Classic Lydia Stories: Talley and the Tree
At our first house on Hansen Road (we moved three houses down the street when I was a teenager), there was an Ash tree next to the driveway. I loved that tree, and it was perfect for climbing by the time I was old enough to want to. I used to climb up in the tree, perch myself on a particular branch, then lean out, let go, grab a lower branch, swing, arc, and jump off. Better than jumping off a swing. Even MORE fun if you closed your eyes during the swing and the arc.
Talley, my younger sister, used to climb the tree with me. One day as we were swinging out of the tree, I told her, "It's even MORE fun if you close your eyes!" So on the next turn, Talley gets to the particular branch, closed her eyes, leaned out, completely missed the other branch, came hurtling out of the tree screaming bloody murder (I think her eyes were still closed at this point), and suddenly landed on the ground with a crash. Now think about this. She was screaming all the way down up to the point of impact. That means her mouth was wide open and her tongue was partially extended. Imagine what the force of the sudden impact would have on her jaw. And where her tongue was in relation to her teeth. Yep, you got it, her mouth slammed shut and she bit her tongue. Big time.
I came out of the tree, saw her bleeding from the mouth, and ran in the house to get Nanny, our grandmother, who was staying with us during the summer while my mom worked. (My mom was the only one on the block that worked at all.) "Nanny! Come quick!" "What happened?" she said. "We were jumping out of the tree with our eyes closed and Talley missed the branch!" On hindsight, this does not sound like the smartest thing to be doing on a summer afternoon. Nanny came out, saw the mess Talley had made of her tongue, and got my dad, who was in his office downstairs, to bring Talley to the doctor's office.
When they got in to see the doctor, he took a look and said, "Huh! Look at that! It's cut clear through. Do you mind if I have Dr. So and So come and take a look at it?" And my sister, whose tongue is swollen and sticking partway out of her mouth, shakes her head and says, "Doe, dat's otay." Dr. So and So comes in and also wonders at the amazing cut. Then a series of nurses enter and they take a look. No one has seen anything like it. We're not sure if they were all looking because of the curiosity of it all, or in order to consult together as to how best patch it up.
They eventually decided to give Talley stitches and return her home. We had dinner that night, and Talley sat across from me with her tongue still swollen, numbed from novocaine, her baseball cap on her head with the bill toward the back but skewed so it rested behind her ear. Her fine blond hair stuck to her forehead from the humidity and her cheeks were rosy from the heat and excitement of the day. She sipped on a milkshake while the rest of us attempted to eat our dinner with this pitiful reality in front of us. I'm sure she was even more pitiful than necessary in order to increase my guilt but it did not faze me. I knew I was not at fault. Anyone else would have known enough to wait until they had a hold of the branch before they closed their eyes. Not Talley, though. She jumped straight out of the tree with her eyes closed and her mouth wide open.
When it was clear that she wasn't pitiful enough to induce an adequate level of guilt, Talley attempted to speak, botching the attempt and sounding like she belonged in an institution for the developmentally delayed. Apparently, my mother couldn't take the aura of guilt that was permeating the room any more, burst into tears, and fled the table. I said, "Why is she crying?" because I was impervious to the guilt factor and could not figure out why this was so upsetting. My dad and grandmother looked at me, boring into my soul with the combined guilt power of two adults and Talley, and said, "She's just happy it isn't permanent". Then they looked at each other with a "mission accomplished" expression on their faces, and proceeded to finish eating their dinner while Talley sipped happily at her milkshake and I felt the first pang of doubt. Maybe it was my fault...
Disclaimer: I honestly don't remember if Talley was ever mad at me for telling her to close her eyes. I don't remember her making me feel guilty about it and I don't really believe my parents blamed me either. It was an accident. We were fortunate it wasn't worse. But that doesn't stop the what ifs. What if I had explained the procedure better? What if she had ended up with broken bones or knocked her head? What if it really was my fault? I'm just happy it wasn't permanent.