I Hit My Head by Corey A. Edwards

It’s morning and I hear that familiar knocking: a woodpecker boring into the trunk of a fir for some tasty grubs? My daughter engrossed in one of her endless craft projects? A neighbor come down to complain about my habitual and unabashed outdoor urination?

No, it’s just me hitting my head.

It is quite possible that my first head injury occurred well before I was capable of remembering it –for this would explain oh, so much- but my earliest memory of taking one to the casaba occurred one bright spring morning when I was six or seven.

There was an irrigation ditch behind our house that ran deep and strong all summer, then slowed to a trickle for the winter months. Whether watching waterbugs scoot lightning fast across the tops of shallow sparkling pools in the spring, tubing its course in the summer, exploring its leaf strewn nakedness in the fall, or sliding on its ice in the winter, the ditch served as one of my childhood’s chief forms of entertainment.

Perhaps most exciting were the annual spring and fall walks down its empty, serpentine belly, seeing how the topography had been altered and what had been deposited by the current.

No real treasures were ever discovered, no Indian bones or gold nuggets ever glinted up out of the sand at us, but even the tires, old crates, clothing, and occasional lost piece of silverware provided a break from the monotony of our predictable yard.

This particular year, as we made our way up to a deep, slimy pool that never fully emptied, Cliff, my oldest brother, spotted the promising wrinkle of a black plastic trash bag peeping out from under the sand.

What wonderful treasures could be in it?

We dug and pulled but managed only to shred the plastic into strips.

Though it offered up no more than its tired skin, Cliff, ever inventive, had a brainstorm. Selecting a chunk of flaky, grey shale the size of our mother’s fist, he placed it in a fold of the bag and began to spin it like the prop of an airplane; a makeshift sling. Once it gained what he felt was sufficient momentum, he released it on an upswing.

The plastic-wrapped stone zipped high into the air, reached a slow, hanging zenith that seemed impossible in its length, then plunged back to the pebbled bed of the ditch, chased by its gaily snapping trash bag tail; a cross between a meteorite and a cartoon bat. Oh, what fun!

Cliff spun the rock again and again, ever aiming for greater heights until, cranking as hard as he could, mouth open, eyes squinting, the plastic bag went limp; the mass of stone vanishing as if by magic.

We looked at each other, then we looked up.

I remember that the sun was very near its own zenith, hanging like the rock in that vast blue expanse. I had to shield my eyes to search for that sharp-edged piece of shale as it strained the bounds of gravity to twirl in momentary freedom against the sky.

I saw it hanging there and, judging that it would land somewhere before me, dropped my eyes in anticipation of seeing it crash back to earth.

Cliff later said that the stone stuck unwavering out of the top of my skull before I collapsed, stunned, into the long grass of the bank. He thought he’d killed me.

I can remember the sound the shale made as it impacted my cranium; like a shovel going into wet gravel and encountering styrofoam.

My mother was visiting a neighbor at the time, so her first sight of us, as she sat chatting quietly at a picnic table in this person’s front yard, was of us walking towards her down the street, my brother tentatively holding my hand, thinking he was in deep shit, as blood streamed down my face to patter on my chest.

Of course we all went straight home and, though I swore the gash didn’t even hurt until my mother put the ice-filled wash cloth on it, she made me hold it there a long while.

Or maybe the first good blow to my head occurred when Cliff conned me into playing catch with him.

Though the aforementioned rock incident was no one's fault, he was always doing things cruel things to me out of malicious curiosity: suckering me into being his happily unsuspecting guinea pig. An in-house test dummy for the red-hot question which ever burned within the stoked forge of his mind: “What would happen if . . . ?”

I remember very little from this incident beyond going from being very happy to spend time playing with my brother to watching with helpless terror as the white blur of the softball –looking to my four year-old eyes like a wayward planet- flew from his hand to fill my vision and then cancel my fun. The ball smacked me square in the face, knocking me onto my back in the grass of our yard where I lay crying next to a day-old pile of dog shit.

