At 5:18 on Monday afternoon, The Boy severed his pinky. He was riding a small dirt bike and reached down to adjust a lever near the chain. Too near. Game over.
He sat on the edge of the parking lot, his back to the west, rocking. As I walked toward him I gathered my thoughts. It’s going to take a while for the paramedics to get here. We need to keep him calm. I’ve got to get him to lay down. Move his mind aside and keep him relaxed. Doesn’t look like it’s bleeding much, I don’t think he’ll faint.
I think I’m going to faint.
Okay. Let’s get you down on the ground.
I walked behind him, crouched down and held his head as he leaned back to the pavement. His eyes were shut. His mouth clenched. His thick, dark hair framed a young but chiseled face. An angelic face. His pinky sat on the ground between his legs. The ligaments were in tatters, various lengths protruding like barely cooked spaghetti from the angled cut. It wasn’t severed, it was ripped off by teeth. Dirt under the finger nail; every boy’s right. There it sat, streaked with blood. The finger that mere moments ago was seemingly permanently attached to his hand, not even a thought as he reached down to just…
What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong? He sat up wanting to grip his head in both hands but instead staring down at the one that was no longer perfect.
My mom is going to kill me.
I rubbed his back as he hunched over his pinky. His shirt was hot, his back hotter. I reached for the water bottle. He rocked and shifted, couldn’t stop moving.
Do you want me to pour some of this water on your back? To cool you off?
He nodded. I slowly trickled water down his neck, under his shirt. He leaned back when he’d had enough, lowering himself to the ground.
Just breathe. I held his head with one hand and lightly rested my left hand on his chest.
What’s your name?
Cleo. What’s yours? The Boy.
My hand, cooled by the water bottle, stroked his forehead. It, too, was hot, but the day wasn’t. This heat was generated by trauma. Clammy heat. Beads of sweat broke out like blisters along the frame of his face. I looked into and through his big eyes, one brown and one noticeably darker, almost black.
I’m a mom. We’re always grateful our children are okay, no matter what happens or what choices they make.
He looked away. Yea. It could always be worse, right? It could always be worse.
His friend approached with some paper towels. I looked up at him and smiled reassuringly.
Let me put the finger in here. He bent over to retrieve the pinky from the ground. The Boy shot up.
Don’t touch it! I’ll get it. You don’t have to…
He was ashamed. Ashamed he had made a bad decision. Ashamed his friend had to witness his bad decision. Ashamed his friend had to touch his hacked up pinky. Ashamed to face his mother. Ashamed to show his hand. Embarrassed. Scared. Sad. Fearful. Worrying about his mom, his friend, and his pinky. What will people think? He slumped back to the ground and began to cry.
His friend wrapped up his pinky and placed it next to The Boy.
Where’s the bike? he asked, composing himself swiftly.
I put it in my car. Everything’s cool.
You get outta here. I’ll be okay. Go home. He shielded the glare of the sun with his whole hand, looking up to find his friend standing a few feet behind his head.
His friend looked at me, asking me with his eyes if he should go as asked or stay.
I continued to stroke The Boy’s head, taking my right thumb and rubbing from the middle of his forehead through his hair line to the top of his skull in rhythmic strokes, lulling us both into a shared calmness. My left hand was still on his heart. He looked up at me.
He needs to go. I don’t want him to get in trouble.
I’m not leaving. It’s going to be okay. The woman on the phone said they can reattach the pinky. You’ll just have a scar. It’s all going to be okay.
Yea, I chimed in. They did it with the penis Lorena Bobbitt cut off. If they can reattach that, they can reattach anything. It even worked afterwards.
I couldn’t tell if their mortified stares were because I said the word penis or because a woman had cut one off, but they definitely did not know what I was talking about. However, for about 30 seconds neither of them thought about the severed pinky. I’m certain they thought three things:
Oh, my God.
Things could always be worse.
At that moment The Boy’s friend walked away, pacing along the edge of the parking lot, staring out at the fog bank rolling in to find its nightly perch, layered over the city and the bay. The winds were picking up, the temperature taking an afternoon dive, typical of the coast, even though the sun sat unobscured, sending its last rays down to warm the western slopes of Mt. Tam. Soon the fog would be the middle man between it and the sleepy beach town of Stinson. For a split second I thought of my descent. I brought my eyes back to The Boy.
He’s just taking a walk. You’re doing great. So brave. I never stopped stroking his head, but I took my hand from his heart and placed my palm on his far cheek, stroking his temple. Trying to keep his focus on me.
The paramedics will be here soon.
How much longer?
