© Copyright 2022 by Daniel Fuller
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
my God! I can see your skull!” my dad yelled, barely audible
through my screams and cries as he exchanged a blood-soaked towel for
a fresh one while my mom ran around collecting everything we needed
for the hospital.
This was to be my first hospital visit.
My memory of this incident is vivid in almost every detail.
Or so I thought.
I was about 5 (or 6) years old at the time, and we were living in our first house on Bret Bay in Winnipeg. I still occasionally return there in dreams, and it still looks the exact same as it did in my childhood. The 1980s Oldsmobiles are still parked on the driveways, the kids are still playing with super balls and skinny skateboards, and our neighbours are still coming out of their houses to greet me dressed in tie dye shirts.
One family in particular stands out in my memory. They lived next door to us and were always really friendly. Since most of my family lived overseas in England, I grew up without any aunts or uncles that I could really be close to, and so people like them filled a vital role in my early life, as other adult figures that were not my parents.
The husband, Rick, was a fishing enthusiast and had his own small blue (or white) boat. The brutality and length of Winnipeg winters made for a short boating season, so for much of the year it sat at the top of his driveway, up on a metal stand. When he wanted to go fishing, it was a pretty easy matter for him to back his truck up, hitch it to the small spherical bulb that rested on the rear bumper, and with the aid of some detachable wheels, pull the boat along to his favourite fishing spot, which was either Selkirk or Lake Winnipeg, I can’t remember which.
When it was parked in the driveway, however, we were always told to keep away from it. It wasn’t our property, so there was no climbing and no fooling around allowed near the boat.
Being the good children we were, we of course always obeyed this rule…
The incident occurred on a windy warm day in one of those famous Winnipeg false springs, when the snow melts, the temperature rises, and everyone rushes to get outside while it lasts. My brother and his best friend, who were both two years older than me, were playing catch with a yellow tennis ball, and I wanted to be a part of the fun too. They were generally both pretty good about including me in their activities, even though I was younger than them and probably annoying, so it quickly became a three-man game. I’ve never been much good at sports, and that certainly wasn’t any different when I was a kid. After many missed catch attempts that rolled out into the road, it was decided that I needed to change position to have the boat at my back instead so that vehicular slaughter could be avoided.
Being hit by a car might have been better.
Another missed ball by me ended up rolling under the boat, so, being younger and thus smaller than my brother and his friend, I was tasked with scurrying under to get it. As I was exiting, ball proudly in hand, I lifted my head up too soon, and it smashed right into a sharp metal corner of that boat stand, causing me to yell out in pain immediately.
My brother and his friend both came running immediately, and, seeing what happened and how much blood was pouring out of my head, my brother quickly ran to get some adult help. This is where the screaming, crying, bleeding, and all that other stuff comes in.
For my whole life, I have, when pointing out a scar on the side of my head to people, told this story. I even have a vivid memory of that white baseball rolling under the blue (or white) boat, and of 5 (or 6) year old me cursing at myself for being so clumsy as to smack my head like that.
One of the last times I told this story was only 3 (or 4) years ago, at a family dinner when I was back in Canada. We were talking about childhood accidents because my rambunctious 5 (or 6) year old niece had been running around earlier that day and tripped and bumped her head. No blood, no visible skull, but upsetting nonetheless. And so I repeated that story that I just told you.
My brother looked at me quizzically from across the table and said, “That’s not how that happened at all.”
I kind of laughed at first because I thought he was joking or something. “Yeah, I remember it clearly,” I said, and received another, odder look.
“Dan, that’s not what happened. We were all lighting fires under that boat when you hit your head. The ball story was a lie – it’s what we told you to say so that we wouldn’t all get in trouble.”
Try as I did, I simply could not remember that version of events. Not the three of us huddled together under the boat whispering and giggling, excited by the thought of doing something so clearly against The Rules. Not the tattered faded brown matchbook found in a field close to the train tracks behind Bret Bay, with its single lonely match still holding on for dear life. Not the sulphur smell of the struck red match or the smoke that resulted from the sizzling of the flames as they slowly consumed the dried leaves and twigs we had collected from our neighbourhood park (the one with the red and white swingset that I loved to play on). Not the heat of the fire or its sudden expansion which caused me to recoil back and strike my head on the pointy silvery metal rack holding up Rick’s blue boat.
All I could remember was the rolling yellow tennis ball going under the boat, and 5 (or 6) year old me scuffling along on hands and knees to retrieve my unforced error of a missed catch.
Memory is funny thing. We hold on to our childhood memories with such a vice like grip that sometimes they end up warped beyond reality, while the truth eludes us, hidden away in a tattered and faded brown matchbook laying in a field close to the train tracks behind Bret Bay.