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My Body the Hand Grenade
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by Laura

 

The conformation of your skull is something of a phrenologist’s wet dream.  There are times when you run a hand through your hair, usually in frustration.  The fingers gliding over scalp, for a brief moment, make memories tangible.  You have a three-inch long scar that runs parallel with your hairline.

 

   

 

It was 1970, and (if ego was any indication) you had the biggest balls on the block.  Your mother didn’t know what to do with you.  You didn’t get into trouble much, but she could always tell from a look in your eye or the set in your jaw that something was amiss.  She can still tell when you’re up to no good; it’s not innocent childhood trouble nowadays, you could always bounce back from that.  You don’t remember the last time you did anything remotely innocent and you lost the ability to bounce years before a bad leg was factored into the equation. 

 

You were turning a corner on your bike, fast because speed is better than any drug, when you ran into her.  Jane Roulin lived three houses down and a world apart.  She’d been crossing the street when the collision occurred.  The bicycle went one direction and you went another.  Jane hit the ground hard but was uninjured.  Unconsciously deciding to one up her, you landed face down on a sewer grate, splitting open the top of your head.  She came over to see if you were okay and was horrified to see blood.  She took the proper sweater from her back and tried to press it against your cut to stop the bleeding.  Refusing adamantly, the sweater was pink and you were at the age where colors could mean life or death, you stood up on two shaky legs and walked home.  Minutes later, face streaked in blood, you relayed the story back to your mother.  That was the point in which you became the proud owner of twenty-seven stitches, what the doctor claimed would be a ‘cool looking scar’, and a sticker for being a good boy. 

 

Jane came to see you a few days later.  You didn’t really want her there but she kissed your scar, held your hand and said she was worried about you.  Lacking a reply, you instead uttered a wry comment.  Feelings are hard to understand, so when she asked if you liked her your answer was a breathlessly whispered no.  Freshly rejected and probably silently condemning you to Hell, her eleven-year-old world was on the verge of ending.   She never looked prettier to you than when she had all her dreams ripped to shreds.  And you’ve had dozens of these conversations over the years, a different Jane and a different question, and maybe one day you’ll get it right but it’s easier for you to lie to another person than to be honest with yourself.

 

 

You were the passenger when your drunken friend, Mike, was driving his ugly Monte Carlo.  You’d spent an uneventful afternoon at his apartment, smoking pot and eating your weight in snack food.  Mike was a mysterious drunk.  You never remember him drinking but he was always drunk.  Having decided that fast food was an order Mike was trying to navigate through rush hour traffic.  Meanwhile you pondered what flavor of milkshake you wanted as if your life depended on it.  The next thing you remember you’re being pulled out of what used to be a car.  The car was wrapped around a telephone pole like it was giving it a hug.  You and Mike had some cuts and bruises but would be fine.  That must’ve been the magic phrase because two county cops dragged both of your asses off to jail an instant later. 

 

With your clothes smelling like gasoline and pavement, you were thrown into a waiting room while Mike was questioned separately.  Sweeping a hesitant gaze over the half-filled scattered seats, you’re a little nervous when you realize those prison movies are somewhat true to life. 

 

The frosted glass door swings open with restrain and someone else is led inside.  He’s young and pretty, like throwing a piece of meat to hungry lions.  Apparently, among the not friendly faces in this room, you’re the closest to normal looking because he sits down next to you, shaking like an off balance washing machine, and starts cracking his knuckles.  You slide a cigarette between your lips, light it, and are about to take that first magnificent drag when the pretty guy decides he can speak when not spoken to.

 

“Did it ever occur to you that those might kill you?”

 

For a brief moment you wish it was your body wrapped around that tree.

 

“No.  I’m in a county courthouse’s waiting room with a bunch of guys and I’m betting at least half must be named Bubba, so I have other concerns.”

 

“I’m Richard.”

 

For fuck’s sake, this isn’t a Hallmark movie.  You close your eyes and take a deep breath.

 

“Let me guess.  Friends and family call you Ricky, you have a girlfriend but don’t know what to do with her so you just hold her hand on the weekends, and,” you take a confident drag from your cigarette, “you’re pre-med or pre-law.”

 

“What exactly-”

 

“Why are you here?  Wait, I know.  You were tricking too close to the airport.”

 

Richard stands up nervously and moves his hands to his hips.  Even though he’s a stranger you can tell the movement’s familiar, you hate when people try to be a self-appointed savoir.

 

“This being a jerk thing come naturally to you?”

 

You exhale through clenched teeth and wonder when you started caring what people said about you.  Having burned through the cigarette quickly, you toss the butt towards his feet.

 

“Nice khakis.  Gap ’82?”

 

A shadow and its monstrous owner creep up on you.  This just isn’t your day.

 

“You got anymore cigarettes?”

 

This man is very large, you’re almost certain he’s an extinct mammal, and he’s covered in tattoos.  He must be the friendly neighborhood bitch-maker.

 

“No.”  The man just stares down at you, the physical epitome of a glower.  “Sorry,” you add.

 

“What’d you mean, no?”

