I touch my dent compulsively lately—a dent in the back of my head, right in the middle, hidden by all my hair. When I should be thinking about anything else, I put one finger, sometimes two, and sink the tips into the dent and ponder its existence. I push my fingers back and forth, measuring how much of an indent it really is, and if it’s enough to affect me mentally—basing any diagnosis on what I’ve learned from WebMD.
What makes the dent even worse is the ridge of thick bone right below it. So when I’m in my most paranoid state, I think for sure this is the result of some childhood accident. Some terrible trauma inflicted upon my mushy, infant skull—a great disaster that both pressed my skull in and pushed up an enormous mound. A new valley and mountain range after a terrible tectonic shift. All the thrilling and splendid wonder of geology mapped out on the back of my giant melon head.
I asked my dad about the possible origin of the dent. He told me, as he usually does when asked about anything unrelated to football or lawn care, to knock it off. But I still asked if there was anything he could recall. He was silent for a good eight, ten seconds, sighed, then reminded me about the car accident when I was two—standing up in the back seat, a hand on top of each seat in front of me, reinforcing the dirt stains already worked into the vinyl from my sticky toddler hands. "These were different times," he quickly added, just incase I planned on interrupting him with cries of parental negligence. "A car pulled out from a road on the right, he continued, tried crossing the highway in front of us, but didn’t." This was one of several stories from my dad’s often-cited Camaro Tales. Chronologically, this was the last of the series and always told bitter sweetly. My dad reminded me of how my head flew headfirst into the stereo. He’s got pictures, he said, of the top of my nose scabbed over. But that was the front of my head, my face, he clarified, not the back. I began asking him why, then, was he telling me this. But he continued, reminding me that my mother had my sister in her arms the entire accident, keeping her arms around the little mohawked infant, while her own head slammed into the windshield, and how Mom never brings this up for sympathy. "So stop complaining," he said, "you’re being a baby." “Why did I only get a cut on my nose?” "You sound disappointed."
My girlfriend gets annoyed whenever I start talking about it. “Does it bother you knowing it’s there?” I ask. "What is connected to the dent is starting to," she breathes. This is my new thing, but not my first. When I was 13, I was certain I had AIDS—Todd Robertson, a master of delinquency and grade repeating, stabbed me in the arm with his compass right after 5th period pre-algebra class. The same compass he used to carve pentagrams into his palms. I was dying for about a year.
Alone I remain, laden with this fear or that. I associate any free time I waste with time I could be using to avoid something likely to kill me in the future. My carbon-monoxide detector, so constantly displaying a “0” that, for sure, it has never really worked at all. The asbestos in the ceiling, blanketing my studio apartment—the ceiling I had to, when confronted with the lease, sign off on, agreeing that I’m aware there is a cancer agent above me at all times, and, I'm guessing, that I am also fully aware of a thing called gravity. I avoid dragging my feet on the carpet and stirring up too many carpet mites. This pre-1978 building, with its traces of lead-paint under newer layers of paint; the slow leak of gas from the somewhat-debilitated stove. I sit in the middle of the room, not too close to the television—always on and always turned to CNN for the latest in world-wide terrorism—and contemplate opening the package of 3M masks I bought after a particularly moving news special on how some of these terrorists are planning to release stuff in the air to kill people just like me.
My dad called back a few days later. "Well, your mom reminded me about you falling really hard once when you were four," he admitted. “What?” I'm holding out the phone and staring at it like the idiots in the movies. I catch the "down" of his "calm down" after reapplying the phone to my face. "You were climbing up the porch steps; you had those dumb cowboy boots on. You were wearing them with your Superman Underoos." “Outside?” "That’s the only place you’d wear them—something about your cape only working in the wind. We watched you from the other side of the yard. You got your boot caught between two steps. You fell backward and smacked your head on the sidewalk." “The back of my head?” "Yes, the back of your head." “Did I cry?” "A little. It looked worse than it was." “My head?” I ask, with my arm out, bent at the shoulder, my free hand palm-out in a "what the hell?" pose). "NO, not your head, the fall looked worse. You were fine." “But what if I did smash in the back of my head and no one noticed.” "You would have cried harder."
Oh yeah, and at 20, after finding out my at-the-time girlfriend was a cheater and had been since the previous Halloween, I had suspicions of some a-symptomatic syphilis buried deeply within me. I thought for sure I was a carrier and that it was already taking its toll on my mental faculties. Maybe at 40 I would start to forget things; maybe at first just the little things: Do I normally sleep on my left or my right side? A weed-wacker does what again? Progressively, I would sink into irritation and hysteria, eventually slipping away into blindness. When relatives ask what my problem is, someone who cares enough might open an encyclopedia and point to Nietzsche or hypothesize about the decline of many great kings.
My biggest worry is how this dent affects me mentally. My girlfriend studies linguistics. She already had a couple of neurology classes. So, “How would this affect my brain?” I asked. "Well," she felt my dent, "probably your vision, your ability to comprehend what you were looking at." “Who’s there? Who said that?” "Okay, I’m done talking about this." “No, but seriously, I think this dent might be why I didn’t get into Columbia.” "Did you even apply to Columbia?" “Oh, God, this is worse than I thought.”
I picked up the phone to hear my dad say "I've got one, too." "Got one what, Dad?” "A dent right where yours is. Your mom noticed it when she was dying my gray hairs." “Really? I don’t believe you.” "Believe what you want. I’ve got a dent with a bump right under it." “So, what you’re saying is, this dent is genetic?” "Okay, I guess that’s what I’m saying." "Like maybe some evolutionary setback in our family?” "Whatever you say, college boy." “Or maybe something more positive. Maybe this dent gives us special powers.” My dad pauses, pondering how far he should go with this. "You mean like Superman? That would explain the Underoos." “No, Dad, Superman is a totally different species from a different planet. I’m talking about some sort of evolutionary anomaly—like being a genius or psychic or something.” "Well, if so, they seem to be untapped powers—especially yours, boy." “Thanks, Dad. Maybe I should go, maybe predict an earthquake in India—put my powers to use.” "Why not predict who’s gonna win the Packers’ game and win your dad some money?" “Use your own dent, Dad.” "Hey wait, your mom wants to talk to you, or did you already know that?" “Yeah, I figured.” "Talk to you later, my little X-man."
About the author:
I'm originally from Iowa--now living in Los Angeles. I had a story nominated for publishing in the anthology "Best New American Voices 2004" (but nothing materialized). This will be my first story published anywhere. Contact at email@example.com.
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