much of it could have been worse than it was but it tore me up inside to see her so tortured by memories. At least she had the cutting. That made me sad too, but it was better than the pills because she always knew when to stop and maybe someday I could get her to the man who would love her with all his heart and never, ever betray her, as so many had done before. I just wanted my beautiful sister to be safe. To feel happy. But right now all I could do was just get her through each day.

I whispered love into her heart and slowly, slowly she relaxed, letting go of the knife she had crafted, letting it fall by her side. Finally she began weeping, pouring her heart out so I could catch her pain and hand it over to the heavens.


Here are some resources for you, if you are a self harmer, or someone you love is self-harming. You aren’t alone, and there is support available. As I was recently explaining to a client, this can be a very instinctive way to self-medicate in the face of extreme, overwhelming emotional pain. With support and help from others, we can gradually develop safer ways to deal with our pain and/or numbness. Please don’t ever think you are just ‘doing it for attention’, or that you are totally messed up. You aren’t. You are just coping the best way you can with some really difficult emotions and experiences in your life. Have faith in yourself and ask for help, but take care to confide in people you think will respond with maturity and kindness. Angels can come in unexpected guises. Love and blessings, Om

Self-harm psychology