Saturday, November 5, 2016

Great Grates

I have a short horizontal scar on the back of my right hand.  About a centimeter back from where it ends, I have another vertical scar.  Around the middle of my wrist, there's another vertical scar.  My right ring finger has a long gash, just above the second knuckle.  My thumb has a straight pucker of flesh above the largest, first knuckle.

The first scar was from a wire fence I slashed my hand on.  Can't remember when exactly.  My father was living in a park on the outskirts of some small village in the parts of New York that aren't referred to as "The City" or "North of The City."  I was taking the trash out one afternoon.  Caught my hand between the door and the latch as it snapped shut.  Couple of paper towels and super glue, and twelve-year-old me figured that was that.

The second scar I mentioned - along with my thumb - was from the kitchen.  I have too many scars like these to recall exactly at this point.  The first was a run in with the wrong side of a mandoline slicer.  The second, a brand-new knife took first blood.  I was unfamiliar with its weight and sharpness.  Stitched the gash it caused with some sewing twine and neosporin.  This - among other scars - is one of the primary reasons I prefer working with my own knives when cooking in someone else's kitchen.  From what I've learned in the past some-odd years, I am not alone in this.

My right ring finger was stitched back together after ice skating over it.  Couple of girls were flirting during a church social event at an ice skating rink, and I was largely oblivious.  They snuck up and startled me on the ice, I lost my balance, and in the flailing that ensued - somewhere prior to landing on my ass and after my pride was bruised for the wear - I didn't even realize part of the finger stopped... well... fing-ing.  Still attached by meat and skin, though.  Managed to hack it with my own ice skate.  Put it and my hand on ice, docs put it back where it mostly fits, and here we are.

The scar around my wrist eludes me, though.  It could be from when I wrapped my body around a broad tree with coarse bark while delivering newspapers in my youth.  The roads were icy, there was a car coming on, it was caught in a slide on the ice, and I was going downhill on a bicycle roughly pointed at it.  I swerved to miss the vehicle, and folded like a limp noodle around that woody bastard.  I know of the scars on my shoulder and elbow, where the impact tore through my snowsuit and flesh.  Spent a week hammering the rim in place in a sub-zero garage, after an afternoon of walking the route.  A journey that was normally 30 minutes now took an hour and a half, returning with a numb lisp and frozen tear ducts.

It could be from a giant attack rabbit at the shelter.  Trudy liked flesh, I have flesh: you see where this is going.  I'm sure someday I'll remember exactly. 

I don't believe that we remember things like the back of our hands, so much as memories are a lot like the back of a hand.  They're evenly laid out, easily observable, and on a moment-to-moment basis, they form who you are as a person.  Sure, there's depth to them, too.  There's the bone, muscle, and sinew that goes into forming you as a person.  That's a lot of stuff to have accessible in a split second, so, for the most part, "You" in most moments are just the skin on top.  And maybe some of the hairs.  And that weird mole you should probably talk to a doctor about.

Then there's hangnails.  Sometimes you remember a fragment of something, and it just sits there, at the edge of all memories, begging to be picked at and opened.  And you can't just sit there staring at it.  When you least suspect, it'll get snagged on another memory, itch and irritate its way to the forefront with annoyance over unfamiliarity, or swell up with an urgent inflammation that *this* is the only thing you should be thinking about.

So you pick at it.  And it hurts - good fucking christ does it hurt as you start peeling back that memory.  There's a bit of depth to it, it connects to other memories, you realize how deep it is - or at least, how deep it's going as you open it up.   There's blood - of course, why wouldn't there be? - and the next thing you know, you have a loose bit of flesh which started as barely a millimeter in length, now riding close to a centimeter or more away from the nail, bearing down on the knuckle.

And it hits you: this is why you didn't remember.  It hurts.  It's open, and it's bleeding, and it's sore, and it's just this small thing but all your body feels it.  The very foundation of how your hand works - how your memories work, how your personality is put together - is opened, and you see a sliver of the way your body maps out to be the person you are.  You know, which is great and all WHEN YOU AREN'T IN FUCKING HANGNAIL HELL.

But that's how it is.  We build a map of memories over the things that cause us to hurt and bleed.  We build a mask of flesh over it so we don't break down looking at the bloody stump we'd otherwise be, and we move on.  Until every now and then, something gets in our ear and it's that small sliver - that thing we put down deep - but we just want it to stop getting in the way of who we immediately are.  So, we rip, and it's everywhere, fresh as an apple from the tree.  Marring up the roadmap of who we are - albeit temporarily.

Now that’s established, part two.

I had this moment recently.  During a conversation where it was jokingly brought up about choosing to not be a domestic abuser, it just didn't sit right with me.  I joked about it during the moment, didn't get all weird, and it didn't get to me until later in the evening.  I was trying to figure out *why* it was still getting to me.  On a rolling basis, I can recall bits of the time my stepfather lived with us - the big things, mostly.  Being grounded to my room for entire summers, being a prisoner in our own house other times, loose recollections of the physical and emotional abuse, the domino effect this had throughout the home, and so on.  It's a thing I don't put focus on often.  Everyone has their own shit, and it's all - give or take - terribly relative, and relatively terrible.

So here I was a half hour shy of midnight focusing on a thing I hadn't done spelunking through since I was - I don't know, 17? - 18?  And just like then, I just fuzzed out.  My mind just got wrapped up in the vivid memories of screaming in the middle of most nights.  It would come as waves, once around 10 or so, and again four or five hours later.  There was an air return in the floor of my bedroom.  I would gingerly take off the grate and stuff it with plush animals, pillows, blankets, clothes - whatever would muffle the noise.  I'd repeat this with the register in the wall. I'd rather not have heat on a winter's night, or air condition on a balmy summer's eve than listen.  And there'd be thumping, and more screaming.  And a slam, and more.

The thing is, committing abuse isn't a choice.  It's not something a sane person would evaluate with a conscious, "should I"/"shouldn't I" decision.  This is not something to be evaluated, so much as something to simply never occur.  It's not like wondering if you should have the whole wheat or rye.  It's not a morality question regarding people and children on train tracks: there should never be a question or choice about physically, emotionally, sexually, or otherwise abusing children and spouses.

Abuse is about regimented, systemic control of another person or people.  In my time, the only conscious choice the abuser makes is in matters of "rational" limits.  Here, zero is not a value, unless it exerts control, such as providing zero meals to a person until they're amenable.  Or until they've apologized for something they never did in the first place.  Either/or. 

Citing from experience, the evaluation is more, "Did they wash the dishes the EXACT way I wanted them to, three times, over the course of two hours?"  If yes, the answer would be to rapidly slip a belt off and whip it across the back and buttocks region four times.  If not done as described, six.  If not, but fingers and knuckles were bleach-cracked, bleeding, no longer reasonably able to withstand the scalding hot water, three times. (As a reference, the answer was three).

Abuse of any kind is not rational.  By that means, when I ripped that small hangnail open - that small, insignificant sliver - that yeah, sure, I could have just left well enough alone - there's some question about that rationale.  But you know what? - that's part of the blood and bones beneath the memories that make me the person I am on a day to day basis.  I lived through abuse, physical and emotional.  There's many things I learned from it, but of most use was how it taught me how to recognize toxic people.  It took me three years just to be content with myself, all the while smiling like a mad bastard because that's what I thought was normal.  It took me another five to stand up for my own beliefs, and another seven after that to just be done with other people forcing theirs on me.

Abuse of any kind is not rational.  Joking about it is not rational, either.

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