April 4th, 2007

Young at Heart (and Near the Elbow)

When I was a kid, I was always damaging myself. 

I ran into stuff like sliding glass doors and other people. Once in third grade I ran into Gary Orrick—my tooth met his forehead; he ended up bleeding and I got my first shot of Novacaine.


Once I tried to ride a tetherball like a tire swing. (I don’t recommend it.) Oh, and I learned to bicycle on a boy’s bike—if it was that painful for me, I can’t imagine what it’s like for actual boys.


Once at a birthday party, while playing tag, I tried to step over a low brick wall and instead fell on it, scraping my entire thigh. (Pretty sure that’s the last time my mother let me wear shorts outside the house.)


And of course, I was chronically scraping my knees.


Do you remember trying to get to sleep the first night after you scraped your knees? The sheet clings to the wound maddeningly, and you can’t lie comfortably on your side because it puts weird pressure on the tender spot. Stuff sticks to the wound until it scabs over fully. And then your legs straighten unwillingly because there’s not enough skin to go ‘round.


As a writer for young people, I know it’s important to stay in touch with my youthful memories. Which is why—in the interest of realism, of accuracy, of heart’s blood honesty—I took a dive on the boardwalk this weekend.


There I was, riding along lackadaisically (it’s no use trying to ride any other way when the boardwalk’s as full as it was Sunday, with stroller-pushers and rollerbladers and dog-walkers and hand-holders). When I was almost back at the bike shop, though, the strip emptied out some, and there was only one person ahead of me. So I swung out to the wrong side of the road, half-orbited that person, and swung back to the right side.


I knew I’d swung too far. So of course I tried to compensate.


Of course I overcompensated.


Of course there was sand all over the boardwalk.


Of course the bike skidded and tipped over. The basket tapdanced away from us both. My glasses leaped off my face. And I slid forward probably two or three yards. (Or maybe it just felt that way.)


Of course by this time, the boardwalk was no longer empty, and I was surrounded by a flock of ancient wiry beach-men—you know the kind: tan and leathery from so much time out on the water.


“Are you okay??” one of them asked me frantically.


I considered. Sure, I was lying underneath a bike in the middle of the boardwalk, but I didn’t actually feel that bad. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I told him.


“You scared the hell out of me,” he barked, hopping back on his bike, and speeding away.




Anyway, this was quite a surprising incident—not because I fell, but because actual damage was so minimal. I scraped the lower half of one forearm, and the opposite palm has a few scabbed dots. And that’s it. (The bruise covering most of one thigh is, I’m pretty confident, from when I jabbed myself with the handlebars trying to board the ferry. All in the interest of research, of course.)


So I’ve done my part for a while, anyway. And what have you done lately to keep your childhood experiences fresh?

Please admire the way the antibiotic ointment glistens in the light of the camera flash.

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