A stitch in time and a couple in my kidBy ELIZABETH QUINN,
Our Christmas break involved lots of food, family, and three stitches in the face. All children present for ‘the incident’ agree that it was, in fact, an accident but somehow daughter #2 walked into a metal-tipped pole that daughter #3 was swinging at the fence. I’m not totally clear on why she was hitting the backyard fence with a broken piece of the trampoline—it originally held up the safety nets on the trampoline, oh the irony—but she was not trying to hit her sister and that’s what I am focusing on.
Or it’s what I am focusing on now that the bleeding has stopped and the stitches have dissolved, because the gaping wound right between my child’s eyes was the main focus there for a while. I first learned that head and face wounds bleed a lot when I was hit in the face with a shovel in kindergarten.
My injury was sustained in the course of digging a hole by the pond near my childhood home. My friend across the street was digging a hole and I made him let me ‘help.’ He was shoveling a scoop of dirt out as I leaned in and the shovel blade and the bridge of my nose became acquainted. It’s interesting what you remember, or don’t, about childhood events when looking back as an adult. I remember wondering why my friend sprinted away all of the sudden, but I don’t remember it hurting. It didn’t break my nose, but still—you’d think I would remember some pain.
The first I realized something was wrong was when I heard my friend yelling to his dad that I was hurt; then I saw the blood. I do recall the worry on his dad’s face as he was racing down the hill from their house. It wasn’t panic—he’s a pilot and way too cool under pressure to let me know how bad it was. But it was a lot of blood and he was running towards me very fast. I remember his dad was wearing a yellow t-shirt. His shirt was pretty snug (this was the 80s after all) but he pulled the bottom of it up to press against my nose and it was too thin to do much and was drenched in seconds.
The next thing I remember is sitting on the kitchen counter at my house while my mom paced the length of the wall phone cord telling someone, ‘She’s going to have to have stitches, for sure…right across the bridge of her nose, I don’t know if it’s broken.’ That’s when I remember becoming scared. My mom kept telling me it was going to be okay and to hold the ice on it. I remember not believing her. I could tell she was scared by how quickly her fingers twisted and untwisted the spiral phone cord and then there were the bloody dish cloths littering the kitchen. It must have looked like a crime scene when we came home later.
I remember being at a hospital and my dad pointing out a blue backboard with Velcro straps on it. He told me that the nurses had to strap me down on something like that when I needed stitches as a one-year-old. My dad must have told me then, but I don’t remember what I needed those stitches for as a baby. I only remember thinking that I was going to be very, very still this time so they didn’t have to strap me down because that thing looked awful. They didn’t have to use the blue board, I don’t remember the stitches hurting either, and I got to ride in the front seat the next morning in carpool even though it should have been someone else’s turn because it was the dad with the ruined yellow shirt driving that day. I remember thinking I was pretty special—but can’t recall a thing about the pain.
Recently, I heard a great quote about memory on a podcast I listen to. Author, John Green, produces the podcast, ‘The Anthropocene Reviewed,’ and it pokes fun at how we live in a Yelp review kind of world these days. People don’t try a new restaurant without checking the reviews first, anyone can air their grievances over poor service in online reviews, and it can feel like everything in our lives is ranked on a five-star system. As a way of mocking this, Green reviews the most random things like Piggly Wiggly grocery stores and the penny. Or ancient cave paintings in France and the Taco Bell breakfast menu.
One of my favorites was the episode where he reviewed Kentucky Bluegrass (the strain of grass, not the music) and Googling strangers, meaning the act of typing in the names of people on Google to find out more about them for some reason or another. But because he is John Green, author of such beautiful works as ‘The Fault in our Stars,’ his reviews end up having very little to do with what you think they will, cover some poignant piece of human existence today, and the next thing you know—you’re crying.
It’s great, everyone should check it out. Listening to John Green read his own words feels like settling in by a fire for a story you know you’ll like before it’s even begun. His quote about memory that I liked is this: “Memory is not so much a camera as a filter. The particulates it holds onto are nothing compared to what leaks through.”
It’s a little depressing to consider that even our richest memories will pale in comparison to the depth of the actual event we are remembering—that no matter how hard we try, we will only get to live each moment of our lives once. Our memories can’t possibly capture all the richness of our lives like replicas on the shelf for us to take down and re-live whenever we please. But the flip side is that maybe this deficiency acts in our defense sometimes, as well.
None of my memories from the shovel incident involve pain. They involve the people who were helping me, getting to ride shotgun in carpool, and just enough fear that I have never let my face get close to a shovel blade again. My memory hasn’t filtered out all of the bad or scary stuff from that experience, but it has let enough of the worst details fall away so that it’s just a childhood memory to share with my kids when they need stitches.
I hope my daughter’s memory holds on to how tender her friends were as they helped her across the yard. I’m not sure she even noticed this, but I won’t forget that I wasn’t wearing pants when I ran to her because I had just taken them off to put in the washing machine when her perpetrator-sister came into the laundry room screaming about blood.
I hope she remembers how quickly so many people jumped into action to help us, and how friends of friends made calls and texts to help people they didn’t even know. I would rather her remember that Dr. Blackledge came back to his office at 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to stitch her up than the fact that my husband had to hose her blood off the patio later that night. I don’t know if she will remember asking me to hold her hand as we drove there, but I remember reaching into the back seat with my right hand and hoping I didn’t have a wreck trying to drive with just my left.
I hope she remembers Mrs. Jamie wiping the dried blood off her face as she told her how pretty she is, but she’ll never remember the numbing shot Dr. Blackledge gave her as he distracted her with question after question. With luck, she’ll remember the taste of the Reese’s peanut butter cup he gave her afterwards for being so brave more than how scared she was when it happened.
I’ll never forget how she started shaking from relief when we got in the car to go home. Her teeth were chattering and her fingers trembling so much that I had to open the candy for her. She got really chatty and smiley—euphoric that the whole thing was over and she’d made it through. Helpful friends, sweet chocolate, and giddy relief. Maybe those are the things her memory will capture from this whole experience.
A couple things I’ll take away from it are that 30 years ago, kindergarteners got to play with shovels and ride shotgun. Nowadays, we’re so evolved about safety that I made my terrified third grader ride in the back seat on the way to get stitches and yet—kids are still finding ways to get whacked in the face.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.