Grow up, stupid: Celebration injuries, in reverse order

Words by Jack Vening

Published on April 21, 2014

Important hints and tips on how to be an adult.

1. On Christmas day 2013, putting on a shirt my girlfriend’s parents give me as a gift, I lift my hand into the ceiling fan and it catches me with enough force to gash my finger. It isn’t bad; the ceilings in the flat coastal homes are low and I feel silly and overwhelmed because it hurt and because I can’t understand why the ceilings aren’t higher.

The shirt says Rip Curl, and now there’s a tiny scar above the knuckle of my left index finger, shiny and inconsequential.

2. Years before this, I break my arm on a swing-set as we’re visiting friends for the first time in many years. We are somewhere in the hinterland. My brother, who breaks my arm accidentally, doesn’t believe the damage he’s caused. It’s not easy to see: shortly before, in a summer trip celebrating the school-year being through, he opens the sole of his foot on a clam-shell at the rocks of Boydstown, NSW. The wound is deep. It’s my job to stop myself from crying and brush away the flies as we drive to hospital.

3. On the last day of that school year, two kids from year 10, skipping class, drown in the lake trying to retrieve a football. Not long after that, Jackie Chan’s mother dies and is buried close to where I receive guitar-lessons for many years.

4. In the spring, around the time of my Grandmother’s birthday, my father gets a sprig of lavender in his eye. As he gets older he becomes more inclined to bellow when hurt or startled, like a big dog barking. He is blinded for several weeks, misses many engagements.

5. In the closing minutes of an ice-rink party, on her final circuit, my mother shatters her arm so severely she needs several days of hospital care. Later I will take a girlfriend to look at the outside of the ice-rink. She is pious, and understands when I tell her we can’t go inside, but breaks up with me all the same

6. Then, driving from crèche on my father’s birthday, September 1992 or ’93, my mother runs an intersection outside of the National War Memorial, and we get T-boned by a station wagon in the pre-rush-hour traffic. My earliest memories: running in a circle idiotically with my friend Hugo in a backyard sometime that year, then watching out from the back-seat of an early-responder as paramedics try to remove the other driver from behind his air-bag.

It is a fleeting catastrophe, but the birthday party is ruined. I have only hit my head, and no one else seems badly injured, though the dazed driver insists that his heart stopped and he has no idea if it’s going again.

I’d never heard of such a thing happening before.

I ask someone, the responder, if it means he’s died, and she says, ‘He certainly thinks he has.’

It begins raining, and we’re taken home by strangers, down Anzac Parade. On clear days, you can see straight down the road, straight down across the lake to Old and New Parliament house on the other side of the city. And way beyond that too, to the mountains, all of it written along a straight line.