November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Marissa Fielstein/Creative Non Fiction

Fingertip

              

“Well, you’re all set,” she says.  “Would you like to keep your finger?”

The nurse stands beside a garbage can, holding her coffee in one hand, and my crushed finger in the other.  She places both down on the countertop, opens my chart, and makes a note.  She passes off the file to another nurse, and checks that the jar, which holds my finger, is sealed.  Then, she turns to me.

I look down at my hand, which is swollen and wrapped in layers of gauze.  I shift my weight in the bed; then pause, and hope it won’t collapse beneath me.

“Sometimes people want to keep them,” the nurse explains as she dangles the container.  “Women who get mastectomies… sometimes they like to keep their breasts.”  She pauses, waiting for my response, as I consider what it might be like to keep an amputated breast in a jar on a shelf in my home.

“No,” I reply.  “I don’t want to keep it.”

The nurse nods and turns towards the garbage can, swinging my finger’s jar between her own fingers.  The patient who was treated in this room before me, whose fingers were ravaged by a snow blower, left the hospital empty handed.  I wonder if the amputated parts of his fingers are in this same garbage can.  I imagine them floating in their own container as my finger’s jar falls next to them.  I wonder if they will connect somehow, as if they are fish in two separate tanks, gazing with awe at the other.

“Wait-“ I begin, my voice shaking.  “Can I see it first?”

“Sure!” She exclaims, and smiles.  I shake the sheets from my shoulders, and sit up in the bed.  She places the jar down in front of me.  I cradle it between my surviving fingertips, and peer inside.

I hadn’t planned for this to happen.  I expected to spend this Wednesday as I did every other Wednesday this semester: three classes, two meetings, and tired.  It was the middle of another hectic week, another round of Biology labs I tried to like, but didn’t; another round of meetings and activities that drew too much energy for me to actually enjoy.  My calendar dictated my every moment, and Wednesdays were the pinnacle of my scheduling obsession.  It was the busiest, most draining day.  I didn’t live on Wednesdays.  On Wednesdays, I was a machine.

We tend to feed machines selfishly.  I’ve come to this conclusion now.  We eat, sleep, speak, and give enough to keep the machine moving, to keep it producing.  We’ve learned how to program ourselves.  Some mornings, too rushed to prepare and enjoy a real breakfast, I’d pack two granola bars with my schoolbooks.  When my stomach grumbled, I’d eat one – not to enjoy it, but to quiet the awkward roar inside.  If it wasn’t for the noise, I may have just waited for lunch, whenever I found time for it.

On this Wednesday, I woke up and began to neglect myself.  I got five hours of sleep and skipped breakfast.  It seemed to be the start of a normal Wednesday, until I looked outside.

Snowstorms were a blessing in childhood, and college hadn’t changed that.  Snow, like Disney World, seems to make childhood come alive again, no matter how old you are.  On this Wednesday, I didn’t want to plan, to study, to rush.  I wanted to play.

When we found out that classes had been canceled, my friends and I jumped and screamed — and decided to go tray sledding.  After lunch, we snuck our trays out of the dining hall, and went back to our rooms to change.  I slid into my ski pants, draped a scarf around my neck, pulled a hat over my head, and zipped up my jacket.  Last, I pulled out my gloves, those not-every-day gloves that I used for shoveling the driveway, cleaning my car, and playing in the snow.   They were durable, and warm.

On my way out, I caught my reflection in the mirror.  I was so bundled up, nearly every inch of skin covered.  I wondered if my thighs – which were covered by both sweatpants and ski pants – would fit on the dining hall trays we had stolen at lunch.  I reasoned that, if they didn’t, I would just roll down the hill.  At least my butt would be warm. 

I moved closer to the mirror, and examined my face.  With my right index finger, I traced the deep circles beneath my eyes, the constant reminders of my self-neglect.  I touched my palms together, let my fingers fall between the empty spaces, and squeezed.  I always did this when things felt out of control.  It reminded me that I could keep myself together.  Maybe I could manage an extra hour of sleep tonight, I thought.  I knew I needed it.  Almost immediately, though, I changed my mind.  I remembered I had a paper due on Friday, and wouldn’t have enough time on Thursday to finish it.  I turned away from the mirror.  I’ll have fun with my friends, I reasoned.  I’ll meet them outside, stay for twenty minutes.  And then I’ll get back to work.