It’s not the pain or the cruelty of this particular incident that I resent -hell, maybe it was an accident- no, what I resent is spending my school years so pathetically head shy that if anything larger than a cheeto was tossed in my general direction I’d injure myself diving out of the way –a reaction that did little to improve my social standing among my peers.

For reasons that should be making themselves evident, I am forced to admit that I am not sure when I first cracked my bean, but one of the earliest I can remember occurred while I was attending preschool.

We were outside at recess, which differed from what we did inside only by location.

There was a sandbox fort built around the base of a big cottonwood, its gritty floor seeded with cat poop. The tree, and thus the fort, was infested with angry red ants whom you would sometimes not even know were on you until the ride home when one would slip out from under your shirt collar to bite you on the ear, causing you to scream at the top of your voice, completely freaking out your mother.

I remember two, small, stripped down helicopters bolted to concrete pads just outside the backdoor. We would spend half our time arguing about who got to play in them, even though we all thought they were kind of boring because there were no buttons or dangerous, whirring parts.

Of course there were also swings, low slides, and merry-go-rounds. There was one kind of merry-go-round there that I’ve never seen since. Instead of a round platform or bench seats, this merry-go-round had six arms extending from a center pole, like spokes in a wheel, and at the end of these arms were metal seats, not unlike small tractor seats. Riders sat facing the center, before them a swing bar with a handle on top and stirrups below. The merry-go-round was powered by the riders pushing and pulling on these swing bars; puuuush with your legs and puuuull with your arms, puuuush with your arms and puuull with your legs, over and over, again and again, faster and faster. It was great fun and terribly dangerous as the swing bars were not passive, pumping like mad whether anyone was manning them or not.

One day, I and five other kids were on this –I’m gonna call it a pushmepullme, if you don’t mind- pumping and pumping and having a grand old time. I remember there were milkweeds next to the pushmepullme and I’d just won a debate about whether milkweeds had milk in them or not by breaking the stem of one and tasting the vile sap inside. Hah! Score one for me!

Anyway, as we were spinning, someone from the blurry world around us –a teacher- said: “Corey, your mom is here to pick you up.”

I tried to slow down the pushmepullme –you could do that, too; just exert reverse force and the thing would slow down- but I was in the middle of a democracy and, as usual, bucking the trend.

“Hey, guys. Stop. My mom is here.” I said.

Did they listen? Hell, did they even hear me?

Push-pull-push-pull, around we went.

I tried again to slow us down but only managed to hurt my feet and hands.

“Hey! Stop!” I shouted. “I have to get off! My mom is here!”

This time at least I got some acknowledgement: someone cried “No!” and there was general laughter at my plight.

I couldn’t get the other kids powering the pushmepullme to stop. No matter how I cried or pleaded they only went faster, so I made with the civil disobedience and simply stopped; stopped fighting, stopped talking, stopped holding on.

I learned some interesting physics that day -all about momentum, gravity, and the amazing abrasive nature of pebbles.

I hit my head -at least that’s what they said. All I remember is that, when I let go of the pushmepullme, the distorted, unreal world that spun all around us took hold of me and suddenly everything was blurry. Great and fascinating streaks of color and indistinct shapes blossomed all around me. I knew I was flying and tried to gauge my direction by looking up –my second big mistake of the day.

Next thing I knew, I was propped up against the steps, surrounded by amused children and white-faced adults.

The best part is, when I explained why I had let go, I was told I was mistaken. No one’s mother was there to pick them up. I’d misheard the whole thing.

Hitting your head is a sort of tradition in my family. My dad always hit his head –still does. As far back as I can remember, my dad has been tall, balding, and ever whacking his noggin on low ceilings, overhead railings, the undersides of cars, protruding lumber, tree branches, plumbing, gutter pipes, the edges of sinks, window casements, boxes, rafters, jutting rebar, doorknobs, wood burning stoves, and more. Half my childhood memories of him involve him hunched over, his head in his hands, the air blue with the indelicate language of frustrated anger and pain.

