A Tale of Two Scars
When I was in elementary school, every day my class went through the same routine. We started with some light warm ups – leg stretches, jumping jacks, and the like. Then, phase two – a lap around what we unimaginatively called “The Big Field,” aka the bigger of the two playgrounds on school grounds. Finally, we played whatever sport our P.E. coach had planned for us.
It was around this time that the only bully I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with made my school days a constant torment. Even worse, this bully was a she – Lina Hill. Lina sat beside me in class and hated me from the moment she first laid eyes on me. Every day was filled with ridicule and random, verbally abusive outbursts about how dumb I was. Lina was my nemesis. Having been raised by my mother alone, I was taught to respect women, no matter what. So, I never fought in any way. I just took her punishment over and over again. The bullying got so bad that by the mid-way point of the year I was regularly feigning illnesses just so I wouldn’t have to show up to class and sit next to her. Some days it worked; most days it failed.
One day, during P.E., our class did our warm ups and the coach gave us the hand single that acted as our starting pistol – an almost dismissive fling of the finger to nowhere in particular. It was time to run. My elementary school was located on the corner of a busy intersection. The only thing that separated school grounds and an always busy street was a large chain linked fence. Next was a small strip of grass, which abruptly transitioned in to the black concrete of the basketball court. With the coach’s hand gesture, we were off to the races, each of us dying to complete the arduous lap so we could get to the meat of P.E., the sport of the day. (It was probably kickball. It was almost always kickball). I’ve never been to Pamplona, but I’m willing to bet all of what little money I have that my elementary school class running that lap was just as, if not more, intense than the running of the bulls – especially for the first few, chaotic moments. We huddled together in a large, amorphous mass, like helicopter footage of cyclists forming a peloton. Everyone jockeyed for prime position to achieve the glory of making it back to the basketball court first. After only a few steps, a classmate accidentally clipped the back of my shoe and I tumbled to the ground, rolling like Schwarzenegger in T2 after the tanker he’s riding slams to a halt in the refinery. When I opened my eyes, I found I was on my back, staring up at the sun which was partially blocked by my friends. I immediately noticed I was bleeding profusely from the right elbow and knee. Classmates lifted me off the ground, and within ten minutes I was patched up. I was a wreck, but I got a day off from P.E. for my troubles. But that’s not all I was rewarded with.
Lina and her friends were notorious P.E. deniers. While the rest of us played our games, she and her gang of female ruffians relaxed in the shade, exchanging gossip, making fun of the rest of us, and occasionally acting like cheerleaders for the most athletic (and most popular) kids on the playground. Due to my injury, I had to take it easy for the rest of the day – Coach’s orders. So, I sat with Lina and her friends. I was scared, at first. After all, she was my nemesis. In a couple short decades we would do battle atop a mountain as lightning clashed and the balance of good and evil on earth was at stake…or so I had hyped our rivalry in my head. I sat down on a double sided metal bench under a pavilion; on the other side, Lina and her gang. After a couple of minutes, Lina swung around and asked me if I was okay. Then, the rest of her gang inquired as well. It was a weird feeling, suddenly being the center of Lina’s attention, but they were all genuinely concerned and…oddly comforting. Lina was being nice to me! Instead of her usual grimace, she was smiling. It wasn’t long before Lina and her friends were attempting to braid the flowing blonde locks of hair I had cut in to a horrendous mushroom. The girls laughed and chatted as I became their Barbie for the day.
Lina and I never dated or got married or anything like that. This isn’t that kind of story. But every day after that, things weren’t so bad with Lina. In fact, years later, in high school, she came to my aid on a couple of occasions during an earth science class when a friend of mine with bully tendencies had his bullying efforts shot down gloriously by Lina’s temper and big mouth – a mouth that was legendary for firing off some rather imaginative profanity.
