So the other day, I got a black eye. The first one I’ve had since I was ten years old.
In 5th grade, I made the grave mistake of standing too close to an exit door at school. It was one of those enormous, heavy duty numbers with the long, horizontal bar across the inside that had to be pushed with two hands in order to open it. The kind with absolutely no warning sign on the outside, cautioning you that young boys liked to charge full speed down the hallway towards that bar so that the door would slam open and flatten the face of anyone attempting to open it on the other side. It is remarkable that my nose wasn’t broken. It is not remarkable that a boy named Bubba received a detention – and a severe Indian burn. After all, there’s no cautionary call like there is in golf or warfare to alert the innocent that they are about to be bombarded with pain. The twittering of the birds outside had drowned out the squeal of Bubba’s sneakers against the commercial grade linoleum flooring as he lumbered towards me and my once perfect nose. He was clearly at fault. I was the victim. Though Bubba attempted to garner sympathy from his friends by complaining about the punishment I’d later inflicted upon him, in the eyes of our peers, his slightly-inflamed wrist was a mere slap on the, erm, wrist when compared to my swollen nose and a shiner the color of grape jelly.
After all, black eyes were not the norm at my parochial school. Any self-respecting, God-fearing parent made sure to beat their children in places that were covered by their uniform. It would have been unseemly for a kid to show up at school with a hand-shaped bruise across their cheekbone or a cigarette burn on their forearm. Those parents clearly didn’t care about the image such reckless wounds promoted. These were the days of corporal punishment – both at home and in the principal’s office, but it was generally agreed upon that bruises and belt marks were best reserved for the buttocks, lest people know that your child misbehaved regularly. Denial wasn’t just a river in Egypt; it was piped into the water supply throughout the country. If you couldn’t see it, it never happened. We were all perfect children…who tended to sit very gingerly.
Sadly, as my accident was witnessed by several of my classmates, I wasn’t given the opportunity to maximize the popularity quotient that accompanies a serious injury by concocting a brilliant story about how I’d suddenly come to resemble Rocky Balboa more than Kristy McNichol. Not that I didn’t spend an entire evening in my canopy bed dreaming up exciting tales about how I’d obtained my painful shiner. In one fantasy, I’d chased down a mugger who’d stolen a little old lady’s purse. Though he’d surrendered the bag to me without a struggle, the far-sighted, ancient crone had beaten me in the face with her cane when I tried to return her pocket book – an early case of my poor self-esteem rearing its ugly head.
In another, I was attacked by a desperately jealous Dionne Warwick after she overheard me singing her hit, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” from my room (because her limo was always driving through random, lower middle class neighborhoods in Miami). As I trilled, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa… ,“ my song was cut short by one of the diva’s rhinestone encrusted platforms crashing through my bedroom window, striking me square in the eye. This fantasy was quickly discarded since none of the kids my age actually listened to Dionne Warwick. Had I chosen to offer this story up to my classmates, they likely would have blackened my other eye just for knowing the words (or simply “whoa-ing” as was the case here) to a song from our parents’ mortifying generation.
Without a juicy explanation about my shiner, I had to be content with a slight peak in peer interest which manifested itself in an invitation to sit next to Wendy Swipe at lunch and being chosen 6th for kickball during P.E. – which, as it turns out, was a personal high for the rest of my education. Not much of a reward considering I had to be a “mouth-breather” for a good week which, after the novelty of my black eye wore off, became a reason for students to kick the back of my chair and demand that I stop breathing so loudly. Nor did I enjoy the endless poking. Nothing like a kid’s dirty fingernail stabbing you thirty or forty times a day just millimeters from your eyeball, then hearing the inevitable question, “Does this hurt?” I’m certain there is a reason why the words purple, poke and pain start with the same letter. P must be the long lost, evil twin sister of the letter D (death, devil, divorce, Dokken).
This time around, however, things would be different. As part of the moving process, my husband and I returned to our previous rental home the day after we moved in order to give it a proper cleaning before turning the keys back over to the owners. After spending hours dusting baseboards, filling nail holes, dismantling the chicken coop in the living room, carting the Iron Maiden and wax-soaked altar out to the curb, freeing the imprisoned servants from the basement and hosing down their community urinal, I finally attacked the refrigerator. After emptying the contents, I sat down cross-legged on the floor and proceeded to remove the door shelves, one by one. My friend, Anthony, retrieved two shelves from me at a time and washed them in the sink, while I wiped away the remnants of frenzied moments with my true love, A1 Steak Sauce, from the inside of the refrigerator. As Anthony requested the remaining two shelves, I easily grasped the first from my seated position, but the butter compartment shelf eluded me. Stretching vigorously – because standing to reach something too high to touch while sitting on the kitchen floor is officially against my religion, just as arranging the throw pillows on the sofa properly is against my husband’s – my fingers finally stroked the cool plastic shelf. Pushing up against its white underside with my fingertips, I managed to dislodge the object of my desire, but like many things in life, I could not capture it.
But my face did.