Maybe about 10 minutes. I looked up at the ranger station on the summit wondering why the man there hadn’t made his way down to the lot. It would have taken 5 minutes. Certainly they have an emergency kit there. Can’t a girl get some gauze when she needs it?
Everything happens for a reason, right? I looked down to see him staring off into the wild blue yonder.
Yes. His eyes rolled left to meet mine.
Don’t let this opportunity go to waste.
This is where it gets bat crazy. I felt a vortex connect us. Not wildly whirling, but more back and forth, a rushing air sound, a real opening of the core. Our centers connected through this vortex, as if it were an invisible umbilical cord. We didn’t need to speak anything to each other that wasn’t already being communicated, but he said:
Please don’t leave me.
I won’t. I’m not going anywhere.
I reached into the pocket of my hiking pants and pulled my phone out, checking the time of the call to 911 and the current time then tossed the phone to the ground a foot behind his head. It landed nose to nose with his.
Something big just happened here, I said, returning my focus to his face. He didn’t take his gaze off my eyes, remaining connected. And it doesn’t have to do with your finger.
He nodded. The vortex continued to do its thing…what, I have yet to figure out, but it was open and very busy.
He clenched his mouth again and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to keep the tears in that wanted out. It’s not the pinky, he kept repeating. It’s not the pinky.
I held his head in my hands, drawing my thumbs over his eye brows, massaging his temples.
It doesn’t even hurt anymore. I can’t feel it. Tears dropped from the corners of his eyes one by one, but he smiled with that realization. I wiped them away.
He looked at me again. Strangers no more. He wasn’t the unpredictable guy pacing in the parking lot, causing me to keep my distance as if he were seconds away from lashing out like a trapped animal, never for a second considering that it was help, not harm, coming to him. The Boy was too gentle, too tender, too thoughtful, too respectful to lash out. Lash in, maybe. He was pissed at himself. That he could be so stupid. How could he have been so stupid?
I looked at our phones, reached over and grabbed mine.
What’s your number? He gave me the digits and I plugged them in. I’m going to call you now so you have my number. If you need anything you call me. Even if you don’t need anything, will you please text me and let me know you’re okay?
I didn’t want to leave him.
A Ranger approached in a pick-up truck. The first of many people that would arrive at the scene. He stopped parallel to us, about 10 feet away. The Boy’s friend approached the driver’s side as the Ranger got out. I could see their feet in the space below the pick-up. They spoke for a few minutes.
The Boy and I knew this safe haven, this calm place where time stood still while epiphanies cooked, was about to shift. He would be quizzed and prodded, loaded into an ambulance and driven down a long, snake of a road to a hospital where they may or may not reattach his finger, awaiting his angry but relieved Mom. He would deal with the consequences, perhaps realize he dodged a bullet, and hopefully determine what the game changer was about, because it wasn’t about the pinky.
The Ranger approached from the rear of the truck with bag in hand and knelt at The Boy’s side. His friend stood behind him. He began his bedside manner with, All the injuries I’ve had have been head and finger wounds.
Dear God, I thought, he’s not going to start rattling them off, is he? I knew it was time for me to depart. The fire truck pulled up. Then the ambulance.
I bent down and kissed The Boy’s forehead, conscious of my massive ginger mop falling all over his face, which might be all romantic in another setting with someone of an appropriate age, but in this case it was probably pretty annoying to him, just like it is to my sons.
The Ranger had finished putting his finger on ice and was now examining the wound.
The bizarre serenity we had generated by locking into each other for the last half hour vanished. The vortex closed. Whatever we were there to accomplish for each other in person was finished. But we both knew it didn’t end there. I whispered in his ear:
Stay relaxed and centered. Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. He turned his head to mine, our foreheads met. And then we said goodbye.
I stood up and walked a few paces to The Boy’s friend. He started to reach his hands towards me to hug. I wasn’t expecting it, having unfairly judged him as a teen who probably wasn’t comfortable enough to reach out and hug a stranger, and didn’t respond right away. His hands dropped. I moved a little closer.
Are you okay?
He nodded yes.
We came together and hugged.
Hey, I don’t know what all is going on behind the scenes here, I said quietly in his ear, but he’s worried about you. Whatever it is, let this be a sign.
It already had been. I could tell through his embrace.
Thank you for staying with him.
You’re his angel.
The words grabbed me. He let go. I turned and walked back toward the trail head, looking back one time to see paramedics kneeling in a half circle around The Boy. I didn’t want to leave, but it was time. Or, rather, time was ticking. The sun began its descent toward the horizon. The fog rolling in would prevent me from seeing it set. I had nine miles to go and 90 minutes to sundown.
Not exactly prime hiking time. More like prime feeding time.
I broke into a run.