One of the many physical mishaps of my childhood, given I fell frequently, was the run-in with The Deadly Tent Peg, when I was around seven or eight. My best friend Daralyn’s brothers had set up a tent in their back yard, three houses down the block from our home. A bunch of us kids were playing some game where you had to get inside the tent as a safe space, probably something related to tag. Tag was always an over-stimulating and frustrating game for me, because the likelihood of my being caught was 100%, unless the kids gave me a break (which some of them did, though I didn’t catch on to this till I was around ten). I always tried not to be the last one, heart pounding in anticipation of the inevitable.
In this instance, I dashed into the tent on that summer day, falling on the way through the flap, and when maybe five or six of us were all packed in there excitedly laughing, I glanced down and noticed that the inner side of my small weak polio-affected knee was sliced open. I could see this because we all wore shorts, all the time, in the hot California valley, and I could also see the inside of my leg, these little white substances surrounded by red, which I did understand to be blood, framed by the slit in my skin. My skin, that immense covering which at the time I did not know was an organ, turned out to be thicker than I’d have imagined it to be. I had fallen on top of the metal tent peg, with its sharp edge that cleanly sliced my leg open, leaving an opening about an inch and a half long. I wasn’t even aware of it during the actual slicing.
The wound stung, but I was beyond alarmed to be able to see all that stuff that was the internal landscape of my leg. I started screaming, and someone ran to get an adult. I was particularly afraid that the doctors were going to shoot Novocaine into that gaping wound, as they had when I’d had a chin cut a couple of years before, when I had fallen on the flanged edge of my sister’s old black lunch pail, which I had been so proud to use. That had been the most searing pain I’d sustained up until kindergarten or first grade. (Mama then chucked the vintage pail, the only one of its kind in the lunch room, and got me my own red plaid one with rounded edges.)
But my thought in the tent was that the pain of this injury might be even more raw if a shot went directly into it, since it was bigger and deeper. I saw it all coming toward me in a flash, and that was part of what made me cry, fear of a negative future. I knew not to get up and walk because I could get dirt in it or open the cut wider, plus, the pain was starting to escalate. So I sat there in terror till some male relative of Daralyn’s carried me to Mama’s DeSoto, and she took me to the emergency room. Again. More stitches. A week or two of summer fun down the drain, no playing in the sprinklers or wading pools in the 100-degree days, and the later nastiness of stitches removal. If you come for a swim at our house, I’ll show you the scar.
Lots of kids have stuff like this happen. But this second stitch-requiring wound alerted me that I was not like other kids, and I needed to be extra careful not to fall, which proved nearly impossible. I was the female Evel Knievel of our neighborhood.