My eleventh birthday did not go as I had hoped it would. Actually, my eleventh was the first of my long string of unhappy birthdays. To be honest and as anti-theatrical as I am capable of being, all of my birthdays were not unhappy; but many of them were odd. Of course, most of my adult life was an odd combination of self-pity and pretense, with fear and anger and rebellion thrown in.
So, my eleventh birthday. I was with my family, at Silver Springs, in Florida. This was forty years ago, and Silver Springs
consisted of a lunch counter, and access to the springs in the river, and a campground. No rides, no concerts, no zoo, no restaurants, and did I say NO RIDES? All we needed to have the time of our lives was snorkeling gear.
(Looking at Silver Springs’ website now, I see they offer glass-bottom boat rides to see the springs. They say there are alligators, snakes, and turtles along with all the fish. We didn’t know this, because nobody told us kids. So we were completely unafraid, and spent the days in the sun, in the beautiful 99.8% clear water.)
To my story — we were camping in the same old canvas tent we’d used throughout the time we were in Turkey. This tent had been set up so many times, and it was such a heavy tent, that the pegs that held it to the ground had been hammered almost to flatness. We were camped some ways from the river — I don’t remember how far, but I couldn’t see the river from the tent.
I had forgotten something — I don’t remember now what it was. But I ran from the river toward the tent to retrieve it. As I rounded the corner of the tent, I stepped on something, but just kept running. It wasn’t until I was in the tent, and saw blood, that I realized I’d cut my foot. Those flat tent pegs — they had razor sharp edges, from being pounded so often. I had run right into one of these pegs, and sliced the sole of my right foot, fairly deeply, under the last two toes.
I was bleeding like crazy, and I screamed. I got up, and tried to walk/run to where my family was, down by the river. Eventually someone heard me, and my folks came running. They wrapped my foot in a towel and carried me to the car. We drove to the hospital in Ocala, I’m sure. I really don’t remember anything until we got to the Emergency Room.
There, I met Nurse-zilla. This woman had the task of cleaning up my foot before I could be stitched. And she used some kind of brush. Even my mom, standing nearby, cringed at the ferocity with which this monstrous woman attacked my foot. I remember screaming my head off; I may be imagining this next, but I could swear I remember some combination of look/snort which meant, “Stop being such a baby.” Of course, I was a baby — I had never hurt myself like this before, and I remember being horrified at the pain.
When Nurse-zilla was finally finished, the doctor came in with a needle to numb my foot for stitches. At that time, I was still scared out of my mind of needles; I was three years away from giving myself shots. This doctor probably did exactly what he had to do, but that didn’t matter to me. He stuck that needle into the cut, and pushed the plunger. By now, I was almost hysterical. I screamed again.
I don’t remember much after the needle, until we got home late that afternoon, and had an impromptu birthday dinner for me. I was not feeling cheerful, but birthdays were a pretty big deal, so I dug in with everyone else. I don’t remember any of my presents but one; my sister J. had bought me a semi-mechanical pencil — when one lead was worn away, I was to remove that lead-cap and insert it into the bottom of the pencil, forcing the next lead-cap to the top.
I managed, somehow, to drive one of those sharp leads into my left ring finger. When I pulled it out, a piece of the lead remained. I have since covered the mark with lancet holes, but for years, I could pick out that dark spot on my finger. A badge of honor, of sorts.
So that is the story of my eleventh birthday. I’m not sure why I wanted to write this down, but I did. Maybe, my entire bad birthday memories stem from this one. In recent years, my family have outdone themselves in marking my birthday with celebrations. Mom and I went to Puerto Rico, for goodness’ sake. Likely the time has come for me to stop talking about how bad my birthdays have been — my last couple of birthdays have been fantastic, and I have no reason to expect anything else in the future. I’m free.