It’s on my arm, kind of where that muscle should be, what’s it called – the bicep? There. It’s about an inch long, this scar. Tight. Not at all indicative of the actual injury. I sometimes can’t even find it when I’m looking for it as I tell this story. I pull the sleeve on my right arm up before remembering it’s actually on the left.
I have a lot of random scars. Twenty plus trips to the ER in my lifetime attest to that. Some betray my unfortunate lack of, shall we say, consistent balance. Others the remnants of bad decisions. Some are random. One involves a saran wrap dispenser and several stitches. This one in particular is a reminder of a specific time, being on the cusp of adulthood, working through that transition from awkward teen into, well, older awkward teen.
It was college. Summer. In Nebraska, one of the few things that there was to do before you start drinking is mountain biking, albeit hills being a more accurate descriptor. My friends and I would often load up our bikes on the back of our cars (everyone had bike racks because it was cool) and would venture out to Platte River State Park to power through the rough and dirty trails there. I had been going out to the park since I was a kid and knew the trails by heart- which way to go to the waterfall, which one lead to the open area overlooking the river. Some days we would bike to an inlet and strip down to our underwear and go swimming before drying out in the sun talking about the stupid shit college kids talk about. Some days we would venture deeper into the hills where the curves were more aggressive, and therefore more fun. This particular time we were pushing to the far edges of the park.
I was less familiar with this area. These were not paths that I had walked as a kid and while I had my general sense of direction, I was actually fairly surprised when the path I was biking down had a sharp turn to the right. Unfortunately, I kept going forward. Smacked right into a barbed wire fence. Splat. I hit the fence with such force that I flipped right over it and landed on my back. Thud. I was dizzy. I had no idea where my bike was and I think I may have forgotten for just a moment where I was. Then I noticed the bleeding. My arm was wet. I thought for a second that I landed in the river even though we were nowhere near it.
Since part of my arm was attached to the barb, when I flipped over the fence it made a rather generous slice up my arm, several inches long and deep enough to see the bone. The blood, well it didn’t quite gush exactly, but it was definitely flowing out faster than I expected. My helmet was ajar and kind of kept me from turning my head far enough to really understand what was going on. For a second I thought the problem was more severe.
“What the fuck just happened?” I heard someone say. Maybe it was me.
My friends rushed to my aid. They tried to figure out how to get through the fence first (not the easy bloody way I went through it), but when they saw how damaged I was, my buddy John just sailed right between wires. He immediately applied pressure to the wound while asking me questions. He’s a cop now. Dealing with emergency situations has always been second nature. I was dazed, but regaining awareness. This wasn’t one of the five times I’d gotten a concussion.
John took his shirt off and tied it around my arm to try and stop the bleeding. Tom and Mike tried to open the gap in the fence wider so I could move through without leaving any more chunks of flesh around. We were about as far away from the car as we could be and it was an unfortunate struggle to have to walk back while John kept a tight grip on my arm and Tom and Mike walked all four bikes back through the hills.
As someone who has had his share of accidents, the severity of the injury can be directly tied to how soon the jokes start coming. It was a long walk back, but once we got inside the car, Tom brought the first quip. I have no idea what was said, I just remember it was the first moment I felt like I would be okay. Tom kept me focused on everything but the pain and the large amount of red John’s shirt around my arm was turning. Months later, I would be driving Tom to the hospital to watch him have surgery on his hand after he had a run in with a glass sconce at one of our fraternity formals. But I digress.
We had to decide quickly what the actual plan was. Did we drive up to the park services station and hope that someone with first-aid experience was around? Or did we get on the road and make the more than half an hour trip back to Omaha to the nearest hospital, potentially risking amputation for all I knew?
Since none of us were pre-med, we opted for the hospital. I was right-handed, what’s the worst that could happen? John broke every speed limit getting us back to the hospital. I got several stitches. And after a week or two people stopped asking me about why I missed the parties I missed. It was basically a forgettable experience, other than the physical marking that remains, and the overall memory of my friends rallying around me.
When I see this scar it makes me smile. I may not speak with any of the friends regularly, see them maybe once a year, but I know they’d take my phone call, if calling people on the phone was actually something anyone did any more. What I remember from that day more than anything was how my friends (and mostly John) took charge of a situation and made decisions based on what was best for me. There was no panic. There was reassurance. There was laughter. There was support. There was making every effort to keep me safe and get me fixed.
The more I spend time with this adulthood thing, the more I realize the main tenet is simply faking it until you’re making it. No one has any fucking clue what’s going on. You simply take whatever situation is in front of you, use your education and experience to formulate the best option for moving forward and then do what you think is right. Many times you’re wrong. Sometimes being wrong doesn’t make any difference and sometimes it’s a huge fucking deal. But no one (emphasis NO ONE) has a blue print for what’s going to happen in life. The minute you establish a status quo, something will come along and render it useless. I will metaphorically run into many more fences and get thrown for a loop. I’ll probably even run into one or two literal ones. All I can do is hope that at the time, as I was then, I’ll be surrounded by people with my best interests at heart.
I kind of like that scar, I’ll be honest.