I must’ve been hitting my head a lot, too, because, by the time I was in grade school, I was actively trying to keep track of the more remarkable incidents.

I remember the first day this occurred to me: I and two of my closest friends were playing on a weird piece of jungle-gym equipment, something like a fiberglass slide enmeshed with a conservative frame of galvanized pipes, all tilted at a slight, maybe 15 degree, angle from the ground. We had no idea what it was -I still don’t- but we imagined it was an airplane fuselage and we were enemies wrestling each other for control of the in-flight vehicle when I fell back and cracked my head on one of the pipes, blacking out for a second.

I didn’t cry, didn’t go to see the nurse. I just rubbed it and made a mental note to remember that it had happened. I felt then and there that I was especially prone to such injuries and knew there was a kind of celebrity involved with them, something manly and dangerous. Didn’t the best heroes always have a bloody rag tied around their heads at some point in the film?

Also, the idea of being a bit crazy, the schoolboy’s idea of crazy, appealed to me and I knew one of the ways you could get a little crazy was if you were hit in the head a lot. Besides, it seemed tough –and I was always trying to impress the girls.

A year or so later, the same two friends and I devised a game called bullfighter. It involved one person being the bull, another the toreador, his jacket held out as the cape, and the last being the audience, whose job was to come down during the third act and try to beat the crap out of whomever was left standing. We would take turns playing the different parts and had a ball.

The game was rough, to be sure, but we were good friends and never meant to hurt each other. So, when Travis reared back and proceeded to launch that hard left fist of his, no one was more surprised than he to discover that it ended up connecting with my eye –mainly because he threw the punch with his own eyes closed. He was the bull and I guess he thought that was how a bull would punch.

His punch really hurt. It rocked me backwards and I fell to my knees, my whole head numb. Behind the abused lid of my eye the black of my vision glowed an angry orange.

Travis was horrified and apologetic, offering me his handkerchief but I used my own because it was mere decoration while I had seen him use his to blow his nose all too often. Blood seeped from my eyelid, which was partially torn, so when the bell rang, I tied my kerchief around my head, hoping to hide the injury so that we wouldn’t get in trouble. Our teacher was no fool, though, and within minutes, I found myself trudging with dread towards the nurse’s office.

The nurse was out that day and I entered the room to discover the principal administering to a little girl. The bottoms of her feet were deep red and covered in jagged, dark brown splinters –and I mean covered. Some of the splinters were as big as toothpicks.

She told him, as I waited, that she’d gotten them sweeping leaves off her front porch with her feet but neither of us believed her. How could you do that with both feet? It was common knowledge that her home life was abusive but this was the seventies so people just shrugged until you displayed a broken bone –or worse.

When it was my turn, I squirmed and evaded as much as she had but where she was successful in avoiding his questionable care, getting sent home instead of having to submit to his probing tweezers, I was not.

He washed the scab off and pried apart the already healing tear to verify that it was healing, then poured some stinging crap over it, into my eye, and all down my shirt. Very comforting.

I did manage to keep him from dragging me to the hospital to have stitches put in –the tear was miniscule for chrissakes!- though he put forth numerous arguments as to why such blatant overkill was necessary. I got the feeling he was bored in his office and just wanted to get out, to do something exciting, heroic even. When I finally walked back to class, I left him disappointed and deflated; just another grade-school administrator, his greatest contribution to the world remaining the shuffling of papers and over-soft hands reeking of dime store aftershave.

Despite my personality, the above remains the only real punch I’ve ever received. Being an utter pansy, I have remained good at avoiding scuffles –at least with non-family members.

Cliff and I were always sparring, not to say we didn’t also have a lot of good fun with each other, but there were a noticeable amount of injuries I suffered as a direct result of having him for a brother.

