No Dark Secrets Here – it’s Really Just a Black Eye
July 15, 2006
Several times over the past few months, my 10-year-old daughter has called me into her room, upset about a microscopic zit. It’s hard to tell what bothers her more: the blemish or the idea that dreaded puberty may be upon her. Generally I opt to tackle the more manageable issue, the zit.
“It’s tiny and it’ll probably be gone tomorrow,” I say.
“It’s not! It’s huge!” she insists.
“Then forget about it. If you don’t dwell on it, nobody else will, either.”
Not a month after yet another zit encounter, my words came back to haunt me when, in one of those freak occurrences that seem to happen only to me, I got clobbered in the face by my bike lock. A welt erupted on my cheekbone where the lock had hit, millimeters from my left eye. “Darn,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to have a bruise.”
I pressed ice to the side of my head, hoping to reduce the swelling. This was as effective as using a squirt gun would be to fight a forest fire. Within 24 hours, my eye looked as if it had been designed by the makeup artist who came up with Hilary Swank’s look for the post-fight scenes in “Million Dollar Baby.”
I knew nobody would look at me and think, “There’s that woman who attached her 10-pound Kryptonite bike lock to the outside of her backpack because there was no room in the pack, and when she bent down the lock swung around and hit her in the face.”
I knew people would look at me and think, “Her husband hits her.” And indeed, if I’d collected a penny for every time someone said it out loud, I could have bought a month’s worth of eye patches.
I briefly considered wearing a sign that said, “I’m not abused. I’m just stupid,” until it occurred to me that that would be worse. Then I decided to act as if nothing was amiss.
That worked – until I had to go out in public again. The day after the accident, when the bruise was in full flower and my eight-year-old son’s soccer teammates recoiled in horror as I congratulated them for a game well played, I was forced to accept that some things can’t be ignored.
So I opted for Plan C: make jokes. Because the bruise appeared during the height of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, I told people that I had been set upon by an angry mob while wearing a Hurricanes jersey on Whyte Avenue. Or that I’d been painting the Oilers’ logo over my eye and had run out of copper paint. At a Weight Watchers meeting, I announced that I’d clubbed myself with an ice cream sundae glass as punishment for exceeding my weekly points limit.
Many of the women in my Weight Watchers group are nurses, and they looked at me with great concern and then said to one another, “The eye is so vascular” which I believe is nurse talk for “That is one ugly bruise.”
After a few days, the attention started getting to me. I decided to take another stab at Plan B. If I didn’t look at people, I wouldn’t notice when they stared, and therefore it wouldn’t bother me. Except the opposite happened: instead of being relieved, I got irritated when nobody stared.
What irritated me the most, however, was that I was being such a ninny. Was I not the same person who, mere weeks earlier, had tried to cajole a 10-year-old out of making a mountain out of a microscopic zit? True, what I had was neither microscopic nor a zit, but the principal was the same. Or at least, it should have been.
It took nearly three weeks, but I finally succeeded in overcoming my self-consciousness. It helped, I suppose, that by then the bruise had faded to a pale purple line below my eye, too inconspicuous or inconsequential to invite a second glance.
Still, I am confident my experience will enable me to be more empathic the next time Elizabeth comes crying to me about a blemish, microscopic or otherwise. If you can’t joke about it or ignore it, I’ll tell her, lock yourself in your room until it goes away.