I ran up the stairs screaming in the way that only a 5 year old with a dart bouncing in the middle of her forehead can scream. I was searching for my mother. Who else would you seek in such circumstances? I was not about to allow my brother to remove the dart. I was 5 and my brother was 16. I would like to blame him entirely for my injury, but it was probably unwise to be running in front of the dartboard while he was throwing darts. On the other hand, being 5, my head was well beneath the dartboard, which suggests he was either horrible at darts or trying to kill me. My mother reacted with her usual loving concern.
"What in the hell have you done to yourself?" She yelled.
My mother was not good at with dealing with injuries. When one of her children got injured she was compelled to shout angry questions and accusations at us as if we had deliberately done this to ruin her life. She claims that these were organic responses out of fear, but when you're bleeding in pain this is of no comfort. My sister was hit in the face with a softball once, and when she came running into the house with her nose bleeding like a garden hose my mother promptly took over.
"Get off of the kitchen floor, I just mopped! Oh my God stop bleeding all over the place! What is the matter with you?"
Presumably these were not real questions, but rather rhetorical in nature. It was my mother's fear raging with love to deny anything bad could ever happen to us. Sometimes love is strangely costumed and unrecognizable.
I raced down the hall with the dart bouncing in my head and found my mother in the kitchen. Her face was awash in outrage at the sight of the dart in the middle of my forehead.
"How did this happen?" She snapped as she held my head in place and extracted the dart. It's hard to know how to answer such a question so I opted for silence swallowing all of my pain physical and otherwise.
The dart apparently didn't go deep enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room so my mother just dotted the wound with iodine making me look as if I was mocking Indian culture with a sad representation of a bindi.
"Go lie down and keep still," she commanded kissing me and hugging me tighter than necessary. I was being given my mother's version of a time out to keep me from procuring anymore irritating injuries.
Injuries abound in large families and we were an extended family with cousins coming and going. Cousin was a loosely defined word for a relationship that did not require genetics to presume kin. I was the youngest of four children with a large expanse of years between myself and my older siblings. It's amazing that any of us survived.
Some injuries were accidents born of sheer dumb luck, others were a shocking commentary on decision making that suggested IQs fell well beneath the national average, and some were acts of torture that children inflict upon one another for entertainment, power, and boredom. Toughness was a badge of honor. So we hardened ourselves and rarely complained and carried our toughness into adulthood.
In our family there seemed to be no room for fragility or hurt. We were taught to swallow our tears, silence our pain, and rise above our injuries; perhaps because there were just so many that the shear volume would have taken too much time and interfered with the daily struggles of life. I'm quite sure my single over worked mother did not consciously construct a plan to make her children hard. It was merely an accident of her own history of pain and muscle memory that she stumbled upon this way of parenting.
In college I dislocated my shoulder. I was going through a fast food drive through and as I reached into the back seat to grab my purse to pay, my overly flexible shoulder popped out of its socket. The pain shot through my body like electricity.
The person at the window told me to put my car in park while he called 911. I insisted on driving myself to the urgent care a few miles away. My arm seemed stuck to my body as my body worked to keep my shoulder in its socket. I didn't want an ambulance to come so I drove myself to Urgent Care struggling to avoid passing out from the muscles contracting like a giant heart beat thudding in anger. When I arrived at Urgent Care, they asked me who had brought me and I had to explain that I drove myself. My self-reliance was larger than my pain or ability reason.
Intolerance to injury had become a family tradition. I passed it down to my children like some families pass down a favorite recipe or a song or piece of jewelry.
When I had my own children I did not yell when they were injured. Instead every time they fell or injured themselves I would pick them up and say, "You're alright, you're ok." I didn't yell, but I gently commanded them not to hurt.
As they grew a little older I noticed that no matter how hard my older son Jackson fell or how badly he got hurt, he would always say, "I'm ok, Mommy, I'm ok."
One day on a bike ride with Jackson, he skidded down a concrete embankment and split his knee open. I kneeled down next to him as he practically smiled to let me know that it wasn't serious.
"I'm ok, I'm ok, Mommy. It's just the skin." It was a familiar mantra, a promise spoken through a tightened jaw and short hot breaths.
I sat beside him and saw the flesh of his brown knee opened like a flower bursting with blood and white fatty tissue. He didn't cry. Not a tear. He repeated his promise. "I'm ok, I'm ok."
"Jackson, are you sure you can get home?"
"I can do it. It's not that bad."
We cycled slowly as blood ran down his leg soaking his socks; anxiety crept into my extremities causing my fingers to tingle. A young family moved towards us with their two young children, Jackson got off his bike quickly and turned away from them.
"What are you doing, sweetie? Are you ok?"
"I just didn't want to scare the little kids because all of the blood."
I sucked in the air and inhaled the moment filled with particles of aching love and overwhelming fragility. We biked another mile before Jackson stopped and started crying and vomiting. He couldn't make it the last quarter mile home. I called a friend to come and get us.
I held my son while he cried softly into my chest. I could not hold him tight enough or love him hard enough in that moment. I wanted him to feel safe to hurt and to hurt without shame or apology.
The absence of flesh did not allow for stitches. The urgent care doctor gave me instructions on caring for his wound. As nurses flooded my son's wound with water and an antibacterial to prevent infection, he clenched his jaw and looked at me. "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm ok." His stoicism was too stern and big for his small frame.
I stepped into the hall in search of air and a place to ballast myself. The hall became dark and I started to shrink. I leaned against the wall to keep from passing out. It was not the wound on his knee that took my breath away.
I spent Jackson's younger years picking him up and telling him that he was ok. My words crawled up inside of him and found their way into his being; they became his truth even when it belied reality. When he is hurt or weak or sick he tells me that he's ok. He has decided this is his job. I didn't know now how to fix this thing.
Years have passed since our bike ride and I see that this toughness I have passed on to my son is part burden, part gift. To be independent and not to desperately need is good. To deny yourself the comfort of others comes at a price to yourself and those who love you. Like my mother I selfishly wanted my children to never hurt to protect my own heart never realizing that they had a right to their own pain and their job was not to deny it for my own comfort. I don't know how it is that the biggest, deepest, wild love I have for my children can be so messy and complicated but humans are like that at least this human is like that.
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