personal memoir

May 31, 2011

Lessons From Splinters

The last time I had a splinter I was a pre-teen. Yes, I have managed to remain splinter free for nearly 30 years. Until this Monday night….

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I recently had a nostalgic moment. The tree reminded me of something I hadn't thought about in a long time.

I remember you mornings mostly, emerging from showers: towel-clad, shoulders bare and water-speckled.

Wrapped in the orange glow from overhead heating lamps, enveloped by thick bathroom mist, you shined, luminescent. Poreless, your skin, bronze and pure, and I noticed you (as if for the first time) golden curls, heavy and weighted with water, still catching light and reflecting syrupy-sweetness.

So solid, you stood like some kind of crazy tree, and like the long-armed, wobbly-kneed tomboy I used to be, I wanted to climb your branches.

Wanted to become part of your limbs’ history.

Wanted to climb your sweet boughs, surrounded by soft reds and browns and gold, press my nose to hair which I remember smelled like autumn, musky and damp.

Everything about you reminds me of Fall, a time that, as a child, I called “tree-turn season,” a time that reminds me of a drum beat, or a heart beat, or some kind of gentle pounding, like a child’s fist on a brass knocker at Halloween.

(Was this why I loved you?)

There were more reasons, I’m sure, but in that moment, time spilled through air, an emptiness filled, and I scooped up fallen bits of my reality, throwing them invisibly overhead like the crinkly leaves of my childhood, as golden drops of water slipped down your back and you moved behind our bedroom door.

I didn’t recognize it then, but I should have known that winter was coming.

After apple-picking and pumpkin-carving and Halloweening, what do you remember about autumn?

This week writers were asked to use the weather, or a photo of an autumn day to inspire a memoir piece in under 300 words. For more wonderful pieces, click on the button above.

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Splinter removal is serious business in our house

Many Junes ago, after swimming all afternoon with friends in a pool that was nestled behind a tall fence on the grounds of the apartment complex in which my grandparents lived, I decided to pay my grandmother a visit.

My decision to visit was not a completely selfless act. The ice-cream man had come and gone, and I had forgotten to bring money to go to the 7-11 down the street, so I was crazy hungry and figured my grandmother would make me some of her fabulous french fried potatoes.

To get to my grandparents’ apartment, I could have walked on an asphalt road, but I generally opted for the short-cut across a broad expanse of grass that had been allowed to grow tall and wild. The prickly weeds made quite the obstacle course, and I always made a game of zigzagging from one patch of yellow flowers to another.

On that particular day, as I raced across the field barefoot, I stepped on something that made me look around to see if I had landed on a discarded cigarette. Alas, there were no burning embers, just a partially squashed yellow-jacket clinging to me, his stinger nicely embedded into the arch of my foot.

Midway between the pool and my grandparents’ apartment, I alternately limped and hopped across the grass. It was an eternity. The grass grew taller as I walked; the sun burned my shoulders. Eventually, I hobbled up the three flights of stairs to my grandparents’ apartment and knocked on the brown door marked simply with the number “7”.

I knew my grandmother would be home.

When I told her what had happened, she looked nervous. I showed her where the stinger was lodged and asked her if she could, maybe, get it out. A pre-teen at the time, I could tell from the look on my grandmother’s face that she would not be able to help me. Rather than get upset, I simply asked for some tweezers – which she ran to retrieve. Try as I might, I couldn’t get that pesky stinger out. I asked my grandmother for a needle and some ice, and while she obliged, she turned her head as I drove the needle into my own foot, digging around for the elusive stinger.

Eventually, victory was mine and, the stinger – pinched between the tips of the borrowed tweezers and no bigger than the sliver of hair – was inspected. Sure I bled a little bit, but as I rubbed antibiotic ointment on the area and put on a little Band-Aid, I felt strangely euphoric, crazy proud that I’d been able to take care of business, independent of adult help. As I devoured the french fried potatoes my grandmother set out before me, I remember feeling that I needed to rely more on myself, a simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying realization.

I haven’t needed tweezers or a needle again as I have managed to remain splinter free for nearly 30 years.

Until this past Monday night.

Monday night, I walked around the house doing what mothers do. I was cleaning up, making sure everything was where it was supposed to be, checking that all laundry was in the bin, and taking inventory of what food would need to be purchased during the week. Basically, I was on the prowl for misplaced K’Nex, unplugged gadgets, and dirty underwear. That’s when I felt it.

I screamed out loudly and uncharacteristically enough that Hubby and Monkey called out in unison: “Are you okay?”

“I stepped on something,” I said attempting to balance gracefully on my left foot while trying to check out what was going on with the bottom of my right. Instead of awaking my inner White Swan, I succeeded in recreating a pretty pitiful imitation of an uncoordinated  pink-flamingo with a nerve palsy. Finally, using a chair for balance, I inspected the sole of my foot, where I saw a perfectly black and tiny, round something-or-other lodged in my heel.

Stooopid graphite!

I did what had worked before. I went straight for the needle. I dipped the pointed tip into rubbing alcohol and got to digging, but I couldn’t get anything out. I didn’t know what I might have stepped on, but that same stinging heat had returned. A body remembers things.

I called to my husband. “What is it?” he asked.

I have no idea, I said, “But I can’t get it.”

Hubby put on a headlamp.

“We may have to get you some lidocaine or something,” he said. “I don’t know if I can poke around without hurting you.”

“Just get it,” I said.

So Hubby took the needle and the tweezers and dug around for a good fifteen minutes, peeling away layers of skin and blotting blood, trying to grasp the foreign object which kept crumbling into dark fragments each time he announced he had it.

“Do you think it’s a rock?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Do you think it’s a twig?”


“Do you think I’m going to die?”

“You know what I think?” Hubby asked. “I think you stepped on a pencil.”

Great, I thought of my ironic obituary.

Teacher steps on pencil, dies of lead poisoning.

How rich.

“What happens if you have lead in your body?” I asked.

Hubby kept digging, “They don’t use lead in pencils anymore. These days, they use graphite.”

“Even in Ticonderogas?” I asked nervously, “Because those are really good pencils. You’re sure? Graphite?”

Hubby ignored me.

Awwwww, shizzle sticks.

“We have to get it out because you could get an infection. And I can’t get it because it keeps breaking.”

So I did what any woman who does not want to spend the next eight hours at the hospital would do. I gave my husband carte blanche. “Don’t worry about how much I complain. Or scream. Or bleed. Just dig.” (Oh, and be a sport and try not to be bothered by the fact that I am asking you all the questions that I just asked you – again. And that I’m filming you. It’s for my blog.)

Eventually, Hubby was the victorious and removed the slim sliver of graphite from my foot. Seriously, there was no way I was ever going to get that thing out by myself. And you know what, it’s nice to know there is someone you can rely on in times of need. Not like I didn’t know that before, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

So anyone think it is hot to have the tattoo of a tiny, black circle on your heel?

‘Cuz, you know, I’ve got one.

Also, if you are looking to find me between now and September, I’m the one wearing flip-flops. Everywhere.

How do you do with splinters? And would you trust your spouse to do the deep probing?

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