I met my friends outside, in a hill adjacent to our building.  Instantly, I felt the familiar rush of frost.  Snowflakes peppered my face and I stuck out my tongue to catch them.  I tried just one more time to touch the tip of my nose with my tongue, my childish ambition.  No luck.   We spotted friends at the top of the hill, who yelled down at us to join them.  As we raced up the icy hill, I slipped.  I don’t know why I looked behind me, but when I did, I saw a pile of broken trays, with splinters of plastic spewed across the snow. 

At the top of the hill, we met up with a large group of other friends who lived nearby.  We tossed snowballs at each other and posed for a picture.  In the photo, we hold up our trays and smile, our cheeks flushed red from the cold.

We wandered around for a while, trying to find a hill with the right incline, the right amount of snow, the right conditions for a perfect, joyful ride. 

“Hey, over there!”  Some guy shouted at us, dragging his snow-filled tray behind him.  He pointed.  “That hill there, it’s insane.  You gotta try it!  We must’ve gone down a dozen times.”

Emily, Liz and I looked at each other, and shrugged.  We were up for anything.

“Sure!”  I said, “Thanks!”  And we followed him to the hill.

I went down with Emily first.  I glided across the snow, my tray spitting frost all around me.  I screamed and laughed, and Emily did too.  When we landed at the bottom, we said, unanimously:

“That was awesome!  Let’s go again!”

And we did.

This time, we got Liz to join us.  She was worried that it was unsafe but, since I had already gone down, I assured her that it was fine.

“Don’t worry!  It’s so much fun!”  I said, placing my tray at the top of the hill.  I sat down on it, and looked up at her.  “C’mon Liz, join us!  Let’s all go down together.”

Reluctantly, nervously, she placed her tray next to mine. 

“I promise you’ll be fine,” I said, as we crept closer to the edge, and prepared to kick off.  “You’re gonna love it!”

And with that, we fell.

I was falling, laughing, falling, screaming, falling, until suddenly… I felt it.  A tiny snap.  Almost unnoticeable, almost unimportant.  When the tray settled at the bottom of the hill, I almost didn’t look.  I almost picked up my tray for another run.  But I didn’t.  I looked.

I slid off my glove, and saw blood.  It wasn’t until this moment, after I landed at the bottom of the hill, brushed the snow from my knees, and caught my breath, that I realized my finger (or at least a part of it) was gone.  My bone stuck outwards like the steel of a collapsed building.  Blood, which dribbled through my leather glove, was everyplace where skin was supposed to be. 

Everything around me – every voice and sensation—fermented into one thick, snowy haze.  I heard Emily and Liz laugh, then quiet as they looked towards me, and realized.  I gasped and dropped my glove, my finger still inside. 

“Marissa?  Marissa are you OK?”  Emily asked.  She hadn’t seen my skinless, nail-less, crumbled finger, or the part that still hid in my glove.  I could barely comprehend, even less articulate, what my hand looked like.  I wanted to scream no, wanted to cry, wanted to take back the last moment and fix myself.  But I could do none of that.  I especially couldn’t scream.

My knees shaking, I stood up.  I stepped over my glove, lifted my boots from the thick snow, and ran inside. 

I stumbled through the doors, up the stairs, and to the door to my room.  Fingers trembling, right hand growing numb, I tried to find my door key, but couldn’t latch my left fingers onto it.  I dropped everything – my wallet, keys, and hat — front of my door, and ran.  Downstairs bathroom… Sink.

I looked behind myself, and saw a trail of blood.  For a brief moment, I considered that I might be bleeding to death.  I rushed down the stairs and fell to the bathroom floor, my knees and calves against the cool tiles, my right hand extended over the sink, dripping. 

Liz and Emily caught up to me, and I heard Liz yelling into the phone:

“Her finger its…. It got cut off!”  She says.  “We need an ambulance.  She needs to go to the hospital!” 

