I tore open the flesh of my dominant hand on the night I said goodbye to my childhood friend. It was the end of summer after high school. I was drunk. He, moving away. The first, great precipice of life, lay before us. I could feel the edge. Rough, uncertain. Dangling.
The warmth of the day fled as late August in Montana will do. The night crept in coldly, we had a gasoline campfire going at Black Sands, by the river. Many of us came to see him off; in a tourist town, bordering nothing but beauty, there were no cliques.
I had grown up in the shade of older brothers, majestic and fated. Their prowess, one in the physical, the other in the creative, put shoes too great to fill, ever before me. Like a parody of the original, I caricatured both labors with a frenzy, hoping to conceal forgery with hysteria. I labored so that no one out-drank, out-ate, out-lifted, out-joked, out-spoke, overlooked or discounted me.
By the end of my senior year, all athletics behind, heading to college in the fall, I put shoulder to the cogs of Time, praying to escape that place. If I could just get away, a distant and brave new world, I could be remade by my own hands. Finally know who I was and wanted to become.
The end of that night, my friend having left sometime earlier, me too drunk to notice, was the nadir of my falling out and through the facade. Months earlier, having trained four weeks in a row with friend of a friend in karate, I had found a new pursuit; both physical and creative, I was drawn to the Art. I would study with a passion over the next three years, but that night, my nascent concept of control in depth of striking objects, bloomed in my intoxicated mind to a degree surpassing every Bruce Lee flick, every Sunday morning Kung Fu theater binge.
About to leave with a friend, I swept my lips with finality across my last bottle. In a fitting farewell, I persuaded myself the likelihood of crushing the glass, bottle on its side, without so much as scratching my skin, somewhere near a one hundred percent chance of success. A glimmer of doubt in the deep, rational center of my brain was borne away on a tide of malted hops. After all, no one would out-stupid me, including myself.
I buried my right hand, with open palm striking, into the ruins of the vessel. I still recall, the gleaming edges of perfect sharpness, rending the softness of my hand, many years later. Instinctively, I recoiled, holding my maimed limb loosely, too horrified to look. My mind cleared suddenly, the harsh tonic of regret.
The friend who had arranged a ride home, saw me, lingering near the fire, hand stuffed into my other arm. Wobbling toward him, he pulled my hand free to examine the wound. By the light of the Ford pickup cab dome, we all gazed at a fistful of blood. Numbly, with a detachment as though someone else’s hand were in view, I would feel very little that night as my friend dressed my hand after soaking in peroxide. Afraid to wake our one doctor, I waited till morning for the clinic. After the verbal chastising, he immersed my hand in a bowl of iodine. Hungover and properly sick, I nearly went unconscious with pain. Stitches free of charge, just this once, it was more than physical trauma clinging to me as I went home.
I had finally hit the point I sensed had been coming for some time. That my out-doing would finally be my undoing. And it was. Whatever words my dad might have said when I returned, the admonishing look, the disappointed heft to his shoulders, the pregnant sigh — none would have the impact as patently clear and enduring as the scars I would carry on my right hand, for the rest of my life.