 

“It’s pretty clear what the word means-”

 

He’s large but fast.  His hands go for your throat so quick it must be routine.  You pivot left, and he stumbles and misses.  It’s adrenaline and being pissed at Mike the forever drunk; your fist slams into his jaw and this large tattooed stranger is on the receiving end of all the frustration you’ve built up over the years.  It’s exhilarating and by the fifth punch you’ve got two of the tattooed man’s teeth on the floor.  The delivery of your smug comment is interrupted when an officer twists your arm behind your back until it’s bent at an angle they never taught you in geometry.  You’re shoved to the floor and taste dirty state-issued carpet briefly until you’re issued a reprieve of sorts.

 

“Is that really necessary?”

 

Turning your head all you can see is a pair of legs.  Very nice legs.

 

“Ma’am-”

 

“Stand him up, please.”

 

The officer helps you back to your feet and you see the body that belongs to the legs.  She’s good-looking, and acting like she owns everything under the sun makes her that much more appealing.

 

“Are you Michael’s friend?”  She says, and then peers down at the file in her hands, “Gregory House?”

 

You rub the knuckles of your right hand, flexing the now battered digits, and decide that instant to quit smoking. 

 

“That’s me.  You are?”

 

“His lawyer.”  She holds out her hand.  “Stacy Auvers.”

 

You shake her hand and hold on to it like a lifeline. 

 

Years later you’ll be doing the same thing.  You’re lying in a hospital bed, pleading with her using everything but words.  She pulls her hand from your grasp and grabs her purse.

 

“Stacy.”  Your voice breaks halfway through her name and with the second syllable you’re breaking right along with it.

 

She’s leaning against the door to your room, leaving regardless of what you do, and she’s never been further away.

 

“I won’t be here when you come out of surgery.”

 

You grip the metal railing on the side of your bed.  Impersonal and cold to the touch, it reminds you of Stacy.  You grip it harder.

 

“I want you to stay.”

 

She clutches her purse tighter.  “I can’t.”

 

“You can.  Please.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she says, as the door shuts behind her.

 

You don’t yell or cry.  There is no wallowing in self-pity.  You don’t react.

 

Three months later you’re stumbling with digested alcohol through the doorway of your apartment.  A cripple and a drunk is not a good combination, you think, as your knee hits the edge of your coffee table.

 

After getting changed you get a glass of water and a Vicodin.  You hate to be dependent on anything, and swallow it quickly so you won’t have to look at it anymore.  You rest a hand on your thigh, almost forgetting about the scar, but almost isn’t completely and you remember quite well.  Picking up the empty glass, you run a hand over the scar one more time before you hurl the glass at the wall.  The wall is six feet in front of you and glass shards come flying back at you with the same amount of rage they left with.  Figures.  You can’t ever be completely rid of anything.

 

You limp over to the wall, on the way grabbing a trashcan.  It makes perfect sense to pick up shards of glass with your bare hands.  Predictably you get a cut on the pad of your thumb.  You join the trashcan, leaning against the wall feeling like an asshole because you can’t even clean up your own messes.  You run a hand, complete with a bloody thumb, through your hair.  When your shaky hand brushes over that decades old scar you feel everything you’ve never felt, non-reactions to things that have happened at one time or another, and when Stacy left she took more than her purse with her.  You start to cry and hate yourself more with every tear that’s shed. 

 

Sitting on the floor of your bedroom, tasting tears next to a trashcan and surrounded by broken glass.  This is what your life has become.    You abhor things that can be defined so easily and want someone just to hold your hand.

 

 

You watch Vogler amble out of your office, his exit accompanied by Keith Moon’s furious drumming, and silently admit you’re in a bit of a tight spot.

 

Sure, he donated a lot of money.  Is the dollar value of his money greater than anyone else’s?  You’re not going to bend over at the mention of a large donation to the hospital.  Money shouldn’t be a factor in life and death. 

 

Picking up your copy of US Weekly, you swing your legs on top of the desk sending papers fluttering and flying.  Jaw clenched, pretending it’s Brad and Jen’s amicable split that’s made you angry.  Mentally overrun for the moment with pop culture references and Nielson ratings, the world manages to go away for a little while. 

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen …

 

“Do you like me?”

 

… in this corner, her specialty is immunology …

 

Surrounded by a sea of people, she stares and waits for yet something else from you.

 

… Dr. Allison Cameron!

 

“I need to know.”

 

The four words come from her mouth a hiss, the release of an oxygenated burden, more a feeling than a statement.

 

Again you’re pleading with another woman, with your eyes, with your stance.  A dance you’re always doing to a song you can’t quite shake.

 

And in this corner, his specialty is snide comments and cane twirling, Dr. Gregory House!

 

You think of the scar on your head, pot smoke that hung low in the air at Mike’s, ten guys named Bubba, and the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realized the only person to help you pick up the pieces was yourself.

 

“No.”  You say it quietly hoping it’ll hurt less, knowing that it won’t.

 

She starts walking away.  But she’ll be back and that’s a good thing.  You don’t know how you feel about yourself, let alone her.  Objectivity is something you can’t risk in this type of job. 

 

Staring at her retreating form, she seems to be walking a little slower than normal.  Your imagination? 

 

You wonder if she’d ever kiss your scars or if she has a pink sweater.  You wonder if she’d ever stand white-knuckled, clutching her purse.  Or if she’d ever just hold your hand.  But mostly you just wonder, and for now it’s enough.

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