Amy Tries Again

Of Balloons and Bike Pants – or – Emergency Hijinks
July 2, 2012, 10:10 PM
Filed under: Miscellanea

In 1992, I was nine years old, and I liked to climb things.  I really liked to climb things.  The circus workshop I’d gone to over the school holidays had only exacerbated the problem, and I fancied myself as quite the death-defying acrobat (hence the artistic posing I would do when I got to the top of whatever it was).  Trees.  Furniture.  Dad’s shoulders.  Doorways.  Any old thing, really.  One of the best things about growing up in an old Queenslander was that I could literally climb the walls, thanks to the two parallel picture rails that ran through several of the rooms.  They were spaced out at just the right height – once I’d clambered into position – to monkey along using my fingers and toes.

It will not surprise many of you to learn that Young Amy quite enjoyed attention.  For this reason, whenever I had decided to perform an acrobatic trick (IT’S SAFE MUMMY I STAND ON DADDY’S SHOULDERS AND HE HOLDS MY ANKLES SO IT’S SAFE LOOK LOOK YOU’RE NOT LOOKING IT’S SAFE), much fanfare was made.  My family was fairly sick of it.  There are only so many times you can applaud back bends and handstands.

One fateful day, I saw an opportunity to reclaim the glory that my skill clearly deserved.  Prowling around the house, clad, as usual, in bike pants (I WAS AN ACROBAT) and an enormous t-shirt (probably Hypercolour™), I was at a loss for entertainment.  We’d completed our daily dose of school holiday edutainment with a trip to the Sciencenter.  It was my sister’s go on the computer, so I couldn’t play Lemmings or Spelling Quest.  My mother wouldn’t dream of letting us watch television in the mid-afternoon.  Not even the ABC.  I was BOOORED.

My little brother, Alistair, was only about four.  He was not bored.  He was very busy.  He had a helium balloon – probably from the Sciencecentre – and was engrossed in carefully unpicking the knot keeping the balloon tethered to a piece of plastic ribbon.  He was very happy in this work, but when the project was completed, he made the mistake of letting go of the balloon.  Unsurprisingly, it bobbed straight up to the (high) ceiling.

I don’t actually recall whether or not this upset Alistair.  Maybe it did.  Maybe it didn’t.  I do recall that my 9-year-old self recognised the trope of a little boy losing his balloon as very, very sad and tragic.  This child needed help.  He needed a hero.  More specifically, he needed a hero capable of scaling great heights.

I wasted no time.  I dragged over the coffee table and stood on top of it.  Didn’t work.  I stood on a chair.  Didn’t work.  I stood on a chair on top of the coffee table.  No dice.  Hmm.  The bookcase was out of balloon-grabbing range.  It was time to use my powers of edging along the picture rail for good.  Up, and along, and a bit further along – but I still couldn’t reach the balloon.  The situation clearly required a mighty leap, and so I leapt, mightily, trying to propel myself up as high as possible.

The windows rattled as I hit the floor heavily, landing, oddly-angled, on my left side.  I was startled.  I hadn’t really considered the consequences of the mighty leap.  Still, everything seemed – OW OW OW OW OW MY LEG HURTS I FELL ON MY LEG MUMMY I HURT MYSELF MUMMY ALISTAIR GO AND GET MUMMY I AM VERY HURT OH THE PAIN MUMMY!  MUMMY!

The lady in question arrived, probably discretely rolling her eyes.  As well as having three children, she was, in those days, a physiotherapist, so she was fairly practical when it came to cries of distress.  I was constantly covered in scrapes and bruises – such was the life of a bold young adventurer – but was never the kind of child to shake them off with a second thought.  I required great sympathy at my terrible misfortune, and extensive praise for my resilience and bravery.  On seeing my writhing agony and cries of woe, my Esteemed Mother concluded that I’d probably skinned my knee.

‘Oh, Possum, what happened?’

‘I – SOB – hurt my – SOB – leg!  It HURTS IT HURTS I WILL PROBABLY DIE!’  I clutched at my left thigh.

‘Poor old Possum.  You fell?  Oh dear.’

Making patient, sympathetic noises, Mum gave my leg a pat.  I screamed.  She was unimpressed.

‘You’ve probably pulled a muscle.  You’ll be alright.’  She attempted to rub my leg soothingly.  I hollered.  It was then that she noticed that despite looking normal at first glance, there was an unusually mushy texture to that particular section of my bike pants.  Then she realised her hand was covered in blood.

Something odd happened then.  I don’t have kids.  In fact, I’ve accidentally killed both a pet fish and a pet snail during the last year.  However, I can imagine at least a muted version of the terror that must hit, primal and cold, when your child is seriously hurt.  I still remember perfectly the look on my mother’s face.  She tried to hide it, but I could see it, and I felt scared and powerful that my pain could hurt her like that.

She held it together.  Peeling back the lycra, she saw that my thigh had split open.  Deeply.  Blood and fat and muscle, cross-sectioned.  Afterwards, I used to tell people that you could see the bone, but I don’t know if that was true or something I’d made up to impress people.  It didn’t make sense at first.  The split was so clean, so deep – had I fallen onto the chair?  Had there been a loose nail?  There couldn’t have been – my shorts were intact, and the chair was on the other side of the room.  The force and angle of the fall had torn me apart.  Towels were fetched, and then we were in the car, and the longer Mum had to hold it together, the more difficult it was.  She couldn’t decide whether to take me to the emergency room or to our GP nearby, and changed direction several times.  Either the pain had faded or adrenaline had kicked in, because I felt adult and in control of the situation.  I wasn’t, but I told Mum it was okay, it would be fine.  She didn’t have to worry about me.  We ended up at the GP’s office.  I was sewn up, and it hurt a lot.  Two layers of stitches, and still the wound bulged, enormous.

I was fine.  Of course I was fine.  I spent the next few weeks mostly horizontal, but I was young and healthy and had my own physiotherapist, and I healed without too much fuss. The scar was huge, lumpy and ugly, and I was very, very proud of it.  I felt deeply grateful to my mother in a way I couldn’t articulate.  My dramatics didn’t stop – the next time I stubbed my toe it was just as much of a production as usual.  I felt knowing, though – this wasn’t a real emergency, so I was safe to gesticulate, and my mother was safe to mutter platitudes and quietly sigh – and not be scared.

I have no idea what happened to the balloon.  The scar remained, ugly and keloid.  It couldn’t be made any prettier at the time, and every few years I was taken to a plastic surgery specialist to see if anything could be done now I’d grown a bit, but nothing ever could. It’s still there, but it’s calmed down a lot over the years.  I quite like it.  It’s an awesome scar, and one that can’t usually be seen, so it’s never bothered me – except when I returned to school.

Why?  Well, it’s just below my butt.  I got 37 stitches in two layers and time off school and lots of sympathy AND I COULD NEVER SHOW ANYONE BECAUSE IT WAS ALMOST A BUTT SCAR.



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