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Red Butterflies

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But

Let me come out and say this first: I am a cutter. Or rather, I was. I started cutting over a variety of reasons around three years ago, back when I was in sixth grade. My parents were going through a divorce, my few boyfriends would cheat on me with someone else, girls called me fat despite my healthy weight, my best friend Jessica turned on me, and I felt I couldn’t control my life. Every time I got stressed, I would put a new mark on my arm. It was a way for me to have a pain I could control at my own whim; the pain was cleansing. My body soon became a temple for every frustration I had with the world. Kids, of course, noticed this and made fun of me, which made me cut again, which made them make fun of me more. It was an endless cycle. My parents got worried about it but weren’t sure how to help me, even my mom who could solve everything didn’t know what to do. Then in my freshman year of high school I heard about the Butterfly Project.

The idea of the Butterfly Project was to draw a butterfly on your arm and try not to cut yourself before the marker fades off your skin. Some people, however, just drew a butterfly every time they wanted to cut. I did the latter, also writing down names for each of the butterflies, to remind myself that I was stopping this habit for the people I loved, which made my mom very proud. Soon, simple cartoon butterflies danced all around my arms, seeming to fly in and out of my old wounds. But the butterflies did not do it for me, oh no. Somehow, they seemed to stick out worse than the cuts did. One day, several girls teased me.

“Hey, Sam,” one of them called out. “Do you seriously think drawing all over yourself makes you look like less of a mess?”

“Seriously, you manage to make butterflies ugly,” my former friend Jessica teased. Her friends laughed at her comment, even Amy, a friend of mine who was such a quiet girl, giggled with everyone. It was a silly thing, but it hurt when I first heard it. I figured they were right; there was no point in hiding the obvious. With all the new added stress in my life, it seemed that I might as well go back to the cutting.

Later that day, when I was getting ready for bed, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. A few of the butterflies were fading, but they were still visible. It seemed that I was more paper than human, with all of these drawings covering my pale skin. I sighed and pulled out a hand cloth, preparing to wash off all of the Sharpie doodles. I looked at all the names on my arm. There was my dad, my mom, my dog… Then I saw the name of one of the girls who made fun of me that particular day.

Jessica. Of course. Jessica Smith used to be my friend before we went into high school. She made it onto the cheerleading team in just ninth grade, a pretty rare feat. Now that she was with those girls, she acted as if we hadn’t grown up together. She became someone completely different, trying to fit into her new clique. I put down the cloth, replacing it with a spare razor blade.

"Damn you," I thought. "Why can’t you hurt like I do?" Her butterfly was close to my left shoulder, a place that could be easily hidden if I wore a t-shirt. Quickly, I made a cut across the butterfly’s torso. It was not too deep, but blood did manage to trickle out. As I watched the butterfly bleed, I realized something: I didn’t feel any pain. Even though I didn’t cut deep, there would usually be a sting or something, but I felt nothing. I felt nothing as I witnessed the butterfly’s wings slowly change color. I pressed the cloth to my shoulder to stop the bleeding. After a while, I put the stained hand cloth away and continued my day as normal.

I went to school the next day. I sat at my desk drawing butterflies absent-mindedly on my notes. The teacher was calling out roll and soon got to Jessica’s name. I tensed up a little, expecting her to announce her presence the same hateful way she did yesterday, “More here than Sam is.” After a few seconds, the teacher repeated her name again. Still no response. The teacher shrugged her shoulders and went on with attendance. I looked to the desk next to me where Jessica usually sat, as if she would just pop up there. Her seat was empty; no materials splayed across her desk like there usually was. I was a little concerned. I’ve never known her to take a sick day in her life. Despite the fact that she is my enemy now, I still couldn’t help but be concerned for my childhood friend. Throughout the day, I tried to shove the thought of her out of my mind.

When I came back home, I noticed there was a voicemail on the answering machine. I pushed the play button, thinking that my parents called to tell me why they couldn’t come home until late at night again. Surprisingly, it was a message from Jessica’s parents.

“Hello, this is Melissa speaking. We…” the silence continued for a while. “…we haven’t seen Jessica since we dropped her off at school yesterday. We know it’s been a while since she’s been over at your house, but is there any chance she is over there? Do… do you know where she is?” I could hear her worries and almost feel them seeping in through the speaker, poor woman. “Just… Just let us know if you hear from her, OK? Call us when you can.” The machine beeped, indicating that the message finished its play through. I pushed the delete button. I probably should have called, but I felt conflicted. Why should I care that some mean girl hasn’t been seen since yesterday? Why should I care about someone who made me feel like shit, despite old connections I had with her? After deliberating on whether I should contact her parents, I shook my head and sighed before plopping down on the couch. The need to call wasn’t overwhelming; she was probably playing hooky with a cheerleader friend or something.

I watched TV for a bit, hoping some cartoons could cheer me up. In the middle of a "Simpsons" episode, it cut off in the middle of one of Homer’s choking sessions, changing to an emergency news broadcast. This sort of thing usually doesn’t happen often, so I turned up the volume, curious to see what happened. A middle-aged man sat calmly in his chair as a small pip screen behind him showed an image of a body being put into an ambulance.

