Here is the final installment of a memoir I wrote in my classroom with my 3rd grade writers. (click here for Part One, click here for Part Two) Nothing makes you remember an event, a person, a time or place more than writing about it. This story was important to me for a couple reasons. First, I could teach out of it. When I needed to teach about setting or dialogue I could look for examples in my young friends' writing and ask them to share. But I could also use examples from my own. I ask my students to write. I should write with them.
I also needed to remember Rick. He passed away a year ago. And while we were blood brothers growing up, when my family moved away from my old neighborhood, I moved on. I never took the time to keep up with Rick or my old gang. It's foolish to say that's just the way I am. I let go of Rick and didn't looked back.
Now Rick is gone, and I never took the time to catch up, swap stories. I never let him know that my childhood was so great in large part because we grew up together. All those hours spent in each other's company, all that formative time... walking to school, Cream the Kid with the Ball, soccer, football, baseball, Kick the Can, talking about girls, serving as altar boys, listening to Hendrix and the Stones and Black Sabbath, complaining about school, trick-or-treating, it meant so much. I should have looked up that man and told him what he meant to me. I should have thanked him for being my friend. Now I can't. But I do remember...
Then he barked savagely, dog spit flying. I knew there was something terribly wrong with him.
Seeing my blood, pooling and dripping off my elbow into the dark green spring grass gave me the creeps. I’d seen my blood before. I had the normal scraped knees and once I’d cut myself pretty badly with a can opener, but I don’t think I ever saw so much blood as this. And it was mine.
“What are we gonna do?” I asked. My mom was busy at work teaching, Rick’s mom had just gone to the grocery store. Anyway, we were half way to school.
“Let’s get to school!” Rick shouted. And so we took off at a run for the five or six blocks to Saints Peter and Paul Elementary School. We didn’t talk as we ran. The blood still kept coming. It was getting on the cuffs of my dark blue dress pants and on my shiny black school shoes. There were bright red spots on my white shirt and I knew that my mom would be really mad. I didn’t think she would be able to get that blood out of that shirt.
By the time we got to the playground, I was a mess. My face was blotchy; my hair was sweaty, my shirt sticking to my back. I’m sure I looked a fright. Dark red blood on a bright white shirt.
In retrospect, the running to school probably wasn’t what I should have done. My increased heart rate probably made me bleed even more. The recess monitor, Mr. Kirk, who was also the custodian, told me to go immediately to the principal’s office double quick when he saw the blood. I ran.
I got to Sister Anastasia’s office panting and puffing. “What do you mean marching in here like that Mr. O’Keefe?” Sister all but screamed at me when I came in. It took a moment for her to assess the situation but she quickly opened the cabinet in the outer office with the first aid supplies. She was not happy with me.
Back then people didn’t wear gloves when they examined bloody cuts as we do today. Her bedside manner was rough. Thrusting my bleeding wrist into hot running water, my blood ran down the sink. It throbbed. And seeing that much of my own life’s blood swirling down the drain was frightening. Then came the iodine. She poured it directly into the open gash making me grit my teeth and groan in pain. I didn’t dare cry out or pull away.
I was a little dizzy at the smell of blood and hot water and iodine as well as the intensity with which Sister was handling my wound. I remembered the short growl/bark of Buckley and seeing the flap of skin on the muscle of my hand. It made me sick to my stomach. I was afraid I would barf. That would really make Sister mad! Somehow I managed to choke back my fear and nausea. I kept down my PB and J.
Sister Anastasia let me out with a bulky bandaged hand. She had a hard time stopping the bleeding. She had lectured me about how boys should behave at lunchtime as if it were my fault. My folks were pretty disinterested when I told them my story. Although my mom did say that it probably could have used a couple stitches. My buddy Rick was not surprised about Sister Anastasia and her cruelty. We commiserated on the walk home. You can be sure we never came too close to Buckley’s fence again. I think he lived for a couple more years.
I was proud of my big bandage wrapped hand, although it was pretty hard to write in cursive and to do math problems. Of course there was no mercy from my teachers since they probably thought I was asking for it, petting that dog and all.
The bandages came off in a week or so. Forty five years later I still have a crescent shaped scar at the case of my thumb to remind me of that long walk to school, and Ameling’s, and that nasty old dog.