All The Young Dudes

If you know me at all, it will come as no surprise that I have, over the course of my life, been punched soundly in the face.

Here’s the thing you should know about that – it doesn’t hurt as much as you might think. Looking at my extended group of friends, I doubt many of them have been punched in the face, so I’d like to make sure you all know – it’s really not *that* bad. The nerves on your face have been exposed to a lifetime of yanking and pulling, of windburn and kissing and shaving or whatever else you do, so it’s not like the nerves on the inside of, say, your upper arm. You can be punched in the face and, so long as it doesn’t snap your head back and knock you out, you’ll just be super sad and miserable. But it won’t hurt as much as you might fear.

(When I say that I know my friends HAVEN’T been punched in the face, it’s not because they aren’t tough or street-savvy or anything like that, it’s because they are, by and large, kind. And even when they aren’t kind, they aren’t usually cruel and small. I was punched in the face (repeatedly, I should admit) not because I was tough or standing up for a princess or whatever, it was because I was cruel, small and usually obnoxious.)

But I know a thing. I know it doesn’t hurt that much. I know that if I fall asleep on a park bench and it snows on me, I’ll wake up cold but I won’t actually get sick. I know that if everything is taken from me, I’ll figure it out.

There is a cost to knowing stuff. I paid for this knowledge and I’m still paying for it. I don’t pay NEARLY as much as some people – the mistakes I made went largely unpunished since our culture tends to turn a blind eye to white boys with upper class charm, even if they’re wearing a black mohawk and eyeliner and a disgusting jean jacket stuffed with bags of weed. But I did pay for it by NOT taking advantage of the many advantages offered me. And not heroically but because I was (and often still am) a total dick.

Marlena fell down the stairs a month ago. She broke her collarbone – went to the hospital and everything, and they x-rayed her and sure enough, she’s got a broken collar bone. Two days later, she was at the top of the stairs and she said, “I CAN DO IT” and walked down the stairs holding the banister.

A few weeks ago, she fell down a totally DIFFERENT set of stairs, in California. When we got home, she said she didn’t want to go down the stairs by herself because she “will fall and break my bones”. I really, really want her to try, I want her to know it’s okay but… you know what? I’ve never broken my collar bone. She knows a thing.

We walk to school every morning, Marlena and me. And I’ve had a couple of different moms stop me to congratulate me on making her walk. Strollers are for lazy kids of lazy parents. I don’t have the heart to tell them that my stroller is just fucking huge and I’m too lazy to take it out, I never *decided* that she should walk, I just don’t want the hassle. Sometimes she runs, sometimes she jumps, and she almost always sings the whole way. Yesterday, she was at a full sprint, arms out to the sides so she could twirl the sleeves of her jacket, and her feet went out from under her.

Her face took the brunt of the fall, her feet off the ground above and behind her. When I picked her up, there was blood everywhere, all over her mouth and cheeks and eyebrows and hair. Blood all over her jacket, my jacket.

Once I got the blood cleaned off, I realized she had just split her lip and scratched her nose and knees.

Sometimes I hold her hand when we go to school. More often than not, she declines.

I want to blame my parents for the times I was beat up in school. I want to SO MUCH. I don’t know if it’s a middle-child thing or what, but I want them to suffer for not protecting me. But the fact is, I got beat up at the poshest southern private school in Virginia… and I got beat up at the shittiest High School in New Jersey. I got beat up wherever I went, until I stopped getting beat up. It’s been a dozen years since I got in a fist fight with anyone, and that would put me in my late 20s – how on earth could that have been my parents’ fault?

I tried to catch her when she fell down the stairs, I was RIGHT behind her. My arm moved to grab her at the same speed that she fell, I just wasn’t fast enough. I can replay it in my head a hundred times, my hand moving as fast as my body can move, and her body moving through the air, drawn by gravity, nothing but the drag of atmosphere slowing her descent.

And I can see her sprinting in front of me, the number of times I’ve thought “I should tell her to slow down/No/No, I shouldn’t/I should tell her that she can run/she can fucking run/she can run anywhere and run anything/she can run the world” and then the soles of her shoes are facing me and I see her face drag on the concrete, and I moved to pick her up as soon as I even KNEW SHE WAS FALLING, and it was already too late.

From now on, what do I do? When she’s in danger, do I stop it? If my mom… If my fucking DAD had seen me, drunk and high, sleeping on a bench at a church while the snow fell on my disgusting jean jacket stuffed with bags of weed, would they have picked me up and brought me inside? Almost certainly. And what would I know right now? I would know that if I fall asleep on a bench, someone will pick me up, instead of knowing that I can sleep the night on a bench outside and I’ll make it. It will be horrible, you will be super sad and miserable, but it won’t hurt as much as you fear.

We walked to school again this morning, Marlena and me. I thought I heard her whimpering, but I didn’t want to bring attention to it. And I didn’t want to carry her – NOT because I’m a great dad and wanted her to learn a lesson, but because my back is tired and it’s cold and I had my hands stuffed in my pockets. I realized her whimpering was singing, just nonsense stuff that she sings.

I said, “are you okay?” and she shook her head no. I said, “what’s wrong?” and she shook her head no. I said, “Are you hurt?” and, in her two year old logic, she looked at me and said, “I’m not a *wrong* girl, daddy! I’m not a *hurt* girl, daddy!” I said, “Okay, honey, what are you?”

And she said, “I’m a *school* girl, and that means I’m a BIG girl, Daddy!” And she stopped walking and spread her arms out as far as they would go and said, “I’m a *BIG*  *GIRL*!!!”