“A warning to the residents of Madison County: tonight, a teenage girl by the name of Jessica Smith, who was missing since last night, has been found dead in an alleyway. The cause of death was a large cut across her torso area--” A blurred image popped up on the screen, showing the body so the viewers can see what happened, but trying to make sure the gore wouldn’t show up well. I couldn’t listen to the announcer anymore; I ran to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet.

Jessica! Oh my God! I sobbed uncontrollably, unable to get any words out of my mouth. I can’t believe she’s dead! Who could have done this to—I caught a glance of myself in the bathroom mirror. There were a few butterflies visible on my left arm, though more faded than they were before. I slid up my left sleeve to check on all the butterflies. Still on my shoulder was the butterfly for Jessica. The cut I made yesterday ran across the midsection of the butterfly. An odd thought occurred to me: did I somehow cause this? I wasn’t a believer in the supernatural, something like a little curse and a cut shouldn’t cause someone to die. The similarities, however, seemed too convincing. I did cut the butterfly across its torso. Jessica was found dead with a cut across the same area. They said she was probably in that alley for at least twenty-four hours before they discovered her.

Sure, I was mad at her yesterday, but I didn’t want her to die! Jesus Christ! Did I somehow make myself a living voodoo doll? I still wasn’t entirely convinced. Horribly enough, a part of me wanted to test and make sure. There was a butterfly near my stomach labeled “Amy,” the name of another girl who used to be my friend. Well, more of a friend of a friend. I knew her near the end of middle school and wanted to make friends with her, but she tended to stick with the popular kids. She didn’t become as cruel as Jessica upon entering high school, but she never tried to stand up for me, even though she knew I was weak. Would it be right to test this on her? I shook my head, reminding myself that, most likely, this was a huge coincidence. I drew a cut along Amy’s butterfly along its left wing. Red started trickling down my belly, tracing its way down to my waistline. Once again, there was no pain. I put some toilet paper to the blood so it wouldn’t stain my pajama bottoms. Tired, I decided to go to bed for the evening.

The next day at school, there was another empty desk. I didn’t think too much about it since Amy got sick a lot. However, the teacher’s sad face and her announcement to the class confirmed by fears.

“Class…” she swallowed nervously, she wasn’t good at breaking any sort of bad news, even talking about bad grades made her nervous. She smacked her lips as she tried to find the right words to say “I’m afraid that Amy Vickers isn’t going to…” she had to pause again, I was almost getting annoyed with her. “She isn’t going to be with us anymore.” There was a moment of silence before everyone in the classroom started yelling questions over one another, mostly asking about what happened and what the teacher meant. She had to bang a ruler on her desk several times to get everyone’s attention.

“I know this is hard for all of us, two deaths of our beloved classmates so close to each other. Especially murder, it’s not natural. All we can do is hope that this tragedy will end soon.” This only led the class into a yelling fit again. No amount of ruler-banging would silence their cries. Students demanded to know how Amy died, but were too busy screaming out questions to hear the teacher’s answer. I heard her well enough, I made out the words “left side,” “bleed,” and “cut.” Stressed out from the news and the yelling, I snuck out of the classroom to go home early.

When I arrived, I found my mother sitting at the kitchen table. I stopped in my tracks, scared that my mom would scold me for skipping school again. I started to walk back to the front door when she called my name. I turned towards her, noticing that her face had streams of black mascara coming from her eyes.

“Samantha,” she got up and hugged me. “Oh Samantha… I know this has got to be hard for you, but thank God you are safe.” Mom must have heard the news, too. The girls were my childhood friends, I assumed she was crying more for my sake than for her own. After a few minutes, she let me go.

“I understand if you don’t want to stay at school today. I can call and say that you felt sick to your stomach.” She pulled out her cell and started dialing my teacher’s number. As she left her message, I put down my backpack and removed my sweatshirt. I should have been more careful, for when I removed my sweatshirt, enough of my shirt came up with it, revealing my stomach and Amy’s butterfly. My mom’s eyes widened at the sight. She hung up the phone.

“Honey… are you…” Just like my teacher, she struggled to find the right words to say. “Is there something you want to tell me?” Her eyes darted back and forth between my eyes and the butterfly on my stomach. I pulled my shirt down quickly and ran upstairs, ignoring her calls to come back down. I wasn’t going to go back down there, she’d ask to look at my cut again and notice the similarities. Then she’d know.

Oh God, she would know.

I picked up a pocket knife that was lying on my desk as I searched my arm for my mother’s butterfly. I had to make sure she wouldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to go to prison or an insane asylum. I didn’t know those girls would die, I really didn’t know! My mom’s butterfly was on my right arm, close to the side of my elbow. I made a deep cut near the butterfly’s head and watched the blood cover the wings. Yes, I wouldn’t have to worry about her ever again. A short scream followed by a gurgling sound came from the first floor. I walked down casually to check it out. There on the floor was my mother. The consequences of my actions finally became clear to me as I stared at her once cheerful face. Trembling, I fell on my knees and cried.

“Mom!” I screamed. “What have I done?! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I couldn’t think of anything better to do than to repeat those last two words over and over again. I never wanted to kill, I didn’t even mean to the first two times, but I killed my own mom, the one person I loved most. Mom… I realized what needed to be done. I ran to the living room desk and opened every drawer, searching for a permanent marker. Upon finding one, I quickly drew a butterfly for myself, drawing it next to my mom’s.

Now I’m sitting next to her with the knife over it, ready to make my mark.

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