Rachel Padding的眼睛，她的沉思，和自伤的疤痕。| A triptich of Rachel Padding: her deep eyes full of stories, her calm pose at a cemetey and a scar from a self cut.
Notes: English text is below Chinese text.
I got news of death twice within a week. A good friend, Alan, lost his beloved mother last Wednesday. Then Rex lost his brother last Sunday.
I’ve never met Alan’s mother except from pictures. But Alan told me many stories about his parents, and he even suggested that I pretend to be his girlfriend so his mother would be pleased. “She’d ask when we would get married,” he once said and we were both amused by the idea. Now that she passed away suddenly, I deeply regret that I didn’t get to meet this extraordinary woman. When I read Alan’s email that showed his deep love and respect for his mother, I couldn’t hold my tears.
Only four days later, Rex called to tell me his brother passed away, his voice choked. It caught me by shock and I wanted to cry. I cannot stop thinking of his mother. Nothing can be more tragic than a parent burying his/her children. This is the second time she buried her son. I wish I had magic power to change this sad reality, but I only feel helpless.
Two lives gone within a week’s time make me think and feel. I often found myself sitting in the couch, lost in thinking. At night, strange dreams came to me. The night before, I dreamed that flesh was cut off my arms. I looked at my arms. They looked like anatomy pictures without muscles. In the same dream, a figure without a face appeared. He didn’t have any muscles in his arms, either. He said, “the flesh was cut off so that new muscles would grow.”
I wonder if this dream implies that life and death are closely intertwined. It reminds me of Rachel Padding, who believes it is death that gives meanings to life.
Last month, Padding invited me to meet her at a historic cemetery in Hagerstown, MD. She walked past a line of tombs towards me. There was something contradictory in her body movement. She was elegant, confident, lonely and slightly awkward at the same time.
“Why cemetery?” I asked Padding, as we sat by a tombstone under a big tree.
“This is a beautiful place. Look at these trees and grass. They grow in the soil enriched by dead bodies. It shows how close life is to death, or death to life. I always believe death gives meaning to life. When you are close to death, you are also close to life.”
Her voice is low and confident, her eyes deep, full of stories. I knew she was not a young woman pretending to be deep.
When Padding was only three, she was physically abused by her baby sitter. When seven, she was sexually abused by a girl only five years older than she was. The same year, her grandpa passed away and she saw her father cry for the first time, deeply bothered and bewilthered . From then on, she became very curious about death.
When twelve, she cut herself by accident with a knife. The healing process fascinated her. About three months later, she cut herself again. Not an accident this time. She did it out of curiosity. Then she cut herself out of self-hatred. Not long after, she discovered that physical pain could actually channel out other kinds of pain. It had become something spiritual. It is a bridge between life and death. Besides, cutting herself produces endorphin that soothes her mind while exciting her nerves at the same time.
For years, it was hard for her not to cut herself. She has between 120 and 150 cuts in her body. When a freshman in college, she met a man who defined himself as masochist and categorized her as a sadist. He once cut her deep in the thigh. Blood gushed out like a stream and white flesh was exposed to their shocked eyes. They were stunned and scared. From then on, they were careful not hurt themselves too much.
She also had piercings. Tired of being stared at on the streets, she made a compromise and kept only about twenty piercings now. But people still stare at her scars.
The compromise is also her efforts to find other ways to understand and love herself. Now she rarely cuts herself. She would only do it when drunk and extremely upset. She makes great efforts not to drink. However, she still believes embracing pain is a way to get close to and understand death, which is also a way to understand life.