Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Year* of Living Dangerously

I went to kindergarten in El Paso, Texas. We moved there a week or so before the start of school and my first memory of Texas is of being bitten on my big toe by a fire ant while taking our garbage to the dumpster at the motel where we were staying while waiting for our house to be ready. Not an auspicious beginning, but as it turns out, certainly a portentous one.

During the brief time that we lived in Texas, I was rushed to the emergency room five times. I became something of a frequent flyer, much to my mother's distress.

First, I was at a friend's house sitting on the broad brick railing of her porch, along with a bunch of other kids. I don't remember how exactly it happened, but I slid backwards over the edge and hit the back of my head on the sidewalk six feet below. There was blood--a dramatic amount--gushing enough to coat the top half of the back of my T-shirt in the minute or two it took one of the older girls to walk me home. At the emergency room, the split in my scalp turned out to be superficial so I was cleaned up and sent on my way. My mother had been given a list of signs of concussion to watch out for and, for several hours, watched me with a level of maternal paranoia bordering on hysteria. (Having been on the maternal end of that paranoia now, I have much more empathy for my poor mother.)

Next, I was sitting backwards in a chair at our dining room table while waiting for my mother to bring me my lunch. I did not do well with boredom even then and was occupying myself by pretending to be a typewriter carriage1--lightly biting the top of the chair back from left to right and then "ding!" and slide back to the left and start again. (Even then, my amusements were at least tangentially word-based.) Midway through a line, the chair came completely apart, and I landed on the floor, catching the back of my head on one of the exposed nails from the chair's innards. This time, there was very little blood. I remember that there were three drops of blood on the dining room floor and that the cut on my head required one stitch for each drop of blood.

The same week, I was allowed to go out to play, and the stitches sticking up out of the shaved patch on the back of my head made me an instant celebrity in the neighborhood. There was much ooohing and aaahing and I was riding around in someone's red wagon as part of some impromptu parade. There was a kid walking behind us using a curtain rod as a makeshift baton and somehow the unfinished end of the curtain rod rammed me in the back of the head, pulling loose the stitches. So it was back to the emergency room with me.

Some time later, Little Sister and I were playing in our yard with some neighborhood kids when the subject of which one of us was faster came up. It was determined that we would race around the house and the first person to touch the bush in front where we'd started would be declared the winner. We stood back to back, someone shouted "Go!" and we went. When we passed one another in the back, it was clear that the race was going to be ridiculously close. Coming around opposite ends toward the front of the house, we were both so intent on being the first to touch the bush that we crashed into each other at full speed. Her forehead slammed into my eye causing immediate swelling and discoloration on both her forehead and my eye. Concerned for my vision, my mother took me to the emergency room where we were essentially told to keep a (non-swollen) eye on it and come back if there were vision issues when the swelling went down.

Finally, shortly before we moved from Texas to Colorado, we were at a park with some family friends. The twelve-year-old brother of a friend of mine was walking across the top of the horizontal ladder, a feat which so impressed me that I did not let the fact that I was half his size and less than half his age dissuade me from attempting it myself. In my memory, I made it about halfway across before slipping down between the bars and landing on the ground with a thoroughly dislocated elbow.

At the emergency room, while my elbow was put back where it belonged, a nurse apparently took my mother aside and told her they noticed that this was my fifth visit in recent months. This nurse told my mother in an accusatory tone that if they saw me there again, they would call the authorities, clearly implying that they suspected abuse. I've wondered about the logic of that threat off and on over the years. If the nurse truly suspected abuse, wouldn't the time to call the authorities have been right then? 

Fortunately, there wasn't any abuse going on. Although, looking back, I can see how a case could be made that I was at least attempting to abuse the laws of physics and most certainly abusing my poor mother's patience and sanity.

*Made all the sadder by the fact that, to my recollection, we actually only lived in Texas for nine months.

1. In much the same way that I have come to accept the fact that the "oldies" station in town is now regularly playing songs from when I was in high school, I also begrudgingly accept that not everyone will understand what a typewriter carriage is (or was) without a visual aid. Here, the best example I could find.


  1. Wow! Although, the typewriter bit reminded me of doing the same thing with the headboard of my bunk bed....that did mean that "my" part of the bunk was always discernible in all of our moves!

  2. Holy crapanoly! As I was reading, I was wondering when your poor mom would be interviewed by the police. Was she prematurely gray before you headed to Colorado?

  3. I hope you've outgrown that ER phase :). And I know what a typewriter carriage is - and I laughed out loud when I read that part

  4. Cute and uh, sad. Did you get all the ER visits out of your system in Texas then?

  5. I remember taking my then 4 year old son to the doctor for yet another round of stitches - he had crashed his bike into another child's bike. The only way we knew there was a problem was that the neighbor called and said, hey, Sonny Boy;s head is bleeding all over the place. Yup, the kid just kept on playing.
    But, the thing is I was fearful that the family doctor would think there were bad things going on - especially if he noticed all the bruises and scratches on Sonny Boy's short pant legs. I made a point of showing the bruises and saying, look I don't want you to think I am abusing him. The doctor's response was classic: hey Sonny Boy is an active and very physical kid. I might thing you were over protective if he DIDN'T have bruises. The bruises and the stitches (I think this was his third or fourth visit for stitches) tell me he is a kid who is allowed to play and explore. As Sonny Boy grew up, he always chose the physically active pursuits and learned from his ways!

  6. It's usually about a year that we can go between ER visits. Thing is, we usually have 2-4 of them in a 2-4 month period. Speaking of which, Crap! It's been about a year.

  7. Hahaha! Oh my. I laughed at the typewriter bit.
    I have great respect for your mother.

  8. This sounds so much like my own childhood! I had a typewriter growing up, and Ian got me a used one recently. Once the renovations are complete I intend to set it up in my office and do some 'real' writing:)

  9. Goodness, Masked Mom! You knew how to have fun, even as a child! Thanks for the giggle at your brave girl antics.

  10. Wow! It's a wonder you ever made it out of Texas. I wasn't sure if I wanted to laugh or be horrified. Your poor mother.