For the years to come after my P.E. tumble, I had a strange scar on my elbow, coupled with an even stranger bump. If I rested my weight on my right arm, the bump would push the scar in a way that made it look like I had a superfluous belly button on my arm. It’s not the best thing to have when you’re a self-conscious teen. Every time I paid my pediatrician a visit, my mom made a point to tell the doc about the bump. He’d examine it for a second, squinting his eyes, pretending like he knew what he was talking about; giving the ball a touch to further drive home the point. “It’s just a calcium build-up,” he would always say. “It’ll go away over time.” My mom never believed him.
Fast forward to middle school, seventh grade. The 6th period bell rang and I was late after having another annoying bout with my memory over the numbers that made up my locker combination. Luckily, my locker was only a few feet away from the door to my next class, so I wasn’t sweating it much. Unluckily, our lockers were about a foot and a quarter wide and tall – no doubt a cost cutting measure implemented to jam as many lockers in to a small amount of space as possible. As a result, our lockers weren’t like the ones in Bayside High. We didn’t have a full body locker. We had little metal cubes, some of which were anywhere between 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Mine was one such high locker. With my right hand I spun the dial of my lock, trying to get the white slit right on the mark, when a tall kid with apparently all of his worldly possessions in his book bag crashed in to my right arm, book bag first. I doubled over in pain as I felt a sudden sting. I retreated away from the class and in to the boy’s room. I grabbed a fistful of brown paper towels and dabbed some specks of blood from my forearm. Every time I dabbed the blood away, more blood would rise. It didn’t stop. I wasn’t bleeding buckets, but it worried me. I soldiered through the rest of the day until my mom came home at around six in the evening. I told my mom about the blood and she gave my arm a look-over. It was then that we discovered that the ball in my elbow wasn’t a ball anymore. It was still lumpy, but not it had a sharp point protruding from the top, poking itself out of my flesh. We were going to stop by the pediatrician’s office in the morning before school so he can have a look.
And look he did. For years this guy had been telling me this ball in my forearm was calcium; that after my roll on the basketball court my wound had never healed properly. This guy took one look at my elbow and said the most terrifying words I had ever heard up to that point: “Oh, yeah. There’s definitely something in there.” He walked out of the examination room and my mom turned to me with a slight hint of fear on her face. I say slight because the emotion that mostly dominated her face was self-satisfied mom-pride. “I knew it,” she whispered to me as the doctor left.
He came back with a small grey box that had some thin metal wires coming out of it that connected to a thin metal rod which looked like a dentist’s water pick. He twisted some dials on the grey box and then injected my elbow area with a local anesthetic. He picked up the metal rod and said something to the effect of “Don’t look at what I’m going to do.” I looked away, but the smell was worse than if I had been staring at it. Burnt hair and seared flesh is what I smelled. I couldn’t hold back my curiosity anymore, so I looked and I saw my skin being melted away in a perfect little circle. I was raised in a family of smokers, so I immediately thought of a cigarette burn on the fabric of a La-Z-Boy. I turned bone white. I wanted to pass out. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to do a lot of things, but when you’re a weak middle schooler and a fully grown adult male is burning a hole in you, there isn’t much you can do. I couldn’t feel anything in my arm, which was good, because if I could I would have felt the torment of the next phase of this impromptu operation – the tweezers. The doc had plunged a set of tweezers in to my elbow and I was certain I was going to hurl straight in to the hole he had just burned in to my arm. He fished around for a few seconds before finally sliding the tweezers back out. What he pulled out left his, my, and my mom’s mouth, hanging open – an inch-and-a-half long chunk of glass. Our best guess is that when I took my tumble on the playground four years prior, a piece of broken glass – maybe from a beer bottle tossed by a passing driver, or maybe from a car accident along the busy road – had stabbed its way in to me and had been living in my elbow ever since, only coaxed to the surface by the biggest, heaviest goddamn book bag in the world.
Today, I’m left with two scars on my right elbow (well, three; the third scar is a different, much less interesting story) – the first, the superfluous belly button, now about 3 ½ inches from my elbow; and the second, the cigarette burn the doc seared in to me to fish out the glass.