So Keith and I were riding our respective bikes on the street. It was warm, and I was wearing shorts and soaking in the sunlight. It was too early in the year for the berry-brown tan I'd develop by the end of summer. It was still too early to go barefooted (Mama usually made us wait until it was practically summer vacation, unless it was abnormally warm). Keith and I were riding toward each other, on the same side of the street (who needs rules of the road?). My bike was bigger, and I was older, so I naturally thought he would turn to go around me. Apparently, he thought I would go around him. Instead, we swerved at the exact same moment. Keith leapt cleanly from my blue bike and the tires clashed. On Mama's too-big bike, though, I was not so lucky. My too-short legs got tangled among the pedals and chain, and I looked down at my bare leg and saw the blood running down and soaking into my white, lace-topped sock.
I picked up Mama's bike and, shaking, I started pushing it home. Keith, never one to waste an unexpected privilege, got back on my blue bike and continued to ride up and down the street. I glared at him, but he pretended not to notice. It was a short walk home, but it seemed to take forever. The wound on my leg stung terribly, but -- I realized with growing pride -- I had not cried. This was a first. I was a serious crybaby when I was a young kid. I cried nearly every day of kindergarten. I cried much of 1st grade until Mrs. Slemenda shamed me into keeping my tears to myself. When someone outside of my trusted circle criticized me, I cried. When someone was angry with me, I cried. When I was angry with someone, I cried. And when I saw my own blood, I cried.
As an aside, I recently found an IEP evaluation form from when I was 6. I was tested to see if I was "gifted" as they put it then. I scored well above average on most of the tests of intellect (spatial reasoning was difficult for me even then), but the report noted again and again that I was emotionally and socially very immature. So when I was 9 years old and didn't cry? That tough butch I am now woke up, stretched and said "Right the fuck on." Only probably without the word "fuck" since I didn't learn that word until I was ten.
Mama ministered to my wound with Bactine and bandaids, and the chunk of skin I lost in that accident eventually healed, but without any pigment or any hair or any real nerve endings. It's a quarter-sized quite numb patch of very white, slightly rough skin. I can feel exactly where it is when I focus my attention on my left shin.
When I bend my left index finger, I can feel the scar tissue. The joint crackles in a disturbing sort of way. I was 27 when I got that scar. It was 2002, and I was living in Asheville. The restaurant where I was assistant manager was clearly failing, but I didn't really give a fuck. I'd gotten a slight raise when I made enough noise, but I was still making practically no money. More importantly, I was so fucking bored. So, when I thought I could get away with it, I'd cut all but one person in the kitchen and one person on the floor and I'd fill in where needed. I'd bartend, I'd wait tables if necessary. I'd cook, I'd wash dishes. And, between 2 and 4 most afternoons, we'd have maybe a small handful of customers wander in for $1 draft Bud or a quick sandwich. I'd make maybe a few bucks in tips -- enough for cigarettes, certainly, or dogfood, or if I was really lucky, a pizza and 6-pack delivered to my trailer by the local brewery/pizza place.
Damon's was a rib restaurant primarily, and we had typical meat-and-potato-and-fried-things menu. There was nothing really worth eating on the menu. I lived on free baked potatoes, deep fried shrimp delivered frozen weekly by Sysco, and the occasional scrambled egg or grilled cheese sandwich. I lost a remarkable amount of weight.
But that's beside the point. The point is that I was bored as shit with my job, and to make it more interesting, I challenged myself. One afternoon in late spring, I had just sent the grill cook home when we got a 6-top of tourists -- 3 senior citizen couples, the women with bedazzled t-shirts and golf visors, and the men with short-sleeve white button-up shirts and assorted NASCAR caps.
They all, of course, ordered grill items -- well-done steaks, full racks of ribs, chicken breasts -- with, it goes without saying, plenty of fry-station items. Alex, my then-boyfriend, stepped up to fry and let me take the grill. I got the ribs ready to go and threw two chicken breasts on the cool side. I grabbed a sirloin in its food-services plastic package and -- as I'd done many times before -- used the chef knife to slit it open.
And the knife slipped.
I didn't even feel it. It was just a momentary pressure and then there was the blood. Gushing blood. Pools of blood. I calmly told Alex to take over and to get another steak. I grabbed a rag and cupped my left hand in my right to prevent the blood from pouring all over the kitchen, and I went as quickly as possible to the closest hand-washing sink. I opened the faucet on cold water and stuck my hand under. Until the water hit it, I hadn't felt any pain at all. I hissed when the water hit, though, and I began to realize that this wasn't a papercut.
Fortunately, it was nearly 4:00 and Marcia, my boss, showed up a few minutes early. She peered into the bloody sink.
"What did you do?" she asked, with only mild curiosity.
"Cut my finger," I said, and pulled it out from under the water for my first close look. I caught a glimpse of something white and shining. Bone? Tendon? It was immediately hidden by pooling blood.
"You need stitches," Marcia told me.
"No, it's fine," I said. "I don't need stitches."
"I"ll get Alex to drive you to the hospital. His relief is coming in right now, and I can cover if anybody's late."
"I don't need stitches," I repeated, trying to wrap paper towels around my finger to stop the bleeding. They were immediately soaked through and my finger dripped. I spent some more time washing it, and trying to see if that really was my finger bone I was seeing in the cut. It was right in the second joint of my index finger, right along the creases. "It just looks bad because of all the water," I explained. "It makes it look like there's more blood than there really is."
"You're full of shit," said Marcia. "It's worker's comp, and they won't make you do a piss-test, I promise. Just go to the hospital."
"I'd pass a piss-test," I said. "But it's unnecessary."
"Stop being butch and just get the fucking stitches!"
I pictured then, the needle with the numbing agent approaching the clean margins of the wound, approaching that gleaming white bone or tendon. And I thought of the threaded needle pulling through my numbed skin. And I felt my knees start to buckle. "I'm not being butch," I said, a whine creeping into my voice. "I'm a fucking pussy. I fucking hate stitches. I just need some band-aids." I paused. "And maybe some Bactine."
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