The Beautiful Cut

by

05/25/2006

7th Ave. & 42nd St., NY, NY 10036

Neighborhood: Midtown

Of the big five, our sense of smell is supposedly the one most closely associated with our memories. And I buy that, because I’m always a little turned on when I smell Burberry perfume. I can’t really describe it, but I can always identify it when I smell it. My first college girlfriend wore Burberry perfume. And the sensation associated with both the perfume and the college girlfriend was bound to find me again.

But what about our other senses? After crashing head first into a hanging metal sign in the New York City subway on January 5th, 2006, I developed a new theory about memory. This is it: when we feel pain, acute physical pain, that sensation is just as closely linked with our memories as aroma.

So Burberry perfume turns me on and pain might turn you on, but stay with me. This is about memory.

It’s 11:00pm and I’m rushing to catch a Queens-bound E train on 8th Avenue. This is a brand of movie-star-racing-through-the-airport-in-a-romantic-comedy rushing; only I’m not Zack Braff rushing to kiss Natalie Portman in “Garden State”, nor am I Liam Neeason’s son cutely dodging airport security in “Love Actually.”

I’m desperate to get home to head off the Borg before it worms its way into my bed. The Borg is/are really two people that have just flown in from Phoenix and are crashing at my apartment. They are a couple; a young man and young woman. Dugan and Darcy. I call them the Borg because, like the homogeneous cybernetic villains from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” they have forfeited their individuality and are two automatons functioning as one unit. They are a co-dependent hive-mind. And while they lack a cube-shaped spaceship, cybernetic limbs, and an army of drones, they do try to “assimilate” you by bombarding you with a slew of pointless pop-culture references that outnumber even the ones contained in this story. So, when they ask for a favor— like crashing at your place for a week — resistance is futile.

The purpose of their trip is Conan O’Brien. They’ve got tickets and they’re gonna stay with me for a whole week before the show. I’m a bit of a push-over as a host, and I know that if I don’t get in my bed before they arrive, it will be snatched away. The notion of sleeping on an inflatable mattress or the couch is scary. And so, after getting out from a late shift of waiting tables at the Olive Garden in Times Square, I am rushing to the E-Train Station on Seventh Avenue, hoping the wind will be at my back all the way home to Jackson Heights, Queens.

But it is all for naught. In trying to hastily board the subway, I instead become a subway advertisement. Perhaps you’ve seen her. She’s rushing. The grimace on her face is demonstrative of her hysterical desperation; she is frantically clutching her handbag. 80% of subway accidents occur on the stairs. Slow down. We’re serious about safety. Your safety. MTA. At this moment, I am that woman; I’m clutching my bag and everything.

Running down the stairs, with the fear of an inflatable mattress on my mind, I manage to trip upward and bring my forehead up for an unexpected rendezvous with a very sharp and dense metal sign. I tumble down the stairs, landing on all fours like a cat. I’m afraid to touch my forehead with my hand because it already feels pretty wet. I am dizzy. For some inexplicable reason, it tastes as though I’ve just swallowed a great deal of sand. I have a flash of being on a jungle gym.

I quickly decide that I need to get an idea of how bad my wound is. As I untie my scarf, the E-train slides away into the night. My scarf has the similar red and maroon striped pattern as the scarf sported by Harry Potter, and as such has been dubbed by my friends as “The Harry Potter Scarf”. It is apropos in this situation, as I realize that like the plucky teenage wizard, I will likely now have a scar on my forehead for the rest of my life. While Harry’s scar resulted from an attack perpetrated by the dark lord of magic whose name is unmentionable, mine will be directly caused by unfathomable incompetence and embarrassing clumsiness. I put the scarf to my forehead and bring it down quickly. It’s a lot of blood.

A drunken subway resident calls out, “Dude! You’re fucking bleeding!” I think he assumes I am drunk as well. I’m not. We’re not the kindred souls he imagines us to be.

It’s time for a cab ride. I walk slowly up the stairs, pressing the scarf to my forehead and hail a taxi. I tell the driver to take me to the closest hospital. After paying my fare, I stumble out of the cab, still clutching my scarf to my head. There is a white line in the lobby of the emergency room, and apparently, all I have to do is follow the white line, and everything will be all right.

The taste of sand in my mouth is back, and again I’m hit with the image of a playground and a jungle gym.

*

My mother was a third grade teacher at my elementary school. Though I never was actually in my mother’s class as a student, her presence certainly permeated a lot of what I did at Mesa, Arizona’s Sirrine Elementary, both in and out of the classroom.

