*Featured Image: “The Human Rights Activist 1912-2017” is a mixed media collage from Crossroads by Julia Justo.
Skylark in Tawny Mist
By Julie Ann Wenglinski
When I was young, I thought I sounded tough when I told people that I ate a Buick when I was 18. But in fact, the Buick ate me, and the palm tree ate the Buick. Because on a hot Florida day with the sun wearing his slouchiest hat, I grabbed at my school books that slid off the beige vinyl bench seat. The palm was a foot away from the sandy road, and there was no shoulder harness, no air bag for me, 50 years ago.
I slid off the map into the land of fuck. The steering wheel assaulted me, pushing the roots of my teeth through my chin as my stomach clenched at my harrowing miscalculation.
If I squint a little now, the memories return yellowed and frayed, smelling of exhaust, of the salty air and my blood. In the ER, a nurse adjusted a warm, wet square of gauze that I thought was the entire flap of my chin, no longer attached. Holding my broken face together with one hand turning my eyes away from all reflection, I used the public bathroom in the hospital. Before surgery, a rabbity young man in a white jacket hurried by and put his hand down the front of my dress, then bustled away. On my gurney to the OR, a chatty nurse pushed me through the doors and said I was brave and would be pretty again but I felt blank as a slip of paper. I laid serenely, surrendered my future to the masked doctors who gossiped for my entertainment. As I stared up into the white light, they wired and sewed.
The day after surgery, my furious mother called and shrieked, shrieked because my boyfriend was there in my room, and she slammed the phone down on my teenaged heart. I felt numbness and paralysis drain my hands of all strength. Scared for the first time, I called out, “I can’t move my hands, I can’t move my hands!” Two starchy nurses responded with a sedative shot of relief and my father asked me later, “What did you do to make your mother mad?”
Still, I think myself lucky. Teeth are just teeth. After the cavalcade of plastic surgery, root canals, bridges, partials, implants paid for with my retirement funds, what I wondered then and wonder still, is why people deliberately hurt one another.