I once got a papercut as a kid. I shiver to think about it now and immediately recall that part of Jackass, the only part I had to fast forward through multiple times and out of all the times I’ve watched the movie, I’ve only seen it in its entirety twice and with my eyes open through its entirety once. I got a fun Band-Aid on it though, and then I started putting Band-Aids on everything. They were magic. You’d put them on top with some Neosporin and…voila! You were Iron Man.
As I would get more cuts from roughhousing or playing outside or riding my bike, I got more Band-Aids. So naturally I put them all over my toy robot, because if I was going to have Band-Aids then goddammit, so was he. This event made my mother worry and it was definitely a topic of discussion with the child psychologist.
In 1st grade I skinned my elbow on the playground. It was on the concrete and blood poured out like an oil spill. It stung a little, but it formed this amazing, beetle-like thing atop it – a scab. The scab was crunchy and if you poked it, it hurt. And if someone bumped into it rushing through the hallway, it bled all over again. It was tasty too, like sand, but that’s another discussion.
But it was a sign of my mortality in the same way the Band-Aid was a sign of my mortality. Cuts and bruises went from being “things that heal” to “things that heal with a scar” – and that scar is with you forever.
Mortality – well, more specifically – permanence that was not of my choice – was obsessively fascinating. And soon — horrifying.
I didn’t see the other car coming and neither did my mom when it turned in front of us. All I remember was the sound of the glass shattering and my mom being more angry and scared than I’d ever seen her in my life. The nightmares were unbearable. That’s another story for another day.
At that point, mortality went from “fascinating” to “devastating”. How does it happen? Can it happen that easily? Does it happen to all of us? Will I die?
It went from being a mere mental exercise of existentialism to a complete panic breakdown reallyfuckingquickly. Forget mid-life-crisis, this was an end-of-life crisis and I had barely reached mid-elementary-school. Is there a way to not die? Is there a way to have some sort of eternal life?
I started becoming intensely religious. I dusted off those children’s bibles and read it. I asked my mom to go to the religious book store. I had to read more. More Chicken Soup for the [insert demographic here]. Prayers every night. So many rules to learn. So many things to not do. I never cussed before because I knew it would piss off my mom. But now there was someone else telling me not to do it. My religious beliefs supplanted my relationship with my parents. They were mortal and flawed, but this was truth. Seeing them as flawed actually made me love them less. Why didn’t they give me a religious upbringing like other parents? Did they not love me?
I didn’t have a religious upbringing, and resentment began to grow from that. My mom went to Sunday School, my dad didn’t, and while my mom and I would pray and I knew right and wrong, it just seemed like a whole other world of really-happy people who were all having fun while I wasn’t. They weren’t depressed about dying. They weren’t obsessed over non-existence in this life. They were happy. They were joyful. And they had structure. I wanted all of that.
I started self-flagellating over everything I ever said or did. If I thought bad thoughts, I’d scold myself for it. I’d mutter “sorry” under my breath if I expressed an undesirable emotion. I was this kid sitting outside the cafeteria drinking a box of Welch’s Grape Juice and crunching the mental scabs that grew over my fears over and over again. I withdrew from other people and wanted to stay home more. The world wasn’t safe and it was full of evil and I was evil and home was safer and while other kids enjoyed sports I became terrified of getting hit too hard on the football field and dying.
Everything I wrote and did, every project had religious themes. I wanted to be saved. I had to make up for lost time where I didn’t have a religious education or upbringing. I needed to go to Heaven because – what if I died? What if I was ejected from my seat on the drive home? What if something happened to my parents and I lost one of them?
As I went from 6th grade into middle school, I just wanted to be home with my mom. I literally cried at school because I missed her. I was afraid of losing her. I was afraid of getting lost. I was at this scary place where kids got stabbed (thanks, “Pay It Forward”, you horrible goddamn movie) and things were changing too fast and I was a mess of churning fears and anxieties. Of course, just as I started to get over all that by 8th grade, my mom’s accident happened, in a car no less, so imagine your own private “Sum of All Fears” while being tied to a chair and unable to stop it.
I miss being a fearless kid because those obsessions of life and death and morality and religion still exist. I used to slide-tackle people in soccer and get scabs during recess and loved it. I was a thrill-seeker but a smart one and a moral one– not the bungee-jumping kind, but the kind who wouldn’t be afraid of a fight. The kind who would laugh at a papercut.