I rested my head on the cool porcelain.  Ignoring everything around me, I focused on my breathing, and whispered aloud to myself:  I’m gonna be OK, it’s all gonna be OK…

“I don’t know how much, but there’s blood everywhere and…”

I’m not looking at my finger… I’m OK… I’m going to be fine…

She came into the bathroom.  “Marissa,” she said delicately, “Did you wrap your finger in something?”

Breathe in… Breathe out…

“No,” I whimpered, “I can’t…”

Breathe in… Breathe out…

“I’ll get you a towel.  I’ll be right back, OK?”

Fine… I’m going to be fine… In… Out…

  

My mother always said that the body is sacred. 

“I’m not smart enough to make my own rules, so I follow the bible,” she’d shout over the kitchen sink, as she scraped ketchup and peanut butter off a plate and forced it into the dishwasher.  “We don’t desecrate the body.  God made us this way.  That’s it.”

She told me this when I was fifteen, and wanted to color my hair.

“The body is sacred.  Judaism is against desecrating the body.  Plus you can’t put chemicals right on your scalp.  You’ll get cancer.  You’ll die.  Right, Howie?”

My dad opens his eyes halfway, then closes them again. 

“Yea…” He mutters, drifting back to sleep.

“But my friends all have pretty highlights.  I just have this black mop.”

“Well they’re stupid, they’re all going to get cancer,” she says, as she adjusts her blanket to cover her body.  She asks my dad to pass her the remote.  He opens his eyes, passes her the remote, and closes them again.  “When you’re on your own, you can color your hair.  Then you won’t be under our insurance.  But for now, every mistake you make we have to pay for.”

When I lost my fingertip, I wondered if my body has lost its holiness.  I wondered if I was still sacred. 

Emily called my parents from the emergency room.  Initially, they thought she was joking.  I reassured my parents, later, that I would never joke about amputating my body.  I told my mother this as she reminded me, not so subtly, that the body is sacred.  My parents were billed for the amputation.

Before my amputation, I seldom associated myself with my body.  My personality – my likes, dislikes, fears, experiences — that was me.  My skin was just a coffin that restrained me.  I knew the body was important (I couldn’t live without it, after all), but I had only superficial expectations of it.  In my hometown, the body was a reflection of wealth, of ideals of beauty that I never desired to emulate.  I remember sixteen-year-old girls who got liposuction, and various other cosmetic surgeries.

As I grew older, hit that cherished 18th birthday and began making some of my own choices, I realized that the body could be a means of expression.  The body is your easel, I thought.  I got piercings, dyed my hair, and began to dress in a way that expressed my creative self.  I began to see the physical as an expression of the emotional.  The physical on its own, however, I didn’t care so much about.  Sure, the body was sacred, but more importantly, it was mine.  And I could use it and do with it what I pleased.

My ex-boyfriend, Jason, stood by the front door.  Liz had run into him upstairs, and asked him to watch for the ambulance.  He leaned alone against the door, his back arched awkwardly, his left fingers wrapped around his right wrist.  He turned to look at me, but said nothing.  Our eyes met for a moment as my friends rushed around me, until he turned to look outside again, and I turned to face the wall.

As people gathered around me—my friends, my roommates, my boss— all I heard was Liz’s voice, shaky, but assured, directing the action; all I saw was the thick opening in my skin, and the blood flowing from my finger to the floor.   

I stumbled into a cluster of couches near the main hallway, collapsed into the cushions, and wept.  As my blood rushed from my right hand, I twisted my neck away and rested my head on my left shoulder.   My heart pounded, and my head felt light.  Alone in this tiny alcove, away from the chaos of the hallway, I could hear my inner voice again.  I dropped my forehead to my knees, and sighed in relief.  As long as I could hear my own voice, I knew I was still OK. 

I coached my breathing until the paramedics led me outside, when my pulse returned to normal, and I was sure I wouldn’t faint.

I didn’t learn until later that after I left in the ambulance, and my friends left to meet me at the hospital, Jason picked up Lysol and a towel, and cleaned my blood off the floor.

