porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘blood and guts’ Category

I feel as thought I’ve fallen into a rut with the blog lately, with every post retelling the story of something that happened a while ago, a few jokes and a literary reference, only then to go on and tell another story of a present day event that mirrors the previous event to a greater or lesser extent (most often lesser), and then wrap everything up with an attempted profound(ish) insight into human nature that has almost no bearing whatsoever to the series of words that preceded it and is most likely inaccurate.  And though it can only help one’s popularity to have a hook, especially one that can be so easily summarized as the preceding sentence, my oft-mentioned and utterly natural fear of repetition has made me worry if, instead of developing a style, I wasn’t just becoming lazy. Or, if not just that, also that I was boring the pants off of you, my beloved readers.

I worried a little bit about what to do. At first, I considered just writing in some other way, but with the aforementioned issues I have with introductions, it seemed like trying to overcome that without knowing first if anyone else was bothered by it might be an unnecessary effort. Then it seemed like polling you all, to see how you felt about it, might be in order. Except that I kind of don’t want to know what you think, but only because it can be difficult to discuss certain things if I know too much about who’s reading. Like if I want to talk about Brussels sprout but I know that Tom hates them, I might become reluctant to post something that seemed designed to elicit Tom’s tiresome fool opinion in response.

So I’ve been in a bit of a bind, as you can see, and unsure as to how to proceed. And then I got hit by a car, and it reminded me of something that happened before. Not the time 8 months ago when I was also hit by a car (a strange thing about aging is that you’re prepared for many of the minor changes; although frustrating, I expect that it will take me longer to call up the name of that one person I interacted with 15 years ago, or that I’ll spend 3 entire minutes searching through my purse for something that I’ve been holding in my hand the entire time; yet I’ve been completely unprepared for earrings suddenly to start falling out of my ears, or that I’m being hit by cars all of the time, despite a lifetime of successful street crossing), but something else before even that, many years ago, when I went to New York for the weekend to visit Naopi. Which, I was a little unsure I should bring up, but then I remembered that I was hit by a car, so I get to do pretty much whatever I want for the next couple of weeks, and if that presents a problem for you, well, as someone may or may not have once famously said, just close your eyes and think of England and it will be over soon enough.

This was on the first night of this particular visit to New York, and of this particular trip I remember only this : that, as we exited the 6 train at 96th Street (I think; it might have been one of the stops in the 100s), I carelessly rolled my suitcase over the foot of a fellow train passenger, a gentleman who likely was of African heritage. Looking him directly in the face, I said “Oh, my god, I am so sorry,” all the while still making my way toward the doors, lest I miss my stop.

As I joined Naopi on the platform, she turned to me and asked “Are you scared?”

Baffled by the non-sequitorial nature of the question, I asked in returned “Of what? Why would I be scared?”

“You just sounded sincere.”

At the time, I was under the impression that this was exactly the sort of normal exchange that passed between friends, and so  I responded as though I should actually have to explain that, explaining that I was actually sincere : “My suitcase rolled over his foot; that might have hurt. Of course I was sincere.” And though I’ve had plenty of time in the intervening years to ponder on how unpleasant an interaction that actually was, it was not how heinous a bitch some people can be that I thought of after being hit by the car, but my own insistence that sincerity was the only possible response to injuring a stranger.

The first time I was hit by a car  served only to reinforce this belief. While I was initially prepared to unleash wrath on this first driver to knock into me, she was clearly so, so upset by what had happened that I spent our entire interaction not only assuring her that I was fine, but trying to calm her down. After all, she had seen me, she was prepared to let me across the street, and then, unexpectedly her foot slipped off the brake. Because she had begun braking in advance, it was only very slowly that her car rolled into me, and, though startling, in reality the impact it was only a light tap on the leg; a light tap from a thousand-pound vehicle, but a light tap nevertheless.

The second accident, though, that was different. Because the driver didn’t see me in advance. Stopped at a stop sign, he was in position to see me step into the crosswalk, as is my inviolate right as a pedestrian; I, in fact, saw him stopped at the sign, and then, albeit too late, accelerating into his left turn, unaware that he was heading into me. And though it all happened very quickly, I had the time to think “Oh, this is my death; not atop a log flume, but here, in this intersection : that car kills me. That was so fast,” before some instinct took over and I made an effort to turn away from the car, to curl up into a ball to protect myself, as though a car plowing into my back will do less damage than if it plowed into my front, but it was too late. The grill of the car slammed into my chest – probably the most padded and well-protected area of my body – and it hurt much more than the previous accident or even the incident with the shopping cart, and for some reason I was facing down at the street and all I could think was “Don’t fall down; don’t hit your head; as long as you don’t hit your head you’ll be fine.”

