“What happened to your face?” It is a question that I have been asked hundreds of times. It used to amuse me to makeup outlandish tales of how I came to have the jagged scar on the left side of my face and chin:
- I ventured too close to the prairie dog exhibit at the zoo. Those little rascals are mean.
- I cut myself shaving.
- The doctor accidently cut me with the scalpel when doing an emergency C-section on my mom.
- My dad told me if I didn’t stop crying he would give me something to cry about. He wasn’t kidding.
- Bear trap
- Running with scissors is actually dangerous.
The actual story doesn’t have anything to do with attacking prairie dogs or any the other outlandish tales I have offered up to inquiring minds. The date was November 17, 1988, and my sister, Kim and I were heading home from my dad’s house. I had played in the basketball season kick-off scrimmage game earlier in the evening and I was still wearing my black and gold uniform and my lucky Converse high-tops. We celebrated my birthday with my dad and stepmom after the game, complete with Dairy Queen ice-cream cake and presents (God, I love presents and ice-cream cake). It was dark and raining when we pulled onto the two-lane highway leading to our mom’s house a few miles outside the city limits.
We hadn’t gone very far and I thought I saw my best friend pass heading in the other direction. I slowed down and checked my review mirror for brake lights NOTE: We used to have to do things like check and see if people were stopping and then we actually had to turn around to physically go back and talk to people. Not like today when I could just safely keep driving and send a text: Hey! Where r u goin? Txt me J Anyway, the car wasn’t stopping to chit chat so I started speeding up again. There was a truck several yards ahead of us and without any warning a big box blew off the back of the truck and scared the bat crap out of me. I overreacted and jerked the wheel to avoid the oncoming box and the trusty Ford Tempo went into a spin on the wet pavement. As if the spin wasn’t enough excitement, the car had to flip a couple times as well. We landed in the opposite ditch, facing the opposite direction, with the car completely on its side.
Because EVERYONE wore seatbelts in 1988, we were safely secured in our seats without a scratch. The previous sentence was purely sarcasm. We were not restrained and we were subsequently bounced around in the Tempo like dice in a Yahtzee cup. When the car finally stopped, I panicked and started yelling for my sister, “Kim! Kim! Where are you?” She had ended up in the backseat and she popped her head up between the seats and although she was covered in blue icing and ice-cream from my birthday cake, she assured me, “I am ok.” Calm as a little cucumber she says, “I am fine.” Which is about the time my spider-monkey brain took over and I scream, “Ok! We have to get out of this car! I am going to try to break this window!” Cucumber speaks again, “Why don’t we just open the door and climb out?” We pushed the door open and scrambled out and slid down to the ground.
Once my feet were on the ground and I could feel the air and rain, I felt instantly calm. I wanted to make sure that Kim was okay, so I grabbed her and looked her over. This must have been when Kim got a good look at me, because exit cucumber calmness, enter hysterical little sister, “Oh, my God you’re going to die! Look at you!! I can’t look at you, because you are going to die.” She was really losing it and I didn’t feel hurt at all, so I was starting to think she hit her head and was just coming unhinged for no apparent reason, so…I slapped her. Just like on TV. And it worked! She shut up. Then I said, “Look at me! I am talking and breathing and walking around. I am fine!” A man suddenly appeared and scooped us up and rushed us to his house across the highway. His wife was waiting at the door and instructed him to lay me on her bed. She told me the ambulance was on the way and that’s when I saw the blood on my hands and on the bedspread and on my basketball uniform. “What the hell? Where is all this blood coming from?” I tried to ask the nice lady but the blood had pooled in the back of my throat from my broken nose and I just sort of gurgled it. She told me she was going to go get me some towels and I overheard my little sister intercept her in the next room:
“Ma’am. My sister is totally self-conscious about the way she looks. Will, you make sure she doesn’t look in a mirror and see her face like that. She will lose it.”
WHAT THE HELL? I jumped up and ran to the mirror. My chin was split completely open the skin was curled back like a mad dog’s lip over his teeth, only the dog’s teeth was my chin bone! My nose was busted and there were still shards of glass sticking out of the open wounds. HOLY SHIT! MY FACE LOOKS LIKE SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH KETCHUP! Alarmed, I went back to the nice woman’s bed. I felt badly about bleeding all over the place, but I felt worse about my mangled mug. I guess I had unknowingly ingested blood from my broken nose and with no advanced warning, I power puked blood all over the nice lady’s carpeting next to her bed. That would be my farewell gift to my rescuer, as the ambulance arrived and loaded me up and hauled me to the hospital.
My dad met us at the hospital (my mom and stepdad were out of town and missed all the excitement) and when he rushed into the ER I yelled, “Hey, Dad. Does it look like I’ve been playing ball in Harlem?” He laughed and cried a little at the same time. I remember looking down at my lucky Converse high-tops, now spattered with my dried blood and thinking I would surely have been dead had I not been wearing those lucky shoes. Then I remember thinking how much dried blood on my white high-tops looks a lot like chocolate pudding.
As the doctors and nurses cleaned me up and began stitching my face back together, I told them it was almost my birthday. My face was draped as they worked, but at midnight they all sang “Happy Birthday” to me and I thought it was a nice gesture under the circumstances. It took a very long time for them to pick the glass out of my face and clean up the cuts. Twenty-nine stitches were needed to sew my chin back together and my nose was pretty much permanently botched. When I was finally allowed to sit up on the exam table and get my bearings, I asked, “So, how do I look?” And that is when my sister, who didn’t have a single scratch from the accident, looked at me and threw up all over the ER floor. As all the attention swung from me to the vomiting cucumber, I flopped back down on the table and resolved myself to the fact that my face was f**ked.
Fast forward six months: My mom made an appointment with a plastic surgeon to get my face fixed. At the consultation, the doctor was explaining how he was going to take skin from my butt and put it over the scar…..blah..blah…blah. After his spiel, I politely said, “No thank you,” and walked out. My mom caught up with me at the elevator and was demanding an explanation. I informed her that I didn’t want to be an ‘ass-face’ or ‘butt-face’ or have skin on my face that has known no other home but on my ass! “Besides, it makes me look scrappy.”
So, it was with that long silent elevator ride that I resigned myself to a life of answering, “What happened to your face?” Perhaps you may have heard a tale of attacking prairie dogs or botched C-sections, but the truth is much less fanciful, but real life seldom is. I guess behind every scar, those seen and those unseen, there is a story and for what it is worth, this is mine.
The Cucumber and Me!