Five-and-a-half years is a big difference between kids and, during our latchkey afternoons and similarly unsupervised summer days, my opportunity to serve as his punching bag presented itself in the form of the unavoidable argumentation that defines so much of sibling interaction.

Because of this age difference, Cliff could ‘win’ any argument we engaged in regardless of the facts. All he need do was flex an appropriate set of muscles and I would find myself forced to alter my opinion or, at the very least, concern myself with collecting my teeth instead of continuing the debate.

Though our discussions tended to become one-sided demonstrations of pugilism, I didn’t always remember that to acquiesce was to avoid a beating. A natural-born smart-ass, there were times when my tongue became my worst enemy.

While the abuse I suffered was mostly minor -a slap there, a twisted arm there, Indian burns, a rubber band to the ear, phlegm laden saliva drooled onto my face, etcetera- he sometimes went too far.

One incident in particular stands out in my mind, and attends to the subject at hand:

We were only just home from school, barely in the door, when an argument of some kind flew out of control. I pushed one too many buttons and, before I knew it, Cliff was throwing me up against the white, metal cabinet that stood just inside our backdoor. It was flimsy, as metal cabinets go, making plenty of racket but not hurting me as Cliff slammed me against it. I added some other insult, my own rage beginning to boil over, and Cliff slapped me, the force of the blow knocking me from my feet to the floor.

Whatever I said must have been a doozie, or Cliff was just having a worse day than usual, for the sight of me bawling on the floor was not enough to satiate his anger. Squatting over me, he grabbed my ears in his hands and began to beat the back of my skull against the tile-covered concrete slab below.


Real alarm filled me -he was serious! My head was exploding with light and pain and I suddenly realized I was quite mortal.

Thankfully the phone rang, breaking Cliff’s single-minded anger and pulling him back from the brink of turning me into a jell-brained goon. When he paused, I scuttled out from beneath him in animal panic, caterwauling like a banshee for the phone. I picked it up, screaming “Oh my god! Help! He’s trying to kill me!”, then dropped it and ran, still screaming, as Cliff sauntered up from behind.

He assured the caller, a friend of mine, that everything was just fine, we were only having an argument and I was overreacting –then hung up and helped himself to some ice-cream.

One of the reasons I was so able to remain unscathed during my school years is that my lack of self-esteem knew no bounds. Taking a cue from Cyrano de Begerac, I took pride in being able insult and debase myself better than anyone else. My insults were more cutting, more daring than anyone else’s, my pride nonexistent. I would stop at nothing to convince others that I was beneath contempt –and it worked. Bullies, sensing I was so pathetic as to be almost a cripple, left me alone. Even if they didn’t, I could take damned-near anything. After Cliff, threats from kids my own age were laughable. I shrugged it all off, seeming unaffected.

There was one thing I would not brook, however, and that was damage to my books. I don’t mean my notebooks -hell, I never looked inside those anyway, carrying them as a kind of camouflage only so that the teachers would think I was at least trying. No, I’m talking about novels, my constant companions, my only true friends during those dark days. I lived for what was between the covers of the books I carried and, as such, they were my true Achilles heel.

One morning before first bell, as I sat in the cafeteria with my usual group –seven or eight guys who suffered my presence as long as I was willing to play the scapegoat- someone hooked my stack of schoolbooks on the table, including the novel I was presently reading, and shoved it down to the next fellow, who did the same, and so on, until the last son-of-a-bitch gave them a really viscous push that made them shoot down the length of the otherwise vacant cafeteria table to crash onto the floor.

I don’t think anyone had any idea how mad this made me. Once the books passed them by they went on with their laughing conversation, barely suffering me a glance.

They had done far worse to me before and I’d sat and taken it, an unflinching target for their adolescent cruelty, but this time, as I stood to retrieve my books, the rage inside me boiled over.

The poor fool who’d given the last shove to my books, a kid named John, was a couple of grades ahead of us –an upperclassman- but was cursed with the indelible stain of nerdy intelligence so that, despite his years, he received little respect from anyone but teachers.

