Loose Lips
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Mar 2011)


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            My mother used to work around sick and injured children all day. This was stressful enough without adding her own children to the mix, but we did occasionally wander into that territory. My older brother, upon landing from an epic jump from the swings at recess, needed several stitches in his tongue. Let’s say Mom’s favorite afternoon was not the one when she got to leave work, come to school, and find her firstborn with a mouth full of blood.

            My younger brother fell onto a seemingly innocent see-saw or something in preschool and took a slice to the eyebrow. He still has the scar, which is a constant reminder of how close the cut was to his eye. To say my mother had a word with the staff the following day about equipment safety would be like saying it is a little dry in the Mojave Desert. After they stopped shaking, I bet they put some padding on the newly-discovered sharp edges in the playroom.

            My mother’s beautiful hair has always been very dark, so when a gray hair springs up, POW! There it is. Every now and then she’d point to one and say to one of us kids, “See this? This one’s from you.” One of my proudest contributions to the collection would have to be –

            Wait. If you’re squeamish, you probably want to stop here, mmkay? See you next month!

            Still reading? Suit yourself. One gorgeous summer day when I was 15, a friend and I headed for the pool, as per usual. I’d learned to do a back dive from the high board during an optional diving component in gym class that spring, and here was another chance to practice.

            I got in two nice dives, but teenage perfectionist Nicole knew that her entry position could be straighter. On my third attempt, I climbed the long ladder, walked to the end of the board, turned my back to the pool, brought my hands over my head, looked up, leaned back into an arch, and let myself drop. One must un-arch here to straighten out and go in head-first, rather than while rotating. Let’s say I un-arched with undue vigor. Translation: ugly. Knee to chin. Careen into water. Definite fail on straight entry.

            It happened quickly, and I was still sorting it out underwater. “Something just happened,” I thought. Quick assessment of lower lip from the inside. Teethmarks. “Ha ha. Good one, Nicole. You bit your lip.” I felt an odd urge to put my hand on my mouth from the outside. Teethmarks.

            Panic.

            I clamped my hand over my lip, nervous that it wasn’t fully attached anymore. I imagined myself emerging to say, “Excuse me, lifeguard. Would you be a dear and retrieve my lip from the bottom of the pool?”

            You know, you can stop reading anytime if you don’t do well with this sort of thing.

            I swam to the surface, somehow managing to get out using only one hand. I hear there are a lot of blood vessels in the face. I don’t have an exact count, but there are enough to supply sufficient blood from one mouth to pour down one arm and drip from one elbow, leaving a trail of quarter-sized red circles from one diving pool to one first aid office.

            My friend Jeff was one of the lifeguards on duty. His back was to me when I got to the office so, to get his attention, I muffled out, “Hey Jeff, I think I need a Band-Aid.” Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone for the joke. He turned to see me waving with my clean hand, cradling my smiling, blood-smeared face with the other. Sorry, Jeff. He went pale and stumbled over himself to get to me. Other lifeguards must have been right behind me, because the room was suddenly filled with them.

            I was lifted onto the “let’s treat you for shock because you ate your face” table, and five heads formed a circle over mine. They convinced me to remove my hand. “That’s pretty ugly,” said the least tactful of the heads. It asked for my phone number to call home. I could barely tell him through the inflating balloon formerly known as my lower lip. When Tactless Smurf reached my mother, this is what he said.

            “Hello, is this Nicole’s mom? (pause) Yeah. We’ve got her here at the swimming pool. She’s had an accident? With the diving board?”

            I smacked my own forehead with my clean hand. Are you serious? You start with, “She’s fine. Everything’s fine. It’s just her lip. Did I mention she’s fine?” Next he’s stuttering, “No, n-n-n-no, no, she’s OK, she’s OK! She bit her lip! It’s her lip! It’s just her lip!” Fire this man, immediately.

            My memory is a bit fuzzy here because the throbbing had begun, but I think the phone was still in his hand when my mother appeared at the door with a small towel full of ice. I pictured our freezer door open, kitchen phone dangling from the wall. Mom gathered me up and led me out, past my friend who had gotten my bag (thanks, hon), past those who had gathered just because (thanks, paparazzi), and past the waiting ambulance to the car.

            At 15, I thought it was cool that an ambulance had come for me. Cooler still was that, according to my lifeguard friend Ryan, the pool later instituted a rule that high board back dives were no longer permitted for non-members of the diving team. AWESOME! I inspired a rule! I wondered if they would name it after my lip.

            Turns out it was a through-and-through. My teeth met just below my lower lip but, thankfully, not also along the sides. Twenty stitches later – some inside, most outside – the scar can only be seen from below. My petite friend Elin looked up at it once and said it resembled a lightning bolt. I wonder if that makes me a superhero. I can’t think of a good use for a superpower of eating one’s own mouth, but if adding a couple of gray hairs to Mom’s collection qualifies, then I should get started on my costume. Parenthood not stressful enough for you? Fear not! Gray Lightning will save the day.