I’m seven. It is summertime.Mom and dad have been divorced for most of my life. We spend a lot of time at my maternal grandparents’ house.
On this day, Mom, Papa and Mimi, and the Bessenroth family are all visiting. The grownups are off on Papa’s boat and us kids are at the house under the watchful eye of Louise.
Louise. How to explain her? Sort of a housekeeper, babysitter, grandmotherly woman who worked for my grandparents. I loved her. She’s the one who taught me how to make a bed with proper hospital corners, how to use the laundry machines, how to fold towels, and how to hang laundry on a line so it dried without those weird bunchy spots that clothespins can leave behind.
So my brother and the Bessenroth son, Andreas, are off playing together, and I am wandering around the yard just kind of drifting in and out of my own little world. I meander too close for their liking to where the boys are playing, and they chase me away. Andreas thinks it would be fun to claim he is a ghost, some kind of vengeful spirit, and run after me with a tomato stake. This is before those wire cages, when people tie their tomato plants to long wooden stakes so they stay up. He’s found one lying about and is using it like a spear, menacing me.
He gets me backed up against a curving wall of trees lining the driveway across from the front of the house, and is sort of thrusting his spear at me. As I recall, I wasn’t much scared, because even then, ghosts weren’t an issue, and he was a friend of the family and we’d always gotten along well, and really, I thought then and think now that he was just being a little boy.
The spear slips.
My next memory is of moments later. I’m in the house, somehow through the front door. My hands are cupped beneath my chin and I cannot see where I am going but somehow I’m through the sitting room, the dining room, the pantry, into the kitchen. There sits Louise, having a rare quiet moment, and in I slowly walk, bleeding from the face.
My brother must have followed me in, because she shouts at him to go get a washcloth. He complies. She tells him not that one, it’s one of the good ones for guests, go get an older one. I agreed – I really don’t want to upset my grandmother by spoiling any of the good linens. I worry that I dripped blood on the floor as I came in, but as I recall, I hadn’t. I caught it all in my hands.
A bit of a blank spot, and then I’m in an ambulance. I am sitting on someone’s lap up front? They are nice fellows, friendly, and they allow as how we can have the sirens on if I’d like, which of course!
Jump through a blank space again, and I’m in the hospital, lying on a cold table with a terribly bright light shining in my eyes. Several people are leaning over me, dark silhouettes against the brightness, assessing the damage. I am not frightened but they keep reassuring me, anyway. Louise sternly tells me not to let ANYONE do ANYTHING to me until my family gets there. I guess someone managed to get ahold of them, out on the boat? Louise doesn’t want an intern mucking about with me. She wants a full-on, experienced, got-some-sleep-this-week doctor to deal with my face.
Eventually permissions must have been given, because a person in scrubs comes along and carefully begins picking splinters out, then sewing stitches in. Tiny band-aids are applied. I am proud of my stitches – seven of them – and want to show them off but am told I have to leave the bandages on for a while.
All the grownups are there.
Blurred memory of leaving and going to the T&C for clams, Shirley Temples, pinball, maybe dancing with Papa, and clear memory of me continually pleading with any adult who will listen not to punish Andreas for this, he didn’t mean to, please don’t spank him. Spanking, in my mind, is the height of horrible fates for a child, which is odd because I don’t recall ever having been spanked.
Eventually, they acquiesce, and as far as I know he got a good ticking off but was never spanked.
After a few days, I get to show off my stitches, and when they come out there is hardly a scar. You can still see it if you look hard, on the bridge of my nose just between my eyes. It was a lucky shot, really – left or right and you could call me Winky. Any harder and maybe I’d have had a brain injury or maybe been killed. I do have the best kind of bad luck.
Tweny-ish years later, after a long time apart, we see Andreas at Papa’s memorial. We laugh, chat, catch up with our somewhat more grown up selves, and I remind him of this incident. He has completely forgotten!
He thinks I am maybe misremembering, but I have witnesses. He is horrified and apologetic, which I think is funny and I reassure him it’s fine, all was forgiven way back when and now it’s just a story.
Funny thing, though.
He’s afraid of blood. Can’t bear the sight of it. Now he thinks maybe he knows why. I guess I wasn't the only one scarred, that day.