Then there is the scar from 1981. I don’t like to talk about that scar because of its embarrassing location. I had a cyst removed, and even though the stitches weren’t visible, I did have trouble walking, and… I’ve said too much. It was benign, so let’s move on.
My second scar is the one I remember best, and it comes with the most family-friendly tale. It’s on the back of my left hand and is about an inch and a half long. It’s the only funny story I know that involves me getting hit by a crowbar.
Although I’m old enough now to know that the reason I was hit by the crowbar was because I was slow and uncoordinated, for years I blamed the big kids. There was a crowd of older guys who hung out at our park and terrorized us whenever they felt like it. My brother told me to be patient. Eventually, he said, they would all be thrown in jail or drafted.
But I wasn’t patient. I liked the big kids. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to smoke and curse and slouch in the shade of the huge oak tree. I was only 10, but I wanted to be one of the big kids, as tall as adults they were, and dangerous to my young eyes. And so one day, when my older siblings weren’t looking, I crossed the street and joined them. They opened their nicotine-stained hands and welcomed me, as if my presence was the most natural thing in their world.
But being one of the big kids wasn’t easy. They all had weird names like String and Chunk and Thugly. They told dirty jokes I didn’t understand, though I laughed at them anyway, and they didn’t care for my riddles at all. They used phrases that made no sense, and spoke of “snaking some cooter” on Saturday nights. Snaking some cooter? What did that mean? They talked of people who were in jail or running from jail or going to jail. They spoke of crimes not yet committed, and breaking things they couldn’t afford but didn’t want anyway. They measured me and took their calculations to the small window at the back of the library, then asked me to meet them late that Friday night. They threw rocks at parked cars and encouraged me to do the same. I tried, but my aim was bad, so instead of hitting Mrs. Alderdice’s Buick, I bounced a stone off Wayne Cameron’s dog, who bore a grudge against me from that day on.
But most of what they did was nothing. Then Thugly pulled a crowbar out from under the ping pong table and told us to follow him. He thundered to the back of the park’s concession stand. I feared he was going to break the wall down, but instead he pointed at the huge wasp nest that hung like a football from the corner of the roof. Ah, yes. The wasps. I knew them well. Thugly was going to knock the nest down with the crowbar.
Twice he threw the bar at the nest. The wasps went into attack mode, but we ran from them, then returned. On his third heave, we all turned to escape, but I, being the youngest and slowest, was bumped to the ground. As I was rising, I felt a slight thump on the back of my left hand. That was all, as if somebody had flicked me with a finger. But when we stopped running, String stared at my hand in horror and screamed:
Blood was shooting out of my hand like a geyser. That’s when it started to hurt. I screamed and ran home, spraying everything with crimson.
Mom took me to our ancient family doctor, who, after checking my neck for the places where the bolts used to be (medical talk), stitched up the wound. As he was doing this, my mom began to quiz me about how the injury occurred. She laid out a number of increasingly implausible possibilities, and in my pain, I agreed to all of them. By the time the stitches were closed, I had affirmed this rambling narrative: Steve Reed, dressed as a Cherokee brave hunting for cats to scalp, had jumped from a rolling pick-up truck, screamed bloody war whoops, and struck me with a hatchet as I was reaching to save a small kitten. I was reaching for something, all right, and that was the only part of the tale that was true.
Of course, Steve Reed wasn’t even there, but that made little difference to his dad as he cut a switch from the family rosebud bush. I still feel bad about the whole thing, so this is my official apology, 42 years too late. Sorry, Steve Reed, wherever you are.
This all happened on Sunday afternoon, and I was the talk of the neighborhood for five days. But that Friday, the police were called to the library to rescue String, who had broken the library window, but caught his waist on the jagged glass in the bottom of the frame and was bleeding profusely. Beside the library, the police found Thugly and Chunk hiding in the forsythia bushes. Glenn was right. They all went to jail, and I never saw any of them again. The park became our park from that day on.
But I still think about String and the pain he must have suffered that night. I don’t know what was inside the library that called to him so strongly, but we both learned that the things we yearn for are often not worth the scars we make in trying to reach them. What was so important to me when I was ten, is lost to me now, like trying to feel sensation on a scar. Before I married and settled down, it was something I thought about every Friday and Saturday night, as I cruised West Commerce trying to snake some cooter.
Whatever that meant.
Categories: scholars and rogues
The big, bad kids always scared me. On the other hand, chicks dig scars. And I was REALLY afraid of wasps.
On the whole, you sound like somebody I’d be afraid to mess with.
Chicks dig scars? Really? I’ll have to tell my lovely wife that. After I come up with a couple of really cool stories about how I got the ones she wasn’t around for, anyway.
I wanted to belong once, but to the stoner crowd instead. I gave up the smoking after only 3 months when track season started and I couldn’t breath. And thought better of drugs after watching two of my friends split a tab of acid on the back of the bus – I had far more fun messing with them than they could possibly have had tripping out while I was messing with them.