Why he was sitting at our table that day, I do not know. He was not part of our group, nor its periphery. Whatever the reason, as I passed him on the way to get my books, my anger lashed out.

“You don’t touch people’s books.” I said and, grabbing my right wrist with my left hand, I slammed my right elbow square into the back of his skull with a violence I didn’t know I was capable of. Caught off guard, the older boy’s head flew forward to bounce off the table. Unconcerned, I collected my books from the floor then walked back to my seat.

If anyone was surprised, they didn’t show it. I don’t recall anything else being said until John, tears streaming down his face, stood and confronted me.

I’m not sure why I stood in response but I did, my books clutched to my side as I faced him, unblinking.

“And you shouldn’t hit people!” he blubbered in answer to my earlier comment -then hit me.

It wasn’t a punch but more like a Pete Townshend windmill swipe that brought his fist down across the front of my face, his knuckles furrowing their way across my nose.

I sat down hard in the chair, sneeze tears pricking my eyes. I blinked a few times at my staring compatriots and said: “That hurt!”

The rest of the day, at each opportunity, I would observe my face in the mirror, trying to convince both myself and others that John had broken my nose.

After Cliff moved out, I was given the duty of mowing the yard; a real pain in the ass because, despite the fact that most of my clothes came off the Salvation Army rack, we owned three acres, almost one half of which was lawn –and no, we didn’t have a riding lawnmower.

Worse than the mowing was the trimming, a process completed by hand with a little pair of ancient shears: snikt-snikt-snikt. I had to edge around the perimeter of the property, the outside of the house, the outside of my dad’s workshop, three faucets, two fences, three long stretches of tiered retaining wall that had to be trimmed entirely by hand because there was no way to run the mower over them, two sidewalks, a set of steps leading to the upper bank, four deck posts, a flagstone walkway, and 14 trees -I still remember.

I suppose I could have spent my summers doing something worse but, at the time, I didn’t think so. I especially hated trimming under the pine trees, as their branches were low and festooned with scratchy needles daubed with pitch. Red ants enjoyed the sap of these trees and one had to be quick to get the job done before being bitten.

Even uglier was the job of trimming under the russian olive tree with its hoary thorns that could reach up to three inches in length. My parents initially planted a thorn-less russian olive but it did not survive. The remainder, still in the earth, surprised them by sprouting green the following spring –this new growth, however, sported thorns.

Like the young pine trees growing nearby, its spiked branches spread low to the ground, though not so low that one could not crawl beneath them –providing you were small and careful.

Fitting at least one of the criteria, my trimming duty acquainted me first-hand with the keen inflexibility of the tree’s spurs. I would sometimes break them away from the branch and play with them, shoving them through the fabric of my clothes or the callus of my hands, marveling at their ability to pierce.

I’d long trimmed under the tree without injury so I suppose I was being cocky or perhaps just forgetful the day that I brought my head up too high, too fast.

It felt like I just bonked my head but with branches that thick with barbs, I knew this could not be true.

I crawled out from under the tree and felt my head. Sure enough, my hand came away bloody. I could feel the spot where the thorn pierced the skin and I fussed at it until the bleeding stopped.

A day or two later, I began to finger the scab with interest. I’ve always been a skin-peeler and a scab picker; fascinated with the attempt pull off the biggest piece possible and enjoying the damp, healing surface beneath. Wounds last twice as long with me as other folks because I never allow them to knit in peace.

The scab on my head was protruding in a tantalizing fashion and itched a bit, almost asking to be played with, so I reached up and picked it off. I was rewarded not with a scab but one of the russian olive’s long, thin spines whoseconsiderable length I pulled with some surprise out of the top of my skull.

I’ll never know if the thorn was stuck directly into the bone of my cranium, perhaps wedged into a serendipitously placed fissure of a suture, or if it was a more innocent case of the thorn sliding between the skin and bone of my noggin. I didn’t think, at the time, to give the remaining hole a thorough inspection and, by the time I went to bed that night, the scab had reformed so there was no way to see if a prone position would cause my skull to leak cranial fluid, but I would swear that the damned thing came straight up out of my head when I pulled it out.

