|I cut my feet. And I'd do it again.
My boss knew I was lying. I can't even remember what I said that week, since every excuse that summer was more formality than substance anyway. As long as there was something to write down, he let me go off to Detroit for a few extra days so I could visit my precious girlfriend. He understood the importance of my long-distance romance, and that it made me crazy to be away from her.
So I had earned another three day weekend to visit her. Jodie lived in a suburb of Detroit, borrowing her late grandmother's house until her father figured out what to do with it. The town was mostly motorcycles, trucks, and country music, not that we noticed. We spent most of our time inside, savoring what we could of our hours together.
The rest of the world didn't matter. To us, it was a wasteland of kindergarten culture, insipid food, xenophobia and bourgeoise distraction. But inside, we were naked on our pretend Mediterranean, hiding in the refuge of each other, only sometimes getting up for wine or bread with olive oil. When we were tired, we just stared at each other and worried about the fate of the world. We were somewhere that appreciated art, languages, travel, and each other. Why couldn't everywhere be the same as our tiny island? Why couldn't time stop outside, like it did inside?
Sometimes we left. We went to libraries, the woods, restaurants, bookstores. We rode bikes and shared anger about cars. Sometimes we went camping. And sometimes her family wanted to meet me, to find out about this wierd artist from Chicago that they had heard so much about.
I'm not a family person. There's something about meeting the family, unavoidable, like death or taxes. It didn't help that she told me about the messy divorce, or the abuse of her childhood, or the racist jokes they made. But she loved them, and she had a warmth and forgiveness that could melt the earth, and a persuasiveness that melted me. I overlooked my resentment of sacrificing our precious time together, and I agreed to spend that weekend with her family. But I didn't want to, I wished there was some way that I could get out of it. Anything would do. I just wanted to lie in bed with Jodie, touching her, talking and enjoying each other during our short time together.
There was a barbecue at her aunt's house, and a huge gathering of relatives. The neighborhood her aunt lived in had exclusive rights to what was locally known as the Healing Lake. Years ago, people with skin diseases would come there for therapy. It was later discovered that an abundance of clams lived in the lake which both filtered and softened the water. The homeowners were very careful about keeping the lake clean, and were very strict about access, litter, and noise.
Indeed, it was a great lake. It was an excuse to rest my face, stiff from fake smiles and innovative lies about watching football or making money or buying new cars. Between intervals of handshakes and infants, Jodie would grab me to swim with her. She knew I needed a break. There were nearly thirty people there, all relatives.
She amused herself by making erotic promises while we swam, and we teased each other under the surface of the water. She was pleased with her handiwork, and smug as she got out of the water, knowing that I had to wait until my passions settled in my shorts before I could see her family again.
It was when she was actually trying to pull down my shorts when my foot suddenly hurt. I don't know what it was, glass, a shell, a piece of metal. I made some understated grunt when I lifted up my foot. When I realized the amount of blood that was flooding the water, I happened to set the other foot down on the exact same spot. Jodie didn't know what was going on until she came close.
Both feet were cut. Blood was coming out. I had to swim on my back to the shore, and I could hear her sister holding back vomit when she saw the blood. Somehow, I thought it was fascinating, like something from Jaws--huge clouds of red trailing behind me when I swam. Almost beautiful. It didn't hurt. It never really hurt. But they were deep cuts and I tried not to step on the sand when I got to the shore.
People who noticed helped carry me. An ingenious woman wrapped my feet in fresh diapers and tape. All of Jodie's relatives surrounded me as I was being carried to the car.
Her mother and stepfather drove us to the hospital, and poor Jodie was almost in tears for me. I assured her that it didn't hurt. Nobody beleived me. I didn't beleive it either, but that's how it was.
The waiting room was empty, except for a guy who fell off a jet ski hit his head on something. He was waiting for a neurologist; he had a sensation that his whole body was itching. I thought about getting a new bike helmet as soon as I got back to Chicago.
The attending nurse felt sorry for me. She brought out a wheelchair and brought me to the laceration room. She started to warn me about the dangers of swimming in lakes without appropriate footwear. I assured her that I understood, and that I'd be sure to buy some swimming shoes at the first opportunity.
I suppose it was the adrenaline of injury or embarrassment that made me so alert. I suppose I'm somewhat lucky that my way of coping with such situations is by making bad jokes. Maybe not. The doctor that came in to treat me didn't want to hear it. She was in emergency mode--cold, professional, condescending.
She made me lie on my stomach. I could hear her gasp as she unravelled the diapers which were still on my feet. I don't think she was supposed to do that. A laceration specialist should be numb to cuts and blood. She told me to lie still while she taped my legs to the table.
She didn't warn me about the pain. Four needle shots in the soles of each foot. I tore through the tape when my legs jumped up at the first shot and dragged her hand up with them. She told me that the needles had to be big, to cut through the thick skin of my feet. I could feel them touch my bones. She told me I had to keep my legs still. By the end, I had torn a hole in the upholstery of the table with my hand.
Then she cleaned. There was an hour of cleaning. Debris between the lake and the shore had gotten inside my feet, and she had to use tweezers to get some of it out. She sprayed distilled water onto my nerves.
Eventually she started sewing. I think she was getting tired, because she actually laughed when I asked her to embroider my name on one of them. Fourteen stiches on one foot, each one a centimeter apart. Seventeen on the other. Fortunately, whatever cut me was so sharp, it was easy to sew me up.
So there I was, both feet wrapped in bandages. I got some crutches and ugly slippers from the nurse, as well as some instructions to not walk around at all for a few days. I looked like a mess, disheveled from hours in the emergency room. Everyone wanted to see if I was okay.
And that's when I realized my great fortune.
I was injured, yes. But it wasn't painful. I got out of the barbecue, without insulting Jodie, and while earning sympathy and respect from her family for my stoic bravery and calm. And we had something to talk about from then on. I came to realize they were okay people.
And I took four extra days off work, which meant I could stay through the weekend. Of course my boss didn't believe me, at least until I showed him the scars. But when I got home, he paid for me to take cabs to work for a few days.
But that next week was perfect. Jodie and I were together, and we could finally have some time to ourselves. She let me stay in her house while she went to work. When she came home, it was like we lived together. We ordered food, we talked forever, and we stared at each other like children for hours at a time.
And we had the perfect excuse not to get out of bed.
- Mark Kinsella