Jason lived next door to me freshman year.  We had many common friends, and a similar sense of humor.   When we felt a mutual interest in one another, we called ourselves a couple.  But Jason and I were both insecure about dating and, eventually, became uncomfortable around each other.  Whenever Jason leaned forward, trying to kiss me, I turned my face to the side, and leaned my chin down.  I didn’t want to kiss him.  Jason was white and Jewish — exactly the type of guy my parents expected me to date, the type of guy I once imagined myself with.  He was smart, quirky, kind.  Still, I couldn’t connect with him.             

After three months, I ended our relationship.  We tried, uncomfortably, to be friends.  In the months before I lost my finger, we smiled an awkward, obligatory smile at each other, in passing.  When he knelt on the floor and washed away my blood, we hadn’t had a conversation, or any true connection, in nearly a year.

My friend Jamie stayed with me in the room during the surgery.  She looked on as the doctor took skin from another part of my hand, and sewed it onto the skinless parts of my finger.  He was thoughtful and kind, with a strange accent I struggled to understand.  As he stitched the two skins together, and bandaged my hand, I discussed the benefits of this situation:

“Well, I now have a fabulous topic for my memoir class,” I said, in between wincing from the pain.

“’Every cloud has a silver lining, right?’”  I continued.  “And there are a ton of clouds in Binghamton.”

The surgeon finished, wrote me a prescription for Vicodin and antibiotics, warned me about yeast infections, and left me with the nurse. 

Inside the cool glass, my fingertip floats among melted ice chips.  I wasn’t sure what I would see when I looked inside, but I somewhat expect to see an ordinary fingertip: nail intact, skin a likely peach.  But, floating in the container, it looks more like a mutilated fish than a human fingertip.  Its edges, my skin, flare outwards like fins.  It had lost its rosy pigment; instead, it is a deathly alabaster, floating among the ice chips meant to preserve it.  With a casual smile, I pass the jar back to the nurse.  Inside, I am crying.

For the first few days, I anchor myself to my bedroom.  I pile thick blankets over my body and lay there, quiet and still.  Each night I grab two pills from my bedside table and swallow them, sucking down a gulp of water.  One night, in the hallway outside my door, some guys bounce a ball.  At one point, it smacks against my door, shaking my walls.  I hug my blankets and dig my head into the pillow as deep as it can go.  I hold my bandaged hand close to my chest, and fall asleep that way. 

Initially, I can barely look at it.  My entire finger, even the healthy parts, is wrapped in several layers of gauze.  Still, small droplets of blood soak through the thick dressing.  It disgusts me.  I shy away from mirrors and showers, afraid to see my eyes, afraid to see my skin.  I believe that no matter what I do, with whatever force, I will fall apart.  I believe I am no more durable than a paper doll.

I had seen what my body looked like underneath, and it terrified me.

I figured saying I was on Vicodin would lighten the mood.  It’s hard to find a line to follow “I cut half my finger off,” but mind-altering drugs tend to be a crowd pleaser among college students.  I was right.  The admission of Vicodin eased the horrified look on people’s faces.  It changed disgust to amusement in seconds, giving me the opportunity to laugh, and reassure people that I was OK.  Acquaintances joked that they were jealous, remarked that it was “awesome” that I had them, that I was lucky. 

“Vicodin?”  They’d exclaim, after I said I lost my finger, and was taking Vicodin to manage the pain.  “That’s awesome!  Are you selling?”

“No!”  I’d exclaim, embarrassed, as I sat on duty in the RA office.  “I am not selling drugs,” I said.

One afternoon, while I was hanging out in my friends’ room, an acquaintance from the building knocked on the door, and asked if he could buy some pills from me. 

“I’ve got this awful headache,” he whispered.  “I tried Advil, and Tylenol, but nothing works.  I need something stronger.”

I just stared at him.  He seemed embarrassed, and retreated.

“Hey, I’m just kidding!”  he exclaimed, chuckling as he fidgeted with his keys.  “Forget about it!  I’m just gonna… Head back to my room.”  He moved away, then faced me again.  “Don’t mention this, ok?”

I nodded and he walked away.  But I knew, if I hadn’t needed those pills so desperately, I could have been a drug dealer. 

