Summer, 1980. Jamie had come to stay with us for several weeks, I remember. I was nearly seven and she had just turned 12. I saw her as an adult, my sophisticated cousin with the usual pre-teen bad attitude and sassy mouth. She was a beautiful young woman who would be entering the seventh grade come fall.
She applied cherry lip-gloss every five minutes. Miss Priss, I’d call her. She’d stand in front of our bathroom mirror and brush her wavy chestnut brown curls for what seemed to me like hours. She talked about boys, those horrid creatures that all little girls know are the products of cootie spawn. She even wore bras, for the love of God. Jealousy gnawed at the flat chest that I saw when I looked straight down. I hated Jamie and loved her dearly simultaneously. She would make a point to taunt me with her pretty things, and then ignore me completely when I begged to touch or borrow them. I’d practically beg her to let me have something of hers, just so I could be more like her. So I could pretend I was a sophisticated, grown up twelve year old, too. She wouldn’t let me within two feet of any of her precious womanchild fodder, however.
I’d complain to my mother that Jamie was being a snot-nosed brat. I’d tell and tattle on her whenever the opportunity presented itself. My only means of rebelling against the onslaught of adolescent teasing was to snitch on her. To rat her out as much as humanly possible. Mom, Jamie won’t let me try her perfume. MOM! Jamie is changing clothes again! Mom, Jamie won’t talk to me…
On and on it went. Mom would say that Jamie was only selfish with her things because she was an only child and not used to sharing. Jeez, lady. I’d teach you how to share, if you’d give me the chance, I’d think to myself. Bra wearin’ cootie lover.
One late evening Jamie came with me to the neighborhood playground, which was several acres from my house. Disneyland had nothing on those old monkey bars. The sliding board was even better. I lost a fair amount of thigh skin on that shiny sliding board on hot days. The swings were huge and would take a kid high enough to see the entire neighborhood. Sunset was approaching, and the humid red glare of twilight shrouded us. I kicked off my sandals as I ascended to the highest point on one of the swings. They thudded when they hit the ground, making Jamie roll her eyes in a display of boredom and disinterest.
I waited for the swing to stop, and then I began to run towards the sliding board to shed some well-tanned skin on its ruthless, shiny metal. A sudden, dull pain shot through my left foot and straight up into my leg. I sat down on the grass to inspect my foot. Maybe I’d stepped on a small rock or a honeybee. I felt an odd sensation immediately after sitting down on the grass. An odd warmth had enveloped my aching foot.
That’s when I saw the blood. The entire bottom of my small foot was smothered by a constant oozing of the reddest blood I’d ever seen. It was thick, hot, and as black as dirty oil. Blood that comes from deep inside the body is darker than regular blood from a nosebleed, I assumed. The last sound I heard before fainting was my own scream.
When I came back into consciousness, the screaming was still there. My mouth wasn’t open, however. My eyes focused well enough to realize that it was Jamie’s screams permeating the August evening. That’s when I also realized that she was carrying me.
Miss Priss carried me all the way home, and she screamed every step of the way.
That night I had pieces of a broken Coke bottle removed from the insides of my foot in the emergency room of Clinch Valley Hospital. I also got my first set of stitches and a crutch, which I was most proud of. The next day, Mom brought me a gift of drawing tablets and gold coin chocolates.
Jamie’s embarrassment over crying and screaming like a banshee while she’d carried me home the previous day was obvious. She was quiet and kept to herself more than usual. Perhaps she wasn’t embarrassed at all; maybe she was simply jealous because she wasn’t the one who was the center of attention for a change. I couldn’t know for sure. Still, I sensed a sorrow about her somehow. I really didn’t care if the sorrow came from embarrassment or jealousy; I only knew that I wanted to make her feel all snotty, sophisticated, and selfish again. I wouldn’t have known what to think of her otherwise. I did love her very much, after all, snot-nosed brat or not. I offered to share my chocolates with her as a solution. She seemed genuinely appreciative, and we shared my gold coin chocolates and talked about how cool it was to have to walk on crutches for two weeks. I was lucky, she said.
Jamie and I spent time together off and on as we both grew up. I was the young woman who caught the bouquet she threw on her wedding day. I find it amusing that I had to wait until Miss Priss was married before she’d give me anything that belonged to her.
She and her husband now live in upstate New York where they both are teachers. I haven’t seen her in 13 years. I received a Christmas card from her last December. It simply read:
I think of you often and wonder what you are like now. I hope we can get together again soon. Much love, Jamie
Summer, 1980. Those were the months when I learned how green jealousy could be, and how blood could run black if you go deep enough. It was a fleeting susurration of innocence through the hair of a girl who believed in Santa and the tooth faerie, a girl that has grown into a woman who doesn’t hear the whispers of innocence often enough. Life was good then, I remember, although my memories have faded. That time of my life feels more like a dream than reality. Jamie seems so far away and nonexistent. The red glow of that twilit August evening has turned to gray. I would be subject to believe that I imagined all of it, if not for physical proof.
A jagged, white line runs through the skin that I hide inside my Dansko nursing shoes. It is a stitch of innocence that will remain with me always. It is proof that I once was nearly seven.
I am lucky.
Copyright Anna Christine Wess, 1999