In retrospect, I am aware that the reason I am actually fine is not because of my hasty self-assurance that I would be, but because the driver did eventually see me and so pressed down hard on the brakes in the hope that he wouldn’t hit me, ideally at all, but had to settle for not that hard. Even at the time I was aware of this in the back of my mind, that my not being dead or even obviously injured was to the credit of the very same driver who seconds before had posed such a serious threat. Yet, interestingly enough, one emotion you don’t feel, among all of the adrenaline and fear and horror, is gratitude, gratitude for the person who came so close to killing you. So, when I straightened up and looked right into the face of the driver who very nearly triggered Oola’s vengeance protocol, and was treated only to a half-hearted wave and a mouthed “sorry,” the very same duo of gestures I would get the following morning from a woman who didn’t stop for me even though I was in the crosswalk, yet didn’t hit me with her car, I was furious. And so began the shrieking.

A very kind misperception under which my friends seem all to operate is that I remain calm and cool in harrowing situations. This is not generally the case; if there are other people around who are freaking out, I can be calm. However, if hysteria is called for and no one else is present, I will step forward and fill that void. So when I say I was shrieking, believe that I was shrieking like an inebriated maenad, one drunk on anger, with all the wild gesticulations and flecks of spittle that entails.

“‘Sorry’? You drove your car into me and all you can say is ‘sorry’?”

I find it very interesting that both times I was hit by a car, this is the sentence I constructed : you drove your car into me. Obviously an accident, but still a deliberate action on the part of the driver; right from the outset, I am all about assigning blame. Yet, in the first incident, I had no need to deliver this judgement, as the driver acknowledged immediately that it was her error and went so far above and beyond “sorry” that I felt a little bad about the fact that I inadvertantly had probably ruined the rest of her day. Although it will probably never happen, I like to think that if she and I met under other circumstances, we’d be friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

Additionally, while the first driver did explain that her foot slipping off the brake accounted for the impact, she did so in  the form of an apology and an acceptance of responsibility. Not so the second driver, who explained that he had been focused on the oncoming traffic, looking in the other direction in order to make sure it was safe for him to turn in so defensive and unapologetic a tone as to suggest that of course he couldn’t have been looking where he was going, that any driver in the same position would have done the same thing, and the only reasonable course of action in that situation had been to hit me with his car.

I, obviously, was not having it. “You didn’t see me? You didn’t see me? I was standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” I was aware that the driver’s son was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, and I wanted to be rational for the sake of the child, but I failed. That child, incidentally, may one day grow up to be the greatest poker player in the world, as his face revealed only a very careful expression of neutrality; I can only hope one day that I exhibit the same composure of that small child.

The driver, however, was not neutral, and not in the mood to continue the conversation. Now that I had moved to the side of the car (the better to continue yelling at him), he completed his left turn unobstructed, and drove off, calling behind him “I said ‘sorry’! What more do you expect?”

This, finally, is what made me think of that long-ago trip to New York. Where rolling a likely half-empty suitcase over the foot of a stranger had triggered a very genuine concern on my part for the well-being of that stranger (that I had a suitcase at all for a 2-night stay is another something I think too much about in retrospect; I’d tried to pack a small bag, like Naopi who traveled light, who went without toiletries, who wore the same underthings for days; yet my small bags always were too heavy when filled with a weekend’s worth of things; I’d had to borrow my roommate’s suitcase), for this man, crashing his thousand-pound vehicle into someone was not an occasion even to utter a full sentence : in his mind, that soundless ‘sorry’ met fully his obligation in our interaction.

“I’m sorry,” was what I wanted to hear; not an effort to cover his own ass, but an expression of concern for the damage he might have done to a fellow human being; that he recognized not necessarily his error, but that my existence has a value and that he endangered it.

I stayed in my house that night, eating junk food (which I had just bought from the store; had I not stopped for it on the way home, I wouldn’t have been hit by the car; just another of the myriad ways that junk food is killing you) and lying on the couch with Oola. The next morning I considered the benefits to staying home from work; after all, even if I hadn’t been injured, I had been hit by a car, and that seemed like a pretty solid excuse. Ultimately, though, I chose to go into work for two reasons: 1.)because I had a lunch meeting that day was getting free Pad Thai; but more importantly, 2.) because the longer I stayed in the house, and I wouldn’t have left the house that day, the longer that accident would be my last contact with people. It may – again – come as some surprise, but shrieking at a stranger who has carelessly driven his truck into you is a pretty negative interaction to have; to have that be the last thing that happened to me was unacceptable.

As I left the house in what was still an understandably foul mood, I thought “Well, just so long as nothing annoying happens today, I’ll be fine.” It seemed like an absurd thing to think, as what is annoying is most often determined by the annoyee, and I am one of the most easily annoyed people I’ve ever met, and I smiled at the unlikelihood that I would get through an entire day without encountering even a minor annoyance. But I did. In fact, I even had several pleasant interactions with strangers, and have done so almost every day since then. I hate to think that I owe something to that d-bag who hit me, but getting to do whatever I want can really improve a girl’s mood.

