My father is a craftsman. He likes to build things and he’s very good at it. He’s finished at least a section of every basement he’s ever owned. Every place he’s ever lived has a dedicated workshop to house the copious amounts of tools he owns. I remember getting a set of youth tools as a Christmas present when I was 5 or 6 years old. Baby C received a Home Depot tool toy set for Christmas last year. To say my father is somewhat addicted to woodwork is a bit of an understatement.
I have two younger brothers. One of them is merely 13 months younger than me. The other is a little over 3 years younger than me. Needless to say, at any given time in my childhood our home was overrun with toys. We had Star Wars playsets. We had Transformers, GI Joe, WWF, Thundercats, and Voltron action figures. We had starships, cars, planes, and legos. Frankly, we were spoiled little shits in the toy department. We had more toys than places to put them.
Enter my father.
A trip to the store for some lumber and a few nails plus some blood, sweat, and tears would remedy our toy storage problem.
Our designated play area was the basement. That’s where our toys were so that’s where we played. The dry wall beside the staircase descending into the basement was bare – until Dad got a hold of it.
Dad built a toy box out of quarter-inch plywood which spanned the entire wall. Our toy box, which we thought was awesome, had two leviathan lids equally spaced apart, also made from quarter-inch plywood.
That toy box would take from me something I’d never fully recover.
Because the toy box was built into the wall adjacent to the staircase, one of the lids, when open, leaned against the handrail for the staircase. One lazy summer day my youngest brother was walking up the stairs, dragging his hand along the rail while I rummaged around in the toy box below. My brother’s hand barely grazed the lid, but that was enough to send it crashing down.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the lid coming down. At that point the only part of my body still in the toy box was my left hand, which I quickly yanked out of the way. I got my hand out, but only in the nick of time.
Or so I thought.
Despite having felt nothing, I looked at my seven-year-old hand…and discovered something was missing. Like a mad man I tore up the stairs. I flung the door open where I happened upon my mother, who was on the phone with her sister. Mom always seemed to be on the phone with one of her sisters when we had an emergency at our house, which makes me wonder why she continued to talk to them.
Without a word, I held up my left hand so she could see what had happened. After seeing my hand, which by this time was red with blood, had been deprived of the tip of its ring finger, my mother’s jaw hit the floor like a man who’d just been clocked by Mike Tyson
Dramatically, she dropped the phone and screamed. Through the phone, which was bouncing up and down at the end of its coiled cord, I could hear my aunt frantically screaming my mother’s name.
The details get a bit fuzzy after that. My mom has assured me that she took me to the local hospital, but they just kind of looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “We don’t know what to do.” They sent her (and me, for that matter) to a neighboring hospital. I remember none of this.
What I do remember is arriving at the second hospital. I was in the back seat with a wad of paper towels the size of my head pressed down on the stump at the end of my finger. Once she parked the car, she whipped around to where I was sitting and opened the door. She walked me into the emergency room with one hand holding my injured hand and the other pressing the wad of paper towels down on my finger with ungodly might. The pressure she was putting on my injured finger was painful in a way I can’t adequately describe, so I’ll just say it fucking hurt. A lot.
Things get fuzzy again after that point. I know we sat in the waiting room for a bit, and that’s where we were when my dad arrived. He had been at work, and I have no idea who called him or how he knew where we were, but he came up from behind me and put a dixie cup in front of my face.
I looked down into what I assumed would be a cup full of water to find the tip of my finger laying atop half a cup of ice…and I about lost my lunch. Or breakfast. I’m not really sure what time of the day it was. I’m not sure what, if anything, I said to my father in response to that, but I remember not being all that impressed.
More time passed and I was eventually in an operating room, where they were going to attempt to sew my finger tip back on. I don’t remember saying so, but according to my mother I told the doctor to kick her out of the room so she didn’t pass out. The anesthesiologist came in and injected each side of my finger with something which would render my finger numb.
While I lay on the operating table waiting for the pain medicine to kick in, I stared ponderously at the inside of my finger – and nearly vomited all over myself. I don’t handle flesh and blood well, I learned. I put my hand back down and willed myself not to look at it. I made a point to look away while the surgeon methodically stitched my finger back together. The next time I saw my finger it was buried beneath a mountain of bandages and a metal stent, which prevented me from bending my finger.
Unfortunately, my finger tip had been separated from my body too long for it to heal properly, which I guess has something to do with the first hospital turning us away. My fingertip did grow back in a way, but it was, and still is, somewhat grotesque in appearance.
My finger was separated at the base of the nail. Somehow the bone avoided injury. Of course, if the lid had hit bone it might not have been able to rip the tip of my finger off. But that’s neither here nor there. If you look at my fingertip from the side, the nail looks like a huge claw. By the time my finger finished healing weeks later, I had a huge ball of scar tissue wedged underneath my nail and sticking out from the end of my finger. It was, and still is, extremely sensitive and pain shoots through me any time anything touches that scar tissue. I had to go back under the knife to have it removed, but they couldn’t get all of it. I still have a bit of that scar tissue buried beneath my nail.
The remaining scar tissue under my fingernail causes the nail to stick out from the end of my finger a bit. My fingernail of get’s caught on things. On occasion, when lifting something heavy, I’ve lost my grip on said heavy object, which then catches the nail and rips the end off. Fucking ow!. One time my brother Revis was running from me while we were playing. I grabbed at his shoulder with my left hand and accidentally tore a chunk out of his shoulder with my nail. While picking up my stepson by his shirt once, I inadvertently left a scratch mark across his chest.
On the bright side, the claw is excellent for scratching a pesky itch, opening pop cans (those tabs are sometimes impossible to get under), and, if I can be gauche for a moment, picking my nose. Oh, come on. We all do it.
The claw has, at times, been a great conversation starter. Like the time the most popular girl in high school yanked my hand off the table and yelled, “OMG! What happened to your hand???” while studying it intensely. Sure, that’s actually kinda rude, but I had a crush on her and I was more excited than offended. Plus I was only 14. I wasn’t nearly the sophisticated being I am these days. Stop laughing, asshole.
The claw has been a part of me for over 30 (shit, I’m old) years now. I remember arguing about having pictures of my hand (with a brand new wedding ring on it) taken. I’ve since accepted it. It’s as much a part of me as my caustic sarcasm, my juvenile sense of humor, or my one-dimpled smile.