I won’t explain the physics for you, mostly because I never actually took physics, but I can assure you that a hard piece of plastic with the heft of at least a pound or so falling at a high rate of speed towards the cheekbone of a short-waisted person hurts. A lot. Kinda like being hit in the face by a large steel door driven by a fat kid named Bubba. The fact that I am extraordinarily short-waisted is critical here because were I long-waisted, I would have been much taller in my seated position and either (a) would have easily grasped the butter shelf in my hand, completely avoiding said face catch, or (b) my face would have been much closer to the subject shelf thereby reducing the velocity at which it was plummeting when it struck me.
It was only after I successfully pried the butter compartment from my eye socket, that I realized standing would be inevitable, as I now had to reach the icemaker to obtain chunks of ice for my swelling cheekbone. Yes, the iconic bag o’ peas were packed away in a cooler. The slab of raw steak had been consumed the week prior. Anthony, bless his heart, stopped washing long enough to laugh his ass off at me. At which point, my husband entered the kitchen to find me blubbering incoherently about the horrendous ache that was streaking through my eyeball like a lightning strike – though all he could make out was “Wine! Get me a damned glass of wine! I’m in pain, goddamned it!”
Once he’d run across the street to borrow a corkscrew, he quickly poured me a glass of unoaked chardonnay – oh, don’t tell me you clean an empty house without a bottle of wine handy – then said soothingly, “Bitch, I done told you twiced!” But he hadn’t. My man had not told me twiced, he’d not told me onced, he’d not told me thriced, he’d not told me…erm, I’m not sure what comes after thriced, but he had not ever warned me, “Be careful. You’re a klutz and the refrigerator shelves will fall on your face the way rain falls in the Amazon.” Okay, he may have mentioned my klutziness in the past, but the concept of shelving hailing down upon my head had honestly never been discussed.
Nor had Anthony warned me. As the straightest gay man we know with a penchant for worrying and cautioning everyone about every possible catastrophe (If you swallow a watermelon seed, a watermelon will grow in your stomach!), he never once voiced any concern about me not being long-waisted enough to really look good in a bikini or to reach the butter compartment while seated in a lotus position. Still, as I wailed that my facial collision with G.E.’s butter shelf of steel was definitely going to “leave a mark,” Anthony attempted to console me.
“Honey,” he said, “that’s what makeup’s for.”
“No,” I retorted, “my regular face is what makeup’s for. Do you realize how hard I have to work to just look this good?” My husband shuddered slightly. He sees me first thing in the morning. Well, he did once. He quickly learned that it’s best to look away because staring at my bare visage before I’ve coated it with
putty a dollop of Loreal’s Visible Lift Line-Minimizing Makeup is kind of like staring directly into the sun. It burns and has been known to cause permanent blindness. “Now I’m going to have to contend with covering a shiner,” I continue. “There isn’t a foundation thick enough. I’m going to need spackle and primer and one of those rubber skin prosthesis.”
It’s just a shame that this disaster occurred on the last day of March instead of the last day of October. Had it been Halloween, I could have turned lemons into lemonade by converting my black eye into a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills costume – you know, the blonde one who also “done got told twiced” not long before her estranged and abusive husband
got the payback he deserved committed suicide.
Anthony shook his head solemnly, then said, “That’s just not true. God created makeup to make women look less disobedient.”
And there it was. My life had come full circle. Just as the welts from childhood beatings at the hand of my father wielding a leather belt were hidden beneath the skirts of my plaid uniform so that others wouldn’t know how naughty I was, my shiner would now be concealed by makeup so that people wouldn’t know how stupid I was. I mean, if you’re hiding a shiner, it’s only because you done been told twiced. Right? Someone who’d never been warned at all shouldn’t have to hide their injury. I mean, it’s not really their fault. It’s an Act of God, if you think about it. No bitch should feel shame for getting a black eye when she hadn’t done been told twiced.
Perhaps I could turn this around. Perhaps I didn’t need to bear the brunt of the guffaws that were likely to come. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to endure the rolled eyes and the constant whispers: Why didn’t she listen? I hear her husband done told her twiced. Tossing my ice into the sink, I smiled smugly to myself as my cheek puffed up like a Pepperidge Farm pastry. A little while later, the doorbell rang, announcing the arrival of our property manager, Theresa, who was accompanied by a potential tenant. “Cristy, this is Beverly. Cristy can tell you how great the neighborhood is, how family-oriented it is. Right, Cristy?” she crooned, her voice wavering a bit as she stared at my swollen eye, which had taken on a distinctly lavender hue.
As Beverly extended her hand to me, I shrank back, throwing up an arm protectively. “He done never told me at all. Not even onced. Definitely not twiced!” I shrieked. And they believed me. The outpouring of sympathy was immediate. I didn’t need an elaborate story involving an aging diva and a fabulous shoe. I only needed to state the facts. I hadn’t been warned. And everyone knows that a bitch has gotta done be told twiced before you can take a swipe at her – or allow her stupidity to place her in the position of being struck by falling appliance shelves. There would be no makeup. I would bear my shiner proudly. This time anyway. After all, now I’ve done been told twiced.
(Though I make light of it here, domestic abuse is no laughing matter. If you are being abused or know someone who is, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. It doesn’t matter if he done told you twiced!)