Blood

July 21, 2014

We were playing Indian Ball on the field behind North Junior High School. I hit a long fly over the head of my friend Mike. He turned and ran to the arc of the ball. He was barefoot. He stopped running and collapsed into the heavy grass. We ran out to where he laid, his labored breaths a gritty wheeze. And we saw a geyser of blood pumping out of his right foot. He had stepped on broken glass; the sole of the foot was sliced open and flapping.

I yanked off my white tee shirt and tied it around Mike’s foot, and we carried him to a car and drove to Alton Memorial. Mike was okay, but he need three or so inches of stitches; we thought he looked like Frankenstein’s monster. I stood watching the sewing, forgetting I was bare-chested. A doctor tossed me my bloodied shirt, by now crusted and stiff and rust-red, and I pulled it on, my “red badge of courage” causing some looks in the emergency room waiting area.

In the fall of my freshman year at SIU Edwardsville, I was driving home on Pontoon Road, then just a country backwater kind of route, when the car in front of me suddenly swerved, landing down a small incline in the dirt crust of a pumpkin patch and rolling twice, a girl’s body hurtling through the windshield and landing smashed, as though her body were a gourd. I parked and ran down the slope to where she lay moaning. Her skirt was torn and she was exposed, revealing pantyhose pulled tight over white panties.

But that was the least of her problems. An artery in her neck had ruptured and was whooshing like a lawn sprinkler, long ropes of blood draining the girl. I knelt and pressed my fingers to her torn neck, to no avail. I knew I was seeing someone die for the first time. She had curly brown hair. Her eyes rolled open and she whispered, “Hold me.” I put my arms around her and held her tight in her own blood, until her eyes went still and unseeing.

We all give blood. We all know the rituals of blood, from soldiers come home in wooden boxes gift-wrapped in flags, for Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, from the “good wars,” from the factory floor, from lynchings in the bad old days, from slaves, from Indians, from the freaky accidents of life, from leaky children.

From weddings. My friend Sally dieted fiercely so she could fit into a slinky, sexy, white bridesmaid’s dress. At the reception she did the Hokey Pokey proudly, and she turned herself all around . . . until she felt wetness on her butt. She ran to the ladies room where a girlfriend confirmed Sally’s worst fear. A red stain was expanding on the seat of the white dress. I donated my sport coat for her to drape her middle in and leave the festivities.

I had a girlfriend in the 70’s who told me I had a price to pay for her intimacy. I had to drink her blood: that would be the test of my love. And I sipped ever so daintily, from her pink flower cup so tender. And she said Yes. Later on at home, my bravery now turned to nausea, I rinsed my mouth with hydrogen peroxide. This ended my one night career as a vampire.

“Will you love me, will you love me forever?” The artist Meatloaf, singing on behalf of boys everywhere.

“ . . . and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” That is Molly Bloom speaking on infidelity, in that masterpiece of word blood, “Ulysses,” by James Joyce.

I thought of this at noon as I picked blackberries at Farmer Orville’s place. I ate as many, squashed as many berries as I picked. My palms and fingers were stained with blackberry blood, that splendid and sweet and scarlet-colored blood. And I crushed more orbs of berry blood and seeds, and I licked my palm, like Orville’s golden barn cats lazing on a wooden swing and licking paws with abandon.

If only all our terrifying, wounding family stories, all our torn soldiers come home, if only the only blood spilled was blackberry blood, strawberry blood, peach blood, plum blood.

If only.

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