Until I lost my finger, the most powerful pill I had ever taken was Tylenol.  I soon realized that Vicodin was nothing like Tylenol.  Vicodin lifted me from the ground, from my place of pain, but from my footing as well.  It made me feel like an imitation flake in a snow globe, floating in random patterns, doing ballerina whirls in an artificial sky.  Everything I knew — my balance, my shape, my hold on the world — disappeared.  As I curled beneath my covers, fearing the winter outside, my mind floated like a snowflake. 

Amidst the Vicodin haze, I started to relive my ride down the hill.  I imagined what might have happened, what couldn’t have happened.  I wondered what I was thinking about in the moment it happened.

Meanwhile, Liz, who rushed outside in the snow to gather my glove (which contained my severed fingertip) in the frantic moments before the ambulance came, was still shaken up.  We sat down together in her and Emily’s room, and tried to piece together the events of the day before.  She did most of the talking, as I laid, listening, on Emily’s bed.

“I was on your right side,” she said.  “I might have run over it with my tray.  I keep running the scene over in my mind, but I can’t remember if I did.”

I closed my eyes, and remembered.  Remembered reassuring her, placing my tray on the top of the hill, looking up at her, urging her to come down with us.  I remembered where she placed her tray – to the right of mine—and when we kicked off and fell.  I remembered falling, laughing, screaming, falling, and maneuvering my tray to avoid a tree.  I remembered the snap.

“Even if it was you,” I said finally, looking down at my bandaged hand.  “It’s OK.”

I’d never know what was beneath the snow at those exact moments, or remember if Liz’s tray did, in fact, run over my hand.  It didn’t matter how it happened.  The important part was that it did.

A couple days later, I went to class.  I forced myself from my bed, swallowed two Vicodin, pulled my arms through my coat, and walked outside in the snow.  I left my room twenty minutes early for a class five minutes away.  I tiptoed the entire way there.

Other students took notes and listened intently; I stared, desk empty, at the wall.  When the student to my right leaned forward, then pulled her textbook from her backpack, I jumped.

What if she hits my finger?… Maybe it’s not stitched together… Will it break off again?

I left class and walked to the bathroom, needing to splash some cool water on my face.  My finger hurt.  I wanted more Vicodin.  I would have abandoned class at that point, if it had not been for the professor who was teaching it.  As much as I loved the class topic, I wasn’t present enough to enjoy it.  Truly, I realized then, I just wanted to talk to him. 

After class, after most students had shuffled out, I walked to the front of the room.

“Al?” I said to the professor, my eyes already filling.  We left class together and walked outside.

“I’m sorry,” I said, after telling him my story.  “It’s gross, I know.” 

“You shouldn’t feel embarrassed,” he said.  “You didn’t do anything wrong.  It isn’t gross; don’t feel ashamed.  People care about you, they want to help you.  Let them.”

Later that night, I was eating dinner in the dining hall with a group of friends.   One of them commented on my eloquent eating habits:

“You’re sticking your pinky out!” he said, pointing to the thick dressing, which forced my finger to stand erect, rather than fold with the rest of them.

We laughed and continued eating, as I sat up a bit taller in my seat. 

Shortly after, a guy who lives nearby, Oliver, who is well-liked in the community, but also known to be obnoxiously inappropriate, walked over to our table.  Oliver noticed my bandage and asked what happened.  When I didn’t answer, someone else did:

“She cut off her finger,” someone said.  “Cool, huh?”

This comment must have belittled him.  Or, it encouraged him.  Whatever it did, it somehow evoked his next remark:

“Well,” Oliver sneered, running his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair.  “I still have all of my parts.” 

For a moment, all was quiet.  The people sitting around the table turned to look at me, and shifted uncomfortably in their seats.  Finally, they chuckled a little, which eased the awkwardness.   If it had been from someone more intelligent, the comment might have hurt.  True, he was physically whole –minus a brain anyway– whereas I had lost a part.  My hand was bandaged in a thick dressing, while his looked normal.  I didn’t take the time to consider what he said, what it means to be “normal” — or to be whole. 

Instead I shot back, “At least I’m emotionally whole,” to which the table burst into laughter, and Oliver shrugged and walked away. 

Ok, not the best comeback, I thought, even as everyone laughed.  I’m not emotionally whole, not yet.  Is anyone? 

