Sunday, April 25, 2010


One of my most impressionable memories of church is of the morning I accidentally stapled my hand in Sunday school. 

The staple's legs didn't fold under they way they did when I pressed down hard, flattening my palm across the end of the smooth, flat arm in search of that satisfying Ka-Chunk that let me know when the staple was securely in place, legs bent under meditatively.  Instead, the legs went straight down and nearly all the way in.

It wasn't until the blood began to seep from the holes the staple had made that I fully realized what I had done. It happened when I reached down to pick the stapler up from the floor, against my teacher's warning that I might hurt myself, and that I should let her pick it up for me.  I was eight years old.  I had used a stapler at home many times.  Almost every art project I made at my mother's kitchen table that had parts attached had staples in it. I preferred the sleek, definitive purpose of staples to the sticky, ambiguity of glue at that age. 

I used to make masks from medium sized, brown paper bags that I could slip over my head, corners neatly tucked over with staples in order to match the curve of my skull. I made movie monster masks of Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and the Werewolf.  For the werewolf, I even fashioned a mangy shock of fur made from yarn, each piece dangling down loosely from where it was stapled on at the top of the mask. 

I would cut nose and eye holes into the bag with scissors.  I would slip the neatly contoured bag over my head and press a marker tip against my face where the bag met my eyes, nose, and mouth, to mark the places where I should cut.  I would hold the mask with one hand inside while I pierced, with the scissors blade, the marks I had made. It never occurred to me that this was dangerous, that I might accidentally pierce the skin of the hand steadying my work from inside the bag.  I never once heeded the warnings of my mother, who stood by watching closely though she never interfered, willing to let me test the give and resistance of the world even then.

The stapler had fallen off the low table to the floor.  It was either an arrant elbow or a careless hand that knocked it there from the table where we sat making easter baskets from brightly colored construction paper for our moms. The mouth of the stapler was pointing up.  When I reached my young hand down to grab it, I hadn't expected to find it that way, open and baring its tender underbelly to me. Suppliant.  It happened before I had a chance to even consider the danger.

After staring for a second or two at my palm, just at the base of the thumb, I reached over with my other hand and pulled the staple out, amazed that the staple had not attached itself to my hand, content with letting the blood drip slowly down my wrist and arm and beneath the cuff of my sport coat. I held the staple closer, eyeing the legs for the slightest bend, the very ends tainted with my blood. It wasn't until I looked back at the wound that I felt any sort of pain at all.  My wounded palm began to throb, pain and blood pulsing through me simultaneously. 

"Like Jesus," I said, holding my bleeding hand up for the whole class to see.  And though I meant it earnestly, somehow believing that the pain I was feeling matched the pain of crucifixion, my teacher, who I did not like and who did not seem to like me because she spent most of her time telling me not to do what I wanted to do, took exception to my remark.  The other kids in the class looked at my bleeding palm blankly, some nodding modestly, mouths open, in agreement to my claim. It was, after all,  Palm Sunday.

The teacher grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me from my seat.  We marched across the room, out the door in to the hall to the boys' room two doors down, her holding my wrist, my arm extended above my head. She exclaimed while we marched that my mother would hear about this, as if she believed I had somehow impaled myself on purpose. 

She pulled me roughly through the empty bathroom, our footsteps echoing loudly against the light blue tile, to the sink, where she shoved my hand beneath the faucet to cleanse the wound.  The hot water and soap stung, and only then did I begin to cry.  She held my hand in the water firmly against my attempt to pull away.

"Hold Still," she demanded.  "I'm almost done with you." She paused then, and stared down at the rising steam before turning the faucet handle slowly, finally shutting the water off, her actions burdened by the heavy weight of her thoughts. 

And though, even then at eight, I knew she meant my hand, that she was nearly done chasing away infection, she achieved the opposite affect, her words assembling the lingering doubt we realized then we both shared.

We walked back to the room in silence. Her hand rested softly on my shoulder, while I held a damp paper towel against the open wound. She took a bandage from her purse and pressed the adhesives to my hand, rubbing her thumbs across them to secure the small arms in place across my palm.  When she was done, she looked at me with a forced smile, and with a heavy sigh, she turned her back to the table where the baskets were being filled with green paper grass, where everything but my stapled basket corners had begun to come undone, the glue still wet and changing colors from the dye. 

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