Monday, December 19, 2011
Here's one of my favorite pieces from my "Meanface" manuscript that I've been working on . . .
I lay on my belly on Matt’s parents’ couch with a pond of blood rippling on the back of my right knee. A steel spring has pushed a few inches of skin about an inch deep underneath itself after Whitey had jumped on me, because I had said something about his girlfriend. Most of our scars have similar simply histories. We’re at Matt’s house, and we do our best to leave his mom and dad sleeping upstairs. In part because it’s disrespectful to wake sleeping people. In part because Matt’s dad is six-foot-five with tattoos of naked women, who themselves have tattoos of swearwords and weapons. I’m the only one of us with a driver’s license, and I’m the only one of us who needs to go to the hospital.
About a dozen of us started this evening watching college ball clear the hell out in this little farming community, eating pizza, telling stories about each other’s girlfriends. When Matt’s dad ducks into the basement to see what’s going on – shirt off, hair mussed, tattoos telling stories of their own – the room experiences a distinct and immediate paradigm shift. Our posture improves. We stop using sentence fragments. We hold the door open for one another. He strides over to me, ashes his smoke on his floor, squints, and says, “Get your coat.” He’s got a goatee and eye glasses you’d expect to see on a president or Genghis Khan.
I say my goodbyes to my old friends, slap a few high fives. Whitey says, “I’m sorry,” the way one says such things when one means, “Farewell, dear friend.” Matt’s dad’s tattoos roil over old raised lines of scar tissue and have their own newer scars, reminders, one can only imagine, of seedy dealings and various warfares. No doubt if he’d have ended up with this little nick on his leg, he would have used it himself for an ashtray or burned it shut with laser beams from his eyes.
When I suggest that I call my parents, he says, “No sense waking them. Wouldn’t make it through this blizzard.” In the garage, he hands me a towel, slips on a t-shirt, lights a new smoke, and plows his Jeep through a driveway layered with fourteen-inch snowdrifts. He says, “That hole needs sewed up.” I nod, and try not to act like we’re going to die on the side of this winding dirt road any minute. The snow still coming down hard, coming up from the road, coming off the fields to the sides.
He adjusts his glasses and tells me it’ll make a good scar, regardless of how they stitch it. He laughs when I ask him if he’s ever had stitches, and says, “You’re fucking kidding, right?” I’m not kidding, and, though I’ve used the word “fuck” before, this is the first time I understand why we’re not supposed to. His Jeep pulls the icy dirt roads on its own, I’m sure of it, and he sets a size fourteen woolen foot on the dashboard to pull his pajamas up to the knee, revealing an interstate of white scar from his slipper to the top of his shin, two-fingers thick. He says, “Ever hear of Australian repelling?” I had. He says, “If you ever get a chance to try, make for damn sure the rope ain’t frayed.” He puts the sneaker back on the gas, turns off the light, says, “Goddamn shinbone ended up on a rock beside me.” The world snowglobes out around us, a whirlwind of tiny eternities, pushing against the future.
The doctor hates me when he arrives, woken up at two in the morning to put four enormous stitches across a tiny chasm at the back of some kid’s knee. I walk out of the emergency room and see the wind blowing snow around Matt’s dad as he smokes cigarettes in his pajama pants, slippers, and t-shirt, so enormous at this moment that I know, I see it myself, even the elements duck their heads and avoid eye contact when they come near him.