As a young pre-teen, my greatest source of frustration and shame was a lack of acceptance from my peers and, more often than not, these feelings would first manifest themselves as I readied for school in the morning, a process that required me to face what I felt was the greatest cause of these social troubles in the mirror over the sink –my head.

My home life was not the type that encouraged or accepted too much extreme behavior from children. My father often accused my mother of spoiling us –and in his eyes I suppose she did- but this didn’t mean we were mouthy, temper-tantrumy, or otherwise bratty. The severity of my father’s temper and the level of my mother’s understanding kept us in line most of the time but come the teen years and the hormones that accompany them, and the occasional outburst was inevitable.

One particular morning I was even more dissatisfied with how I looked than usual. My hair, thick and heavy, was a difficult thing to deal with and I often cursed it, throwing my brush back into the drawer and barking out the angry wish that I was bald –a condition I can now assure you is far easier than having to maintain unruly hair but possesses unfortunate limitations of its own.

I was as superficially miserable as only a boy afloat in the roaring chasm of jumbled emotions can be and I suddenly flew into an uncontrolled, idiot rage. I’ve no idea what set me off but it is obvious I hoped to generate as much attention as sympathy with my tantrum for, instead of heading outside or back to my room as I usually did in such states, I made for the living room where I threw myself to the floor, bemoaning my hideous fate in a loud, asinine voice.

One of the many improvements my parents made to the house we lived in was a moss rock fireplace. Taking up one corner of the living room, it’s rough, hard surface helped to retain and reflect the heat that the fireplace –and later a wood burning stove- radiated during the cold and dim winter months.

It also made a great thing upon which to crack one’s skull.

When I flung myself upon the floor, so great was my petulance that it did not occur to me to account for the outer edge of the rugged moss rock, so my imagined, pre-teen pain changed abruptly into real, bashing-in-the-back-of-your-head-with-a-big-old-rock pain.

This single act unified those present: my parents forgot their fully justifiable urge to throttle me and I received the attention and concern I so heartily craved, albeit for a reason I neither planned nor enjoyed.

From that time forward until, my mid twenties, I had few blows to the head that I would deem worthy of mention -or memory- yet it was during this time period that I began to hit myself in the head on purpose.

I blame it on a combination of my own barely disguised self-loathing and Monty Python’s classic Holy Grail film.

If you’ve not seen the latter, there is one scene that begins with the face of a shrouded monk –a flagellant. A hooded cowl hides much of his face as he intones his somber Latin mantra and then, when you’re least expecting it, he swings a large plank of wood into his face, producing a very satisfying thunk.

The process is repeated ad nauseum and, as the camera pulls back, we are treated to an entire line of these idiots, marching along and bashing out their brains in the name of Christ.

Well I thought this was a scream and, missing the point almost entirely, delighted in reenacting the scene to my frontal lobe and school-notebook’s detriment.

I enjoyed the attention I received from such behavior -delight from my friends and dismayed disapproval from everyone else- and soon found that there were a number of surfaces that were perfect for such shenanigans, i.e.; they looked hard but had a surprising and comfortable level of give in them.

A perfect example of this, and one of my favorites, was my school locker door that I loved to yank open, as if it had sprung loose suddenly, to slam against my head, which I would then jerk back with a grunt of mock surprise. I’m sure this was humorous once but every day? Large pots and cookie sheets were also choice, making a wonderful noise as I bounced them off the thick bone of my forehead.

By the time I was a young adult, much of my self-destructive behavior had gone from physical to chemical acts, the ingestion of certain substances replacing (and probably harming the contents of my skull far more than) the locker doors of my past, yet I still retained this faux-flagellant behavior. I am certain that, as the record store clerk who smacked himself in the forehead with a clipboard at irregular intervals, I startled and dismayed many a customer.

