The children are all deep into the new term now, and it’s as though the holidays never happened. I miss our long chats, lounging around the kitchen table, about life, the universe and everything. Although one conversation with my girls did disturb me deeply.
I had known, of course, that teenage girls separate themselves out into various factions at this age. I’m not sure if boys do it too, but if they do, I imagine the demarcations are a little more fluid – and a lot more sane. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, watch the first St Trinian’s film, which has a very useful guide to the tribes – Emos (the emotionally disturbed, or Goths as we used to call them), Geeks or Neeks (teccy, speccy) Sporty (speaks for itself), Sloaney (which in the film is just plain slutty) and so on. All well and good. But then, from something the girls said, it was clear that one of these groups had formed at Child Two’s school and the price of entry was self-harm.
That’s right, there is a little coterie of cutters. Cutting didn’t exist at all when I was at school, the most disturbed you could get was having an eating disorder. I’m not making light of that – people died, and still die, from anorexia and suffer long-term health problems after recovering from it, or from bulimia. But it seemed quite a solitary vice. There weren’t gangs of anorexics, all refusing school lunch at the same time. The people with real food issues were isolated, locked in their own grim, unwinnable battles with the mirror and the scales. But this outbreak of cutting seems dangerous for different reasons. People seem to cut themselves to gain relief from overwhelming feelings – presumably the pain makes everything else go away, at least for a while. That much I understand – sort of. But is it still cutting, really, if a whole group is doing it? It seems like mass hysteria of some sort. And of course these are all girls from fairly cushioned backgrounds. It should be just one of those silly things girls do, then grow out of. But it involves blood, and knives, and pain and nasty red marks. It just seems quite sinister.
I wonder if they realise they could be left with permanent scars, which are bound to cause future employers, friends and lovers to raise eyebrows? Or these girls could contract horrible skin infections ….. or even cut too deeply one day. I also wonder if the school even knows this is going on. Either cutting is catching, or girls today aren’t spending enough time pointlessly running around hockey pitches. As I remember, the cold, the boredom and the exhaustion were all powerful antidotes to existential angst.