For some reason I have a really bad memory when it comes to my childhood. I’m not sure why. There was nothing so bad that I had to block out of my mind; I think the distance of time just makes everything a little more impressionistic than normal. So as a memory retrieval exercise (and also partly as just a writing exercise) I’m going to start writing about when I was a kid. This first story is, and will probably always be, pretty vivid in my memory. And for good reason, you’ll find out.
I lived in Michigan until I was in fifth grade, and our house sat on an acre of land. We had a long dirt driveway that my brother and I had to traverse every morning to catch the bus to school, and behind our house were rolling, undeveloped hills. Just beyond the hills and off to the right through a veil of trees, there was a subdivision of houses that all looked the same to me. There was a family, the Sutherlands, that lived in that subdivision and they had four boys: one was my age, one was my brother’s age (a year younger than me), and two were a couple years older. My brother and I liked to romp around with them, and though they were all kind of troublemakers, we managed to stay out of trouble most of the time.
On our side of the veil of trees, there was a small pond that teeming with tadpoles. My brother and I would walk down there often and just watch the tadpoles swimming feverishly through the murky water, with such purpose, and sometimes we would capture them in jars of water and bring them back to our house to wait for them to sprout legs and turn into frogs we could play with. The pond was our rendezvous point with the Sutherlands.
When I was in second grade, my brother and I met up with the Sutherlands one day at the pond to watch the tadpoles. The older boys grew bored quickly and suggested that we play tag. We all instantly went on our guard, quickly backing away from the tagger to avoid his condemning touch. The game moved like an ocean swell, forward toward the trees, back to the pond, around the pond, back toward the trees, all of us running and screaming and laughing, not wanting to be “it.” At some point we permeated the trees and were moving toward the Sutherland’s yard.
The tagger stalked me until there was no escape, and then I was “it.” I remember even then thinking that I was at a disadvantage because I was the only girl, that the boys were so much bigger and faster than I was. I singled out one of the Sutherlands, the one who was my age, and pursued him and only him with fervor, like the tadpoles swimming toward their obscure purpose. The Sutherlands had a treehouse in their yard, and my prey started to climb up the tree to take refuge. I followed him of course, not wanting to back down, not wanting to be stuck with that “it”ness any longer. I was halfway up the tree when he made it to the top, and I looked up and saw something falling toward me. It was a blur as I saw it, but found out later that it was a hammer. The Sutherland boy later said that he knocked it down on accident, but I always suspected that he did it on purpose to deter me.
The hammer fell on my face. On my nose, to be exact.
People always describe the force of any class of blow as feeling like they’re being hit with a hammer, but I wonder how many people have actually been hit with a hammer. It was a pain that I had never experienced before, and have never experienced since. It was like I was slapped from one state of consciousness to another; one second I was my normal self, and the next second everything was hazy, and I was struggling to keep my grip on the tree and to keep my eyes open. It was instantaneous.
I barely remember how I got from the tree to the hospital. I have flashes of riding in the car with the Sutherland mother, of her telling me how good I was doing, but everything else is blurry. My parents met us at the hospital and I was shuffled from receptionist to nurse to doctor, all of whom made the same tired joke about how a hammer is for hammering nails, and didn’t I know that? Even as an eight-year-old, I was not amused.
The hammer hit my nose just one inch shy of my right eye. The doctor told me I was so lucky. I don’t think my eight-year-old mind was able to fathom at that time how much worse it could have been or what I could have lost, but now that I’m an adult, I realize how lucky I really was.
Because the impact was so close to my eye, my eye and the surrounding area swelled up like a balloon. It almost swelled completely shut. It turned all shades of color, from a dark deep purple to a grayish blue to a mucus green. By the time soccer season started, the swelling had dissipated and my eye was a sickly yellowish color. I was kind of proud to have proof of my toughness that could be seen on my face. It was like a badge of honor, and it told everyone that I wasn’t a priss, that I was a rough-and-tumble kind of girl, a girl that played hard with the boys. It was a pride that was short-lived, because I noticed that the end of my nose hooked a little bit to the left after the incident, and has ever since. It’s not an overt crookedness because most people don’t notice it, but it’s just crooked enough to be obvious to me and to have made me self-conscious for most of my life.