And to think I couldn’t figure out why none of my female coworkers seemed attracted to me.

Though I managed to avoid any serious clonks during my early twenties, there are a few humorous, if minor, episodes I could relate from this time.

One involved little more than me attempting to heave a large sack of cat food out of the back seat with one hand on a very hot day.

I leaned into my little, rolling oven, one arm already encumbered by three bulging grocery sacks, grasped the corner of the 50 lb. bag and gave a great tug, imagining myself quite the man for hauling out such a weight with but one arm.

What I didn’t take into account was the glossy nature of the bag and the sweaty state of my hand, a combination that, instead of hauling the bag out with macho ease, brought my hand rocketing back into my face with such force that I lost my balance and fell into the back seat of the car, my vision exploding with stars and my Yoplait mashing my Little Debbies.

Later that same year, I was induced to tape an early-morning radio broadcast of an acquaintance being duped by his fiancé via a couple of giggling, sophomoric disc jockeys. In order to accomplish the favor, I had to get up earlier than usual.

Groggy and stupefied by both the hour and the night’s previous intake of alcohol, I set my tape deck to record then went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, the radio spewing its early-morning, FM rock-station banality in the background.

Hearing what sounded like the beginnings of the event I was to record, I spun to exit the bathroom but missed the opening by a couple of inches, my half-aware skull inhibiting said intentions by contacting solidly with the door jam.

It was apparent that some prior tenant had found the tab lock on the bathroom door insufficient protection against being barged in upon for, though the door and lock in question had long since been replaced, the loop designed to receive and hold the bolt remained.

It was with this worn piece of metal that I unerringly collided, gouging a chunk out of my eyebrow and knocking myself even more senseless than before.

In defeat I collapsed, face down on the carpet of the hall, my hand cupping my face and full of blood. On the radio, the dj's yukked it up, getting the acquaintance, who was in a band, to agree to view a groupie’s intimately placed tattoo while the audience, which included his fiancé, listened -what a gas.

Luckily, the joke was run again an hour later, allowing me to record it -thus fulfilling my promise. The bruise that discolored my eye-socket lingered for many days, running gaily through the colors of the rainbow like a child with a pan-chromatic marker set; the scar remains, buried under one of the bushy wooly-boogers I call an eyebrow.

The most glaringly stupid head injury I ever received (up to this date –I’m all for breaking my own records) occurred shortly after the birth of my daughter.

At the time I was employed as the manager of a small, independent record store, a job that included listening to the kind of music that causes customers to flee with their hands over their ears, chucking cassette and CD long boxes into the whirring blades of an overhead fan, and running next-door to 7-11 to buy out their supply of Cherry Garcia Peace Pops.

During my tenure I amassed a loose-knit group of high school-aged ne’er-do-well’s whom were endlessly amazed and amused by my questionable behavior. I enjoyed their admiration and, to some degree, longed to join their ranks. Having just assumed the awesome reins of responsibility that is parenthood, that first year or two I often went out of my way to act as irresponsible as possible in a shameful attempt to retain my youthful who-gives-a-fuck.

One night, after closing the store, I noted that the back hall was choked with cardboard boxes. Andy, the owner, was notorious for leaving the place an utter pigsty, a condition I rarely battled as it was impossible to keep up with his slovenliness. On the evening in question, however, I was doing nothing more than waiting for my wife to arrive with the car. As I also had the company of three idle yet hyper teenagers, I decided to make a party out of dealing with the mess.

The boys were enthusiastic at the prospect for mayhem. One of them, Greg, leapt boldly into the pile, damn near breaking his neck, then waded to the back door and, raising the locking bar, pushed it open. The three of us set to with an immediate flurry of kicks and shouts, our efforts forcing the boxes to fly pell-mell out the back door on the desperate heels of the loudly complaining Greg.

