emergency weblog; or: epersonae; or: elaine nelson

in which I write about stuff

Scars of childhood, the non-figurative kind

with musings on being adventurous and being nervous

Categories: General, writing prompts

I have two scars of note, both of which involve being somewhat more adventurous than I think my parents appreciated.

The first I don’t remember getting. The way I understand it, I was a toddler, and rather curious in the way that toddlers are. And somehow I managed to get into the garage, which in that house my father used as a shop, and it had a great many sharp or powered tools. I can visualize the little ranch house, that we lived in until I was seven, and the pressboard door between the main house and the garage. I don’t know if I’m making this up, but I swear I remember it being kept closed with a hook high up on the door. I imagine that the hook was a new innovation after I got into the garage.

According to mom, I went directly from dragging myself around on my belly like a seal to walking, without a crawling phase in the middle. So I would have been walking by then, and I was always a tall kid. Perhaps even tall enough to open the door by myself. But I don’t remember any of this, so I couldn’t have been much older than three, maybe three and a half? (My very first memory is of being at preschool with my “boyfriend.”)

In any case, somehow I got into the shop, and wandered about, and somehow (oh, somehow!) turned on a saw? I think mom said once that it was a band saw. How the hell I got high up enough to turn on a band saw boggles the mind. The toddler mind sees “ooh, moving stuff!” and reaches out to touch….

Did I scream? Considering the second story, I’m really wondering if I did. I definitely sliced my finger, maybe two fingers. The doctor told mom and dad that I was lucky: if I’d cut my finger slightly differently, I’d have completely lost the tip. How’s that for scary? Mom says she can never remember exactly which finger, but when I look at my right hand, two of the fingers have odd divots/lines on them, nearly perpendicular to the rest of the lines, one more than the other. So when I look at those fingers, I can almost visualize the angle at which I grabbed the blade.

It seems strange to me that I should have very nearly lost a fingertip, and yet I can’t remember it. (This is also true for another toddler-era accident, one that didn’t leave a scar: allegedly I jumped off of the sofa right into the coffeetable, and broke one of my front teeth. I had a silver tooth until I was seven years old.)

I do remember getting the other scar: we were still living in that house, and I was seven years old, so it must have been sometime between September 1981 and February 1982. My bedroom in that house was tiny, just barely big enough for my bed and my toy chest. “Chest” is a misnomer: it was a shelving unit which I think must have previously been some sort of store display: dark wood, just a bit taller than the bed. I wish I could remember what the painting on the back of the top shelf said, as that would probably explain what it was before it was my toy chest. All my dolls sat leaning up against each other, both the handmade dolls and my beloved plastic-headed Mandy, whose clothes were folded (or piled) in the shelves below. (I imagine, although I’m not sure, along with stacks of books.)

The fun thing about the shelf was that bit about being just a bit taller than the bed, and its position right at the foot of the bed, with just enough space between the two for a tall skinny 7-year-old to slip between to get out toys or books. That also being enough space, or rather distance, for jumping off of onto the bouncy bed.

Of course I was not supposed to jump from the shelf onto the bed. I had been warned about that, more than once. But I loved the springy bouncy flying feeling of that jump, so I kept doing it when I didn’t think anyone would see me.

Here’s the other half of the equation: a white wooden headboard, with a few stickers on it. That was where my forehead ended up, finally, when I jumped just a bit too vigorously. What I remember now is not the actual strike, but putting my hand to my head and feeling it wet. Then I snuck out of my room to the bathroom: for the better part of thirty years, I’ve described the image in the mirror as “like V8 dripping down the side of my face” — I’d put a gash in my forehead, just above my right eyebrow. I don’t remember any pain, just anxiety about getting in trouble, both because I’d been up past my bedtime and because I’d been doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.

There was an emergency room visit, and stitches, and both are just vague blurs of memory now. I still have a tiny scar, more like a dent; some of the glasses I’ve worn over the years hide it entirely, like the prescription sunglasses I have now. I sometimes rub at it when I’m thinking.

(While writing all this, I realized I have a third scar, on my left hand between the thumb and first finger, where I gashed it with a pruning saw a few years ago, getting a bit too vigorous trying to prune an apple tree that comes out over the fence into our yard. Wear your gloves.)

The thing that strikes me about both of these childhood accidents is an adventuresomeness (?!) that feels surprising and unfamiliar. Somewhere I became physically cautious, nervy about climbing or jumping, anxious about falling. It wasn’t very long after the bed incident: I was terrified learning how to rollerskate, for example, and remember Dad coming home from work one day, after we’d moved to the new house, and taking the stick I was using to balance with, so I’d do it on my own. Similarly with early attempts to learn to ride a bike, which I think I’ve written about before. I was often terrified of diving boards and of roller coasters.

What is it, exactly? A little bit the fear of hurting myself. A little bit the fear of UR DOIN IT RONG. Or that I’m doing something I oughtn’t. (Jumping off a log over the swimming hole at the river this last summer hit all those points something fearsome, and I never did manage it, though C said it was a lot of fun. Then the flow of the river changed, and it definitely wasn’t deep enough to be safe.) The getting in trouble bothered me more than the pain, when I hit my head.

There’s a separate thing about awkwardness and teasing, I think, but that may be something for another time.

And yet: every time I finally got up the nerve to do those things: to go on Space Mountain in junior high, to jump off the rocks in the Apostle Islands on vacation with C, and yes, to finally learn how to ride a bike, I’ve loved it, same as I always loved going on the swings. It’s getting up the nerve that’s the hard part. Maybe when I look at the scars on my fingers, or worry at the one on my forehead, I’ll try to think of the adventuresomeness, and how very small those scars are, really.

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