People judge people.  We do it loudly, and we do it all the time.  It’s woven so deeply into our character that we’ve come to expect it.  When people take us at face value — take what we tell them, and accept us, without judgment — we’re confused.  We don’t know how to respond to acceptance. 

I expected Al to be disgusted by my finger.  When he wasn’t, something in me changed.  Why was the image of a finger, crushed and severed, not disgusting?  I had grown accustomed to laughing at my injury, not because I thought it was funny, but because it lessened the shock value.  I laughed because it quieted other people.  I joked because it made me feel normal.

But Al wasn’t disgusted.  He was kind and sympathetic.  He told me to reach out, to accept other people’s help, and not to accept blame.  He told me that it was OK, and I realized that I didn’t have to be.

I wasn’t supposed to remove my bandage until my first appointment.  But, it had gotten wet, and it was bloody and uncomfortable.  And I just wanted to see what it looked like.

I tugged at the bandages and winced.  My blood had soaked through them all, and crusted over.  It glued the gauze together; I peeled it off slowly, removing a bandage from raw skin. 

Finally, I freed my stump from the bandage, and turned to look at myself.  My finger – my pinky—was swollen blue, the size of my thumb.  I wondered for a moment if it might explode.  Thick black stitches surrounded my new skin, a barricade between healthy and healing. 

I stroked my finger the way a mother might caress her premature newborn: with just one finger, just one tip.  It was too small, too delicate, to fully embrace.  I feared hurting it, disturbing its sense of peace.  I thought, you are torn and bloody.  This wasn’t what you were supposed to be.

I traced the edges of my skin, the parts that hurt, and the parts that didn’t, and cried.  I soaked a hand towel in warm water, lathered it with soap, and began to scrub.  Delicately, I washed away the browned blood and yellow stains.  When it was clean, I let it breathe for a while.  When I felt I had loved it enough, I prepared fresh gauze, and bandaged it again.

Over the next several days, I started to have momentary sensations of tightness in my finger.  It was a brief moment of intense pain, and then nothing.  I began to imagine that this pain was my body stapling itself together.  So, whenever I felt it, no matter how much it hurt, I smiled.  I imagined that my body was healing. 

Two weeks later, another storm coated Binghamton with snow.  I retreated to the comfort of my bedroom, and watched the snow from my window.  I attempted to fix my gaze on one flake, hoping to follow its journey as it floated to the ground.  But the storm’s breeze tossed the flakes furiously.  In one gust, it snatched dozens of them, forcing them in every direction, in mysterious shapes that my eyes couldn’t follow.  It seemed there was some secret they all shared, some recipe in which each flake settled in just the right place, creating a smooth winter blanket on the ground.  I tucked myself in my blankets, and settled into the cool sheets.  I fell asleep to the screams of students outside, sledding.

I returned out to the hill where I lost my finger for the first time that week.  I stood at the doorway, arms wrapped around each other, for a while.  Slowly, carefully, I walked forward.  I climbed over the channel of rocks, and made my way to the grass.  I walked higher and higher on the hill, and then turned to face the building.  I sat down on the grass, in the same place where I had reassured Liz, where we all had kicked off and started sliding.  I sat down in that space, and cried.

One month later, I stood naked in the center of my room, surrounded by piles of stuff.  My entire room was torn apart, every drawer opened and empty, my bare hangers in another pile on the floor.  Item by item, I tried on all of my belongings.  What fit, I kept.  What didn’t, I donated.  I picked up a sweater to try on, and walked over to my full-length mirror.

Before I pulled the sweater over my head, I caught an image of my body in the mirror.  Curious, I moved closer to the glass.  I hadn’t looked at myself, not really, since my accident.  I hadn’t wanted to.  When I thought of my body, I thought of blood.

I first noticed rolls.  There was extra skin in places where there hadn’t been a month ago.  I had gained weight, it was obvious; yet, for the past month, it hadn’t bothered me.  I enjoyed feeling substantial, enjoyed squeezing the extra bits of my stomach and thighs.  When I felt delicate, my flesh reminded me of my substance.  It had made me feel whole.