Once, in 3rd grade, during recess, while playing on the jungle gym, I imagined myself trying to get away from a whole army of Borg drones. On the TV show, Captain Picard had recently been turned into one of Borg in the season finale cliffhanger, and now I pretended they were after me.

I ran the length of the jungle gym, jumped off its end and, once on the ground, crawled under the slide. I figured I was safe now, underneath the jungle gym, but just to be sure I would run out from under the slide and escape to the swing set. I pretended to look over my shoulder and ensure that I wasn’t being followed by any of the bad guys as I ran. In doing this I failed to notice an obstacle directly in my path. I ran headlong into the fireman’s pole connected to the opposite side of the jungle gym and was knocked flat on my back.

The diabolical desert sun had done its work on the pole—it felt like an iron searing my skin. Sand sprayed in my wake, getting in my eyes, my hair, and my mouth.

The playground aids were rushing towards me now, whispering things like, “Oh no, it’s Becca’s son! Somebody call Becca!” A whistle. “SOMEBODY CALL BECCA BRITT!” I was taken to the Nurse’s office. The first face I saw after the nurse was that of my mother. She said that I didn’t have “my head on straight” and I needed to “watch where I was going.” From finding out if I had eaten all of my lunch, to which member of the spirit line I had a crush on, nothing was invisible from my mother’s eye. But I was going to be alright, this time.

*

There’s a nurse coming towards me now in St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital on 10th avenue. Her name is Lauren, and she looks like she’s in her early twenties. My age. She’s cute. Immediately, I’m thinking about the Jennifer Lopez film “The Wedding Planner” in which Matthew McConaughey and J-Lo meet because J-Lo is rushed to the hospital after hitting her head. Only now I’m J-Lo. I suppose I could have imagined myself Hemingway in “A Farwell to Arms”, but J-Lo feels more empowering somehow.

Lauren starts asking me questions about how I feel, if my vision is blurry, what my full name is, what my mother’s name is, what my mother’s maiden name is, what my mother’s home phone number is, suddenly I’m back in 3rd grade and the sand taste and hotness of my forehead are making a lot of sense. Why all the questions about mom? “You’re not going to call my mother, are you?” I ask Lauren half-jokingly. She smiles. “No, we just ask you those questions to make sure you didn’t hit your head hard enough to suffer a concussion or any memory loss. Now let’s see that cut.”

I lower the scarf and reveal the gash. As Lauren leans in, I decide that I trust her because I smell something unmistakable. Of course. Lauren is wearing Burberry perfume.

Lauren begins to clean up my cut and I begin to flirt.

“This cut is so straight. You can really tell you hit something straight. It’s a beautiful cut,” she says.

“‘The Beautiful Cuts’! That’s a great name for a punk rock band, Lauren. We should remember that…”

Lauren laughs. She knows I’m flirting. I can’t tell if she thinks I’m funny, or if she thinks I’m delirious. After a few minutes, Lauren informs me that I’m not going to need stitches, but they are going to put some stuff on my forehead called “Derma-Bound”. “It’s kind of like gluing your skin back together,” she says.

“Sounds hi-tech. Is this stuff from the future?”

She laughs again, perhaps this time out of pity–my flirting is obvious. With the Derma-Bound applied, cute Lauren sends me on my way to the check-out clerk.

Once there, I fill out an endless amount paper work, and again I am bewildered by the seemingly excessive questions about my mother. The check-out clerk tells me that it’s a good thing that I have insurance because if I didn’t, the hospital bill would cost a lot more. I think it’s ironic that, in our society where sex is still fairly taboo, an STD test is free, but clumsiness can cost thousands of dollars. I’m sent on my way with copies of my paperwork, futuristic faux-stitches, and new memories intermingling with old.

I decide to take a cab all the way back home to Queens. Sure enough, as I crack open my bedroom door, Dugan and Darcy have already laid a claim to my bed. It looks like I’ll have to sleep on the inflatable mattress, in my own living room. I put the White Album on the stereo and listen to “Dear Prudence” six times in a row.

As I lay down, I feel the sand taste leaving my mouth. The smell of Burberry recedes, like the tide, back into the depths of my mind. I close my eyes and my new theory about pain and memory begins to form.

As I sleep, I imagine a phone ringing in Mesa, Arizona and my mother answering.

“Hello, this is Becca Britt.”

“Hi Mrs. Britt, this is Lauren from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Your son had a nasty spill on the subway, but it looks like he’s going to be okay.”

“Did he need stitches?”

“No, Mrs. Britt, just a little Derma-Bound.”

“Oh good. Well thanks for the call, tell him to watch where he’s going, and to eat all of his lunch.”

“Will do Mrs. Britt, Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The End.

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