I hiss and grit my teeth against the sting of the liquid bandage. Antiseptic meets my blood and it burns. Only three more cuts to go.
I had been working. It was not the official kind of salaried work with benefits but the kind of work that makes me feel accomplished. I turned the inside of my van into a spaceship.
Ok… so maybe I’ve taken the liberty of exaggerating here.
After the anti-rust treatment and paint, I installed the double-sided, reflective bubble wrap that works as insulation. A utility knife, a tape measure, and duct tape were my tools of choice for the afternoon as I cut, set, and duct taped my way through the interior of the van. It was marvelous and far more rewarding than cleaning out the filth that had been sitting inside the walls and the floors the day before. The glimmering silver inside the van reminded me of the alien sets from old black and white movies. I was ready for lift-off.
The sun was still up when I stopped work for the day and I took pictures. I even laid down the first layer of vinyl flooring to make sure everything was ready to start installation. It was probably around five o’clock in the afternoon and I wasn’t ready to start on bolting in the walls and setting in the rubber mat. I shut the doors to the van and I lay there on my back staring at the reflective ceiling, reflecting.
Was it warmer? Was is cooler? I laughed at myself thinking that I was playing out Goldilocks. The temperature was just right.
I touched my wounded hands. The utility knife had gotten the better of me and I had a couple of nicks on my fingers and one on my palm. I hadn’t started wearing gloves until I found myself sacrificing blood to the upgrades in the van.
Last week when Shanie helped me take out the middle seat in the van she was laying on her back under the carriage of the van coaxing the bolts out with a socket wrench. I can’t remember her exact words but it was something along the lines of my hands being more valuable than hers because I could play music with them. I needed to save them to play music. I didn’t think that meant she should sacrifice her hands for mine. But maybe that’s what she was saying.
I remember visiting Susan in the hospital last year after her accident. She had such long, beautiful nails even laying there in the hospital bed with her crushed body. She was filing them and I told her that there was no way I would ever be able to grow my nails like that. Susan’s were long and strong and she confessed to me that when she was younger she had often thought about pursuing being a hand model. “But now…” her voice trailed off as she looked at the hands that had seen 60 years of life and work. They weren’t the hands of a twenty year old, but all I saw were beautiful hands that held the stories of her strength and resolve as she worked to raise three children and be the comfort in her community.
I ran my finger over one of my cuts again, thinking about the other times I had cut, scraped, bruised, and abused my hands in my 33 years. There was a time I was cooking and sliced the pad of my left index finger the day I was supposed to play my violin for a CD release. It was the worst finger to cut into, but I discovered the wonder of superglue and applied it several times during the concert to keep myself playing the music. We even worked it into a bit with the bass player.
I also worked for a year and a half in a manufacturing company in Cincinnati. I spent my time with cloth gloves on my hands to prevent the worst scrapes, soaked in dirty oil, moving my fingers and palms to the rhythm of the machine. Place a part, palms to buttons, press slices into metal, remove the part, add some oil, place a part and repeat. At any moment I could have crushed the music out of those fingers but with method, rhythm, and caution it was a risk that was far from my mind until I did smash a finger in the machine that used air pressure top smooth out the burrs in the holes that had been stamped into the metal. I lost the nail on my middle finger that month, but I kept my hands.
Thinking about the power of hands, I lay there realizing that I put a lot of stock into the things that you could do with my own hands. The labors that produced results that I could hold and continue to hone. Building, crafting, touching, painting, climbing, massaging, and even playing an instrument with my hands was a labor of love. Every cut, scar, callous, stain, and wrinkle was a map of the life I was writing for myself with my hands.
I clutched my hands to my chest and I was grateful to have them. Faced with the power of what I could hold in my two hands, I suddenly became fearful. The fear always likes to visit me when I reach a place of recognition and appreciation. “I’m going to lose these too.” It was an irrational thought that I worried like a dog with a dead animal until I realized that it was a waste of energy to do so. I shooed the thought away and touched my cuts again.
I would wear these cuts. I would wear these scars. I would wear this map of choices on my hands and I would continue to use them despite the risks of losing them. What was the good of locking my hands away in a box to remain untouched and in turn touching nothing else to improve upon it?
Then I reached into my chest to pull out my heart and caressed the lattice-work of lines that told of the injuries that went deeper than the surface. Although I was hissing at the burn of the antiseptic, I began the conversation with myself all over again as I placed it on my sleeve. It was the one piece of myself that I could never lose as long as I wasn’t afraid to wear the scars.