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We All Do Stupid Things

April 16, 2012

We all do stupid things. Mine involves asphalt.

I was twenty-one and immortal. Spring had morphed into summer, and the lingering sunlight stretched warm shadows late into the evening.

My friend Jim had driven his Mustang convertible to the quiet neighborhood where I lived with my parents. He backed his car to our garage, and then I crawled under the car’s rear and knotted the end of a rope to the bumper. I jumped up and dusted myself off, and then stepped back and gave the rope a yank. It would hold. I placed a foot on my skateboard, and then gave a nod to Jim.

“I’m set,” I said. “Take off when you’re ready.”

Jim made a thumbs-up sign and then put the car in gear, letting it roll slowly down the driveway. There was a slight jerk as the slack in the rope vanished, and then we were off, ‘skate-skiing’ through the backstreets of Dayton, Ohio.

I had thought that, if there were ever a problem with this ‘skate-skiing,’ I would simply ‘tuck and roll’ as I aimed for the grass on the curb. But I had not accounted for centrifugal force and a pothole.

We were doing about 25 miles per hour when we came to the curve. I crouched, bending at my knees, pretending I was a professional. (Are there such professional idiots?) I swung out to the left of the car in a sudden burst of speed. And then my skateboard found the pothole… …and stopped. I, however, did not.

Suddenly, I found myself doing a headfirst dive at the asphalt with my arms stretched above my head. I have a vivid mental snapshot tucked into my brain of the road rushing to meet my face. I see the cracks and the pebbles and the tiny bits of glass. It’s just a picture; it’s not a movie; so I don’t see myself hitting the pavement. But I still feel a shudder of horror every time I allow that picture to enter my thoughts.

My next memory is of slowly coming to consciousness in a hospital’s intensive care unit. It’s a vague memory, as my skull fracture had created both a short-term memory problem and a strange temporal displacement placing me about a year back in terms of longterm memory.

As if recalling a dream, I can remember only snatches of my stay in the hospital — trying to call an old girlfriend I had forgotten I had broken up with, getting lost on the way to the bathroom, and chatting haphazardly at my semi-comatose roommate. But I do remember vividly one discussion I had with the neurosurgeon.

He was an odd-looking little man, balding, with large ears and a poorly tied bowtie. He stepped briskly to my bed, glanced at the chart, and then reached down and pulled the bandage from my forehead. He peered at my forehead for a few seconds, and then he said, “You’re going to have quite a scar, young man.”

In the vanity of youth, I considered this the worst possible news I could hear. “A scar,” I cried, “A scar! No, no, I can’t have a scar.”

And despite the lecture from the doctor on how lucky I was to be alive, I couldn’t let it go. “Isn’t there something you can do?” I begged. “Isn’t there any way to avoid a scar?”

He hesitated. I could tell he was annoyed. But then he said, “Well, if, somehow, you were able to keep a saline-soaked piece of gauze on the wound until it healed, you probably wouldn’t have a scar. The new skin would form without forming a scab first.” He turned to go. “But that won’t be easy,” he added. “You’ll have to keep it wet 24-hours a day.” And he left.

As you can guess, with a skull fracture and a three-minute short-term memory span, remembering to soak a piece of gauze every hour around the clock wasn’t going to happen. Enter, my mother

She had also heard what the neurosurgeon had said, and she took it upon herself to soak that gauze 24/7 until my forehead healed. At the time, I did not appreciate what she did. I only have vague memories of her changing that dressing, and it was months before I fully grasped how close to death and permanent disfigurement I had come. Today, I have no scar.

This year, as Mother’s Day approaches, I remembered this episode in my life. To me, my mother’s actions expressed, in many ways and at many levels, what the ‘ideal’ mother does for her children. There is no doubt that the reason for my accident was my own stupidity. My parents had taught me better, but I chose to ignore their advice. But I never remember my mother castigating me at the time for my ‘skateskiing.’ What I do remember is that my mother accepted me as I was, and sought then to prevent my injuries from becoming permanent scars.

Children do stupid things, and no mother is able to foresee every circumstance that will injure her child. What I want to applaud today is that spirit of motherhood that embraces an injured child where he or she is, whether that injury is physical, emotional, or spiritual, and that provides the nurturing care that then seeks to prevent those injuries from becoming permanent disabilities. In other words, today, I want to applaud those mothers who seek the wellbeing of their children. I want to applaud their love. So, let’s hear it for the moms!


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