March 31, 2011

Giving the finger

Easter Sunday, 1988. My 11th birthday just days away, I spent the afternoon at my dad’s apartment, high on Easter basket bounty, flouncing around in a brand new dress. It was striped in orange, yellow, pink and white with a cool little knit belt that tied in a bow over my hip.

Feeling especially pretty and energetic (I’m sure an overdose of jelly beans helped), I grabbed a basketball and ran out to the court to “shoot some hoops”. Of course, as a completely athletically-challenged child, this meant I bounced the ball around cheerfully with no actual baskets. I spent more time chasing it then I did actually throwing it.

Eventually the lure of jelly beans and peeps pulled me away and I headed back inside. The basketball was tucked under my left arm so I reached to pull the door closed with my right hand, wrapping my fingers around the side of the door instead of grabbing the knob.

It was a heavy door and fell closed faster than I could pull out my hand, catching my finger between it and the door frame. I felt a shooting pain straight up to my shoulder and, gasping “ow, ow, OW!”, I dropped the ball and pulled my hand tight to my belly. A few moments later I looked down and, instead of the swollen bruise I expected, I found my hand covered in blood and my brand new dress soaked in a spreading dark splotch.

Ow, indeed. The afternoon passed in a blur from my uncle (who lived with my dad) soothingly hugging me as he ran my hand under the faucet and wrapping it up in a (quickly soaked) hand towel. My dad, frantic and more than a little freaked out, called my mom and said, “Megan cut off her finger, I’m taking her to the hospital”. He neglected to mention which hospital in the entirety of Maryland before he hung up.

Eventually I ended the day with my entire arm wrapped up mummy-style, giddy from narcotics and with a decidedly shorter (but in no way “cut off” as my dad had feared) middle finger. I ended up having a skin graft from my arm to close off the wound. My dress was ruined. At the time, I’m not sure if I was more upset about that or the finger.

To this day I completely freak out if I see anyone reach a hand out anywhere NEAR a door’s edge. I’ve yelled at children in restaurants and stopped myself at the last minute from yanking back strangers who, chatting with someone, have thrown caution to the wind and wrapped their hand around a door without ever thinking of the possible dire consequences. Don’t get me started on people distracted by cell phones. I’ve translated my fears to feet, too, for all those crazies out there who go to hold a door open with their toes while wearing flip-flops. HOLD THE KNOB, people. It’s not just there for pretty!

I’ve successfully managed to pass on this phobia to my children, among other little quirks like shrieking at spiders, brushing my teeth while walking around and leaving shoes all over the house. As parents, we want to teach our children skills to get them safely and gracefully through the world. We help them learn to read, write, think, and deal with life’s inevitable challenges. We ourselves learned some of these things in part through experiences passed down from earlier generations.

But I think it’s the weird little unintentional lessons that really keep things interesting. They make for the fun neuroses you hesitate to share on a first date. Like your intimate knowledge that blood stains just don’t come out. So if you really like that dress, tread carefully and keep your hands close.

Jelly beans just aren’t worth the trouble.

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