Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 46]
I. I try going downstairs
I seem to have lost a scar that was on my hand since I was maybe seven years old. It had been right there, etched into my palm one summer day as I came up the concrete steps from the cantina in the basement of my Nonno's tri-level. I was clutching two slender bottles of 7 Up, running. Sunday's supper was upstairs on the table, waiting for the drinks and me. My sandal slipped on the edge of a step near the top and I went down hard, smashing the green glass and releasing a foaming sea of pop that washed down like a waterfall on me. I remember the suddenness of the fall, and a vague embarrassment, and the soft, sizzling sound of the frothing soda. Then I was in the bathroom, being tended by my parents and grandparents who had come running at the noise of the shattering glass, a sound I don't remember at all. I don't remember the pain, either.
This used to be a pretty good story. It was full of sharp detail, including, I believe, a vicious-looking carpet needle that was used to stitch up my cut. My dad is an engineer and believes he can fix most anything on his own. But maybe I'm wrong about the needle. The story has faded with the scar; I never noticed it disappearing. It was a white close-parenthesis about half an inch long that used to punctuate my right palm, there under the first knuckle. I'd trace its arc with my left index finger and narrate the accident that had printed it on my body. I sit here now, some thirty-five years later, and wiggle my finger slowly, summoning the scar. I stretch my hand out, extending the digits, reaching, searching for it. A hint of the old curved line suggests itself. Maybe that's it. But I'm not so sure. I have to ask my father if he remembers this story, and if he really came at me with a carpet needle. That can't be right.
It's not. Later, my father helps me with the memory as he cooks my birthday dinner in the kitchen of his bungalow in Park Ridge, the town where we both live. I'm forty-one years old today.
"No, you're mixing up that story with the one about your head and the obstetrician," he says. He doesn't even look up from the sink where he is cleaning shrimp for the pasta.
Ah: The scalp laceration that got sewn up at the kitchen table. That was one time my dad called in an expert. I'd taken a violent tumble off my sled one cold, starry night. After the world righted itself, I sat picking at what I thought were crusts of snow in my matted hair. The moonlight was bright but offered no color. I was slow to understand what had happened: It was the stickiness I realized first, and then, gradually, the fact of blood. My dad must have carried me into the house and called our neighbor, the obstetrician. And then under the light of the white milk-glass lamp in the kitchen, they all lied to me—my mother, my father, and the doctor. They told me that the pain I was feeling was only discomfort from something called—innocuously, enticingly—a butterfly bandage. They figured that I couldn't see the top of my own head, and that I could be tricked into accepting the necessary and graphic procedure if I didn't have to imagine a needle. Children are gullible that way, and adults feel that sometimes a falsehood serves their children better than the hard truth. The fiction worked; I sat still while the doctor pinched the torn flaps of skin and sewed them back together. My bravery in this scene was predicated entirely on my failure to have perceived what was really happening...