Thursday night I performed the annual Breaking of the Coffeepot While Doing Dishes, a tradition begun unexpectedly last year at this time when the delightful 1-cup French Press I had been using decided it could no longer bear the strain of daily washing and shattered just as I had delicately jammed my hand inside it. Though this week’s reoccurrance was just as unexpected as the inaugural event, the ceremony itself has been upgraded somewhat in the past year; one improvement was in the size of the sacrificial vessel – this time around, it was a six-cup French Press that broke. But the greatest breakthrough came through the deploying of implements : after last year’s Grand Shattering, I invested in a bottle brush; thus, though glass still broke, this year at least, my hands were in the clear and no blood flowed.

Probably the only thing stranger than breaking a coffeepot exactly one year after having broken your previous coffeepot is noticing that it’s been exactly one year since the last time your coffeepot broke in your hands, but my circumstances at this time last year were quite reduced from what they are today. I was, on the eve of the Boston Book Festival, well into my fourth month of unemployment, and what had seemed like such fun during the summer was becoming bleak indeed the further it stretched into fall. While I was excited to see one Miss Myla Goldberg the following day at the BBF, it was more and more difficult each day to follow the rules of unemployment I had set up when I’d been unemployed for a brief 6 weeks the previous summer, the very first of which was Make Sure You Leave the House Every Day. While I was unhappy to be learning that sometimes, there is no joy in Pajama Day, once my hand went through the French Press, all of my concerns became focused on one bright and suddenly relevant problem : I had no health insurance.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did, in fact, have health insurance; I just didn’t know it yet. I hadn’t wanted to apply for the state health insurance when I first became unemployed, but as the months went on and I realized that, somehow, despite my positive outlook, unflagging belief in my own excellence, and disdain for the news, I was actually being affected by the recession and the poor job market; the public option was looking more and more like my only option, so in early September I broke down and applied. My application had been approved, but since the wheels of bureaucracy turn sloooowly, I wouldn’t find that out for several weeks. In a lovely bit of irony, I actually got the letter informing me of my approved status, retroactive to the date I’d applied, two days before receiving the offer for the job I have now.

I didn’t know that at the time, though, so as I stood over the kitchen sink watching the blood from my slashed hand run down the drain, I pondered : Should I be running my hand under hot water, or cold? Should I be elevating my hand above my head? What is the best way to dispose of all this broken glass? Should I get stitches? and decided on the following:

  • cold
  • eventually
  • wipe it up with a damp paper towel, put the paper towel in a paper bag, and put the bag in the trash
  • probably, but no.

It was not just financial considerations that influenced that final decision. Many, many, many years before, around the time I was in the second grade, I cut myself with a serrated knife. It was a cheese knife, to be specific, and instead of slicing through the fancy cheese my mother had set out on the good cheeseboard to serve as an appetizer at the dinner party she was hosting that night, I sliced right across the knuckle of the index finger on my left hand.

I know there was blood – possibly spilling over onto the crudites – and definitely crying, but what I remember most is the immediate aftermath of the event : my mother having hustled me upstairs with an unaccustomed quickness; the two us stood in front of the sink in her bathroom, holding my hand under cold water, and her saying “You’re lucky; most parents would take their kids to get stitches.”

One very fascinating thing about being a child is that it often takes children a long time to discover when something is off. Especially within their own family; for a long time, their family is the only family they know, and so they assume that everything that happens inside their family is happening to every other family in the world, and, since it’s normal, there’s no need to really take note of or be alarmed by any of it. As that child grows, however, they inevitably discover that some things about their family don’t quite jibe with other families. These discoveries can be innocuous – not every family has a housekeeper, for example – or they can be slightly more unsettling – not every family has a housekeeper who got fired because their mother was convinced the housekeeper stole the cat’s blood for use in Korean voodoo ceremonies, as another example.

This, however – the idea that I was somehow fortunate not to be getting medical attention that others would consider routine – immediately struck me as abnormal. I may have said as much at the time, but it’s much more likely that I just went on crying, as I have no recollection of an explanation from my mom. Probably she was equally influenced by the dinner party she couldn’t abandon, the crazy that is her nature, and the precept of all doctor’s that their children do not get sick*.

It turns out that, in the long run, she was right – I was lucky. Because, 30-odd years later, as I stood in a very similar position, this time in front of my own sink, I knew that while most people in this situation would get stitches, I didn’t have to. I did not have to worry about the possibility of bleeding to death, or any other undesirable outcome; I knew first hand if all I needed were stitches, I would survive without them. And so, after I got bored with the cold water, I wrapped my hand in a paper towel and kept it resting on the elevated back of the couch while I watched tv. At the book fair the following day, between the morning event with Steven Almond and the afternoon event with Miss Goldberg, I scouted around Copley Square for the best possible bandage (which, in retrospect, would have been the butterfly bandages) and considered myself lucky to be out on a chill fall day, keeping my hand from bleeding all over famous authors, rather than waiting in an emergency room for unnecessary stitches.

This year, however, though I was sorry to have to work through the Boston Book Fair, when my coffee pot shattered, I learned that, health insurance or no, real luck is not not needing stitches, but not cutting yourself in the first place.

 

*I have twice in my life gotten stitches, and once, my mom took them out in the living room in the morning before I went to school. So, yeah – I don’t like to get stitches.


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