When I was in fifth grade, I got into a fight with a wall and lost. Badly.
It wasn’t intentional, of course. We were playing tag, like you do in fifth grade, and the wall next to the girls’ bathroom was base. Basic enough, really. So I was hauling ass back to base, because I was not being It, when a second-grader came out of the bathroom. I went to sidestep her, but this isn’t exactly easy to do when running at full speed. I managed to miss her, but in doing this, I had lost the ability to stop. So I crashed into the wall.
I staggered backwards, slightly dazed. The right part of my jaw was completely numb. The second-grader tore back to her friends, I assume fearing retribution. I blinked, shook my head, and turned around. My friends gasped.
I was friends with mostly boys at the time. So it wasn’t a gasp of horror, really. It was the gasp of utter fascination. Never in my life have I had so many boys staring openly at my face. Luckily, my one girl friend had the good sense to go and get an adult. We explained the situation (well, they did, I was having a hard time forming words for some reason) and I was sent to the main office.
I was fairly well-known around campus as my mother had served on the PTA, first as the treasurer, and then as the president. She also volunteered at the school library. In elementary school, I couldn’t get away with anything. Not that I would try. I’m serious. I was a pretty boring child. I spent most of my time reading books, playing Super Mario, and generally avoiding being outside. So I was fine with being well-known around campus, because I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to get into trouble rereading Matilda.
Unfortunately, what I did not expect was for the secretaries to start freaking out when I went to the main office.
I walked in, the yard duty volunteer being very lovely to me, and was greeted by four women who gasped in horror and started to cry. I’m not kidding. There were legit tears. Cue me freaking out.
I don’t like people fussing over me. It makes me uncomfortable. And psychoanalyze that all you want. It’s just a part of who I am, and one I don’t really feel I need to work on. I like to just be left on my own, with the occasional recognition for a job well done. No, this was four ladies full-on crying over what a terrible state I was in.
Was I in a terrible state? I hadn’t seen the damage yet. My mouth was starting to sting, but not majorly, so I thought I had just scraped it a bit. I wasn’t too concerned. But now there were grown women crying over me. And I was scared.
I was told to go wait in the nurse’s office, which I did. I looked around desperately for a reflective surface of some sort so I could see just what had happened to my face. But there was nothing. I touched my lip, and my fingers came away red. I kept my hands in my lap after that, only occasionally looking at my fingers and staring at the blood.
I watched one of the secretaries call my mother. She kept looking at me through the open door and then would look away again. The more she did this, the more I was convinced it was because I was horribly disfigured. The damage was irreversible. I imagined that I would have to have part of my jaw removed. That I would have to wear a mask. I would live in the bowels of the school’s multi-purpose room, disturbing wiring, learning to play the crappy Casio they broke out at the occasional assembly, and just generally freaking out the school staff. I would be legend. Future students would talk about me in hushed tones. They would fear me.
Just as I was trying to cheer myself up with thoughts of, “Well, the cape could be pretty cool,” one of the secretaries came in and, trying to sound calm (but failing), said, “We’ve called your mother. She’ll be here soon.” I nodded solemnly. At least I would get to say good-bye to her before taking up my post as the Ghost of John Reith Elementary.
I thought about what I would say to my mother. I would tell her that I loved her, of course, and my father. And how I didn’t hold it against them that I never got the pony I so desperately wanted (even though it totally could have fit in the garage). And if she could bring me my Pooh bear and my GameBoy, that would be fantastic. I was going to be adult about this–as adult as a fifth grader could be, in such dire circumstances.
My mother arrived only a few minutes later, which was remarkable considering we lived half a mile away from school and she didn’t drive. She flew into the nurse’s office, and stared at me. Her eyes were wide, her hair was wild. I lost it. I cried openly then, not wanting to say good-bye but knowing I would have to. “Mom, I–”
“You’ve got a fat lip.”
“I–what?” I was so confused. Fat lips were… fat lips were fine. People survived fat lips, and they got to keep their face intact. The way the secretaries were reacting, I thought for sure I would be deformed and labeled unfit to be seen by people. Men would cower! Women would shriek! Children would cry! But a fat lip… “That’s it?”
My mother nodded, looking calmer and steadier–much more like herself. “Yeah. Fat lip. That’s it.” She hugged me. “How’d it happen?”
“I ran into a wall.”
“Okay, well, you’re going to have to elaborate when we get you cleaned up.”
“Yeah, you’re fine. You uncle’s had more fat lips in his life, and he’s okay. You’re good. Come on. Let’s clean you up and get you home.”
The relief I felt was all-encompassing. I all but melted off the table, following my mother out of the office and into the bathroom. She took a damp paper towel to my face, and then walked me home. We went to the doctor the next day, just to make sure I didn’t need any stitches. I got some extra-strength antibacterial cream, I got some candy, I got sent home. The swelling went down after a few days, and I could articulate properly again. All that’s left of the entirely ordeal is a small scar on the inside of my lip.
Still, though. I would have made a pretty badass Phantom.