Music and the Big, Gaping Head Wound

‘Tis the season when we gather together to honor and celebrate an iconic musical institution: the annual school Autumn Harvest concert. There is one concert in our family’s history that I wish I could say I remember well. In 2010, Elsie was a senior and Nick was a freshman in high school. It was the only year that they would appear in school concerts together, and at this first concert of the year, both had a solo, Elsie in chorus and Nick on the saxophone. This was hugely exciting and I wouldn’t miss it for anything, not even if I sustained a serious head injury. Hint: that was foreshadowing. Keep reading.

It was also a year when I was working two jobs, as an English teacher at the kids’ high school and as a regular contributor to the local newspaper, and so obviously, I was an overworked, overstimulated, undernourished, sleep-deprived lunatic. Let’s just say there were a lot of variables at work when I cracked my head open on a kitchen cabinet door the night of the annual Autumn Harvest concert.

But you want the blow-by-blow, don’t you? I guess I can’t blame you. We all love a good horror story. So here it is: Children have to eat supper. I don’t normally provide this meal, or any meal, because my husband is Italian and cooks wondrous feasts. But my husband also works for a living, and on the night of the concert, he was going to be late, and so I had to provide food. I am not good at this.

That night, there was a lot of activity in the kitchen. I was attempting to make something, maybe it was scrambled eggs? I can’t remember, mostly due to the head injury. And the kids were also trying to make meals for themselves that would taste better than whatever guilt-induced garbage I was trying to throw together. So, pans were simmering on the stovetop, dishes cluttered the table, the toaster oven was toasting and the microwave was microwaving, and, amid the chaos, some kitchen cabinet doors were open, and some were closed. In the frenzy of activity, it was hard to keep track of which was which.

I crouched down to get a pan from the lower cabinet, and then, moving quickly because we were late and if I didn’t hurry we would never get to the concert on time, I shot up like a rocket from my crouched position, and pan in hand, hit the open cabinet door above me head on. I mean, literally, head on. I saw stars, and then blood. The pan clanged to the floor.

The edge of the cabinet door had made perfect contact with the part in my hair (to ensure that later, the gaping head wound would be impossible to cover with hair) and blood started pouring from my scalp. Oh my God, we are going to be late for this concert, I thought. It never occurred to me, not for one instant, that I wouldn’t be in my seat watching Elsie and Nick perform their solos.

There was a flurry of activity after that. Piles of cotton batting were retrieved from a bag of costume materials kept in the deep, dark recesses of an overcrowded linen closet. A thick headband that looked really cool on a teenager but ridiculous on a 40-year-old was used to hold the cotton on the bleeding gash. The kids put on their performance tuxedos, my head wound was only seeping a little blood through the headband, and we all made our way to the school together, with Elsie in the driver’s seat since I was also pretty sure that I had also sustained a concussion.

Elsie and Nick went straight to the music room and I went to leave lesson plans on my desk for the substitute who would have to be called in to cover for me the next day. As I made my way down the corridor to the auditorium, a music teacher stopped and asked me how to pronounce a word she needed to say in one of her introductory speeches about a rather spooky song. This was October, pre-Halloween, remember. She showed it to me, and luckily, I could read it and knew the answer immediately.

The word was “macabre.” On a trip to Disney World the previous summer, I pronounced the word “MAC-aber” in conversation and my mother said, “Don’t you mean, ‘Ma-CAHB?’” We all had a good laugh about the words that we read but don’t normally hear spoken, like, when she  was young, she thought Nancy Drew’s dog’s name was pronounced “TORN-ado,” and I always thought a football gridiron was pronounced, “GRID-erron.” Luckily, the Disney “macabre” episode stood out in my mind, because nothing else did, and my teacher-friend said to me, “Kristin, you don’t look good. What is wrong with you?”

I explained about the gaping head wound and blood seeping through the cotton batting under the ridiculous headband, and she told me that I ought to go to the emergency room, but I said I couldn’t because of the concert and the solos, and so she called two students over to accompany me to my seat in the auditorium because she understood perfectly because she has kids, too.

Both Elsie and Nick did marvelous jobs, as did all the performers, and attending the concert was a far better choice than sitting in the emergency room. In fact, when we all got home and I suggested to my husband that maybe I should go in and see if I needed stitches, he responded that they would probably have to shave my head to stitch me up, and that decided that.

And so, as we head into the holidays, home of another iconic musical institution: the annual school winter concert, I advise you all to slow down, even though I probably won’t, and I wish you all happiness and health, joy and music, and a season free of head injuries and stupid headbands.

By the winter concert, my head wound had healed. I look much better without the silly headband.
By the winter concert, my head wound had healed. I look much better without the silly headband.

“All About the Books”

I don’t know how she does it, but this girl knows exactly how I feel about books. Maybe she is a middle child, too? I don’t think you have to be a middle child to be an avid reader, but in my case, it certainly helped.

I was born smack dab in the middle of five children in the late 1960s when five was considered a smallish-sized family. I get along well with others, meaning I do not have to have my opponent’s verbal agreement that I have won an argument; it is enough for me to know that I am right. Though it is admittedly not my greatest strength, I can share my things and my personal space when called upon to do so. This is a reluctant skill born of the fact that I have never had my own bedroom in my entire life.

But perhaps the most significant aspect of being a middle child is that I am comfortable being alone. It is ironic, I know, but true, that middle children like me are invisible and are used to being left to our own devices. And thank goodness for this because when I was growing up, the devices that entertained me were wonderful. Unlike today’s “devices,” which are battery operated and have lights and sounds and bells and whistles, my devices were so much more than that, in a less-is-more kind of way. They lived at the library in the circular, rotating, wire book rack.

The round, wire book rack held the paperback books. And inside the paperback books were stories of first crushes and first kisses and first heartbreaks. There were stories in which young girls in far more tragic circumstances than I fell in love while fighting exotic diseases like lupus and scoliosis. This is not to diminish or romanticize these very real and debilitating conditions, but only to point out that the main characters never had acne and buckteeth, which, quite frankly, would have hit a little too close to home for me. The paperback books told juicy stories of love and betrayal and adventure and time travel. How wonderful for a middle child like me to be left alone with devices like these.

Fast forward a few decades and I am now a grown middle child with a middle child (along with the corresponding first and “baby-of-the-family” children) of my own. My resume reads like a piece of fiction; how could I have fit so many occupations into one lifetime? I was once a library page, a McDonald’s French fry maker, a cashier, a respite worker for the developmentally challenged, a receptionist at a muffler and brake shop, an apprentice optician, a bank teller, a loan processor, a human resources administrator, a day care operator, a private investigator, a newspaper reporter, a high school English teacher, and now a college writing instructor. And believe it or not, that’s not even close to a complete list.

One thing that has remained with me is my constant craving for alone time with a paperback book. They are engrossing and delicious and still carry me off to faraway places to solve mysteries, or fight battles, or dine with the Queen. Who can resist entertainment like this? I apologize in advance if you try to talk with me and I don’t respond. I have a book now and can no longer see or hear you. You might as well be an invisible middle child. Welcome to this wonderful club.