Once in the alley, we abused the boxes with chops, stomps, hacks, and punches, rendering them lumpy, scarred, and anything but broken down. The pile of cardboard was such that we had to make several trips down the alley to the recycling bin, kicking, barking, and giggling much of the way.

I was a bit chagrined when the liquor store owner popped his head out to see just what the hell those damned kids were up to.

With the last batch in our arms, or fleeing before our thrusting toes, we approached the dumpster at the height of our giddiness.

Greg threw a box in the air and karate chopped it into the dumpster. Evan stepped back then ran at the dumpster, leaping high and slam-dunking his square victim into the jumbled depths with a yell. Ethan followed suit, dropkicking in one box then pummeling in another.

Not wishing to be outdone, I conceived the idea of head-butting a box. Though there were no longer any boxes needing to be put into the bin, I spotted a likely victim near the front, its unmarred sides inviting me to crush and rend.

I dashed towards the dumpster, a warrior’s call in my throat, then leapt and thrust my head forward at the box as I came down, imagining it collapsing under my forehead’s furious assault.

I connected, instead, with the steel rim of the dumpster; an object unimpressed by such efforts. My momentum was arrested with an abrupt report.

For a moment there was silence.

I weaved away from the dumpster on a monkey’s legs, head down, my hands clutching the front of my skull as if it would fall to the pavement like a bowl of cereal should I release pressure. My companions were aghast:


“Oh, shit man!”

“You alright?”

I couldn’t talk at first so I did the next best thing –I began to laugh.

I have long possessed an odd reaction to certain kinds of pain. A good whack on the funny bone will often make me burst into giggles. Once my daughter bounced a basketball into my scrotum, causing me to collapse to the driveway in a fetal position, consumed with uncontrollable laughter that went on so long she became frightened.

On this particular evening, however, the pain I was laughing at was not that of my freshly cleaved forehead but that of knowing I was one of the greatest idiots to have ever lived.

My teenaged compatriots were relieved to see I was conscious but, at the same time, remained dubious. Who cracks his head on solid steel, the weight of their body behind the blow, then walks it off with peals of maniacal laughter?

Someone whose brain is irreparably damaged, that’s who.

But I was fine. Really.

Instead of pain there was numbness and I was more amused by the blood running into my eyes than concerned. I could remember my name, knew what year it was, and was jonesing for a cigarette –all was well. The one thought that kept running through my mind was –thank god it was my forehead and not my nose that hit the dumpster.

We trooped inside to find my wife, Sharon, waiting at the locked door. I jogged over and unlocked it, giggling and embarrassed as her eyes widened at the gore dripping from my face.

“Hi, babe!” I said. “It’s okay, I just head-butted a dumpster.”

In the bathroom I peered at my wound, a half-inch gash to the bone just above where the Hindu’s would place my third eye. I spread it open and moved the skin around, looking for the new dent in my skull.

Sharon wanted to take me to the emergency room for stitches and to have my head examined. I told her I didn’t need the first (scars lend character) and it was too late for the second –the jury came back on the verdict years ago.

You might suspect otherwise but I’ve never been diagnosed as having suffered a concussion, have never visited the hospital for a head injury. I’ve never suffered from blurred vision, speaking in tongues, or mewling at the back of my throat (well, not involuntary mewling). Still, one cannot help but wonder if these experiences haven’t had at least some effect on me. Perhaps they could explain the childhood migraines I endured or why I cruised through school with a smile and a D average? Are they the reason I collect cat whiskers and find eating a wasteful bore? Maybe they’re to blame for my deplorable musical taste and why I spent years insisting on not washing my coffee cup until it’s funky brown patina began to flake off in the beverage, an unappetizing flotsam of filth?

Or maybe this collection of unremarkable injuries is not the cause but simply a side effect of my character. Perhaps it is evidence of a higher, guiding force -nature or one of her agents attempting to knock a little sense into me, to get me to stop acting like such an ass and to wake up.

If so, it hasn’t worked.

Does anyone else hear a ringing?

cae 2004