But now, something had changed.  I now viewed the extra weight as I did my unused clothing: as clutter.  As unnecessary.  I didn’t loathe the new weight, just as I didn’t loathe my unused clothes, but I knew I didn’t need it. 

I laid down on my bed, and ran my fingers over my stomach.  Immediately, I felt the cool steel of my belly-button piercing.  For the last year, this hardened steel in my belly had reassured me.  Friends were always surprised to learn that I had a belly-button piercing—done on a whim with Emily—and this excited me.  I enjoyed touching it.

Now, as I unscrewed the tiny ball, and gently pulled the piercing from my skin, I felt a sense of loss.  This piercing had become a part of me, a recognized bump, a familiar sensation.  But after losing my finger, the thought of having a piece of steel stuck in my belly disgusted me.  I gently laid my hand on my stomach, my newly-smooth skin, and smiled.  It felt unfamiliar, but it felt right.  I smiled.  I placed the ball and piercing on my bedside table.

When I awoke the next morning, the jewelry was gone.  Later that afternoon, I swept my floor.  When I threw out the dust, I likely threw out my jewelry too.  I don’t miss it.

I began dating someone new that spring.  I hadn’t been looking for romance… Not at all.  But some of the best gifts come as surprises, and our connection was a surprise to us both.

One night, Hemed knocked on my door, as planned, for our date.  Before I opened the door, I removed my watch, and placed it down on my counter.  My wrist felt free.  I didn’t know where he was planning to take me, or when we’d be back, or anything.  It made it more fun not to know.  But, before we left, I had one place that I, as a surprise, wanted to take him.

“I want to show you something,” I said, taking his hand and leading him outside.  We walked through the door – the door I had stumbled through, bleeding, three months earlier—and I smiled at him.

“This is my hill,” I said, extending my arm, as if unwrapping something.  “This is where I lost my finger.”

I don’t believe in accidents.  When people ask me about my finger, I blame “a sledding accident.”  But I don’t believe my amputation was an accident.  On that winter day, in that particular moment, the stones and ice and tray were placed just right, the wind propelling my body at the perfect angle, and my hand in just the right location, for my fingertip to be crushed.  I didn’t mean for it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it was an accident.

There might be some magical force that pulls at us, or some spiritual being, or nothing.  Maybe some accidents are a combination of factors: an uneven sidewalk, an icy road, a missed bus.  Things happen.  We don’t mean for them to happen, but they do.  We break things.  We mess up ourselves. 

We stretched a blanket over the thick grass, and crawled down next to each other.  We laid – backs down, bellies up — breathing.  I noticed the tips of the trees and the stretch of black, and nothing else.  I felt the bones in my back settle into the ground, as if the dirt beneath me had molded to my body.  I felt as if nothing in the world could hurt me.  I felt that I was floating.

“It might sound weird,” I said finally, leaning my body to look at him.  “But it feels like I was reborn here.”

He nodded in understanding.  “It’s amazing that you can feel so peaceful,” he said finally.  “So peaceful in the place that hurt you.”

I smiled and took a deep breath, drawing my lungs full of the crisp night air.  I closed my eyes and imagined that day, that moment, when my life changed.  The day I lost a fingertip — one of the most sensitive human places — but began to live again.  I thought about Hemed, and about Jason.  I thought that I was never able to connect with Jason in the way I’ve now connected with Hemed. 

I turned to look at him, and saw him writing on a rock — the only rock beside us on the hill.  He finished, placed the pen down, and smiled at me.  I looked over at the rock, and saw one word, written across the center of the rock, in thick bold ink, with a line drawn underneath:

Rebirth

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I know this is your hill, but that just felt right.”

“I love it,” I said.  I took his hand, and held it tightly.

We laid there, hand in hand, on my hill.  He runs his fingers along my palm, tracing the natural cracks in my skin.  He taps each fingertip on my left hand, and makes his way to my right.   Then, at my right pinky, he stops.  His fingertip touches mine, and he holds it there.

“It’s so tender,” he says, stroking it.  “It’s an amazing part of you.”

When our hands loosen and part, I reach for his arm.  I run my fingers along the smooth underside, brushing just my pinky against his cool skin.