All kids (or at least all kids in big families, or at least all middle children in big families, or at least all two-braided children with a penchant for eating twigs) at one point or another, really really really really want something terrible to happen. Preferably something like surviving a tornado by crouching under a sink while the house is shredding itself into pillow feather-sized scraps of paint and plaster and roof tiles, while the windows spontaneously disintegrate in a shower of baking soda. You imagine scenes of total chaos with sad or angry concertos playing in the background and some how you are invincible as you watch this sad apocalypse until you look down and realize that your leg has too many angles and a rib is poking out of your skin, and you’ll need to be rushed on a stretcher (in the middle of the night, probably) to a hospital where faces with looks of horror and pity swarm around you like a kaleidoscope.
Unless I have really terrible amnesia that is so bad I’m not even aware of it, nothing like that has ever happened to me. Once I broke my collar bone by walking in front of a swingset-in-use when I was three, but I don’t remember that, and I didn’t remember it in elementary school either.
So when my brother broke his arm skiing during my second grade year, which was a lot more impressive than walking in front of a swingset anyway, I felt lots of jealousy–the same kind of jealousy I felt for my sister’s diabetes and the shots she had to take every day.
Unfortunately, I was neither brave enough nor smart enough to realize that if I started doing dangerous things like downhill skiing or jumping on the trampoline on top of a full sized rocking horse that was actually a cow, like my other brother did, I might get a chance to break a bone or crush my skull or disembowel myself. If I could just do those things, I might have my day of physiological trauma and the recovery period following it, a recovery that I always pictured with classmates who never had cared about me before showing up at my doorstep with baskets of flowers and chocolate.
Deep down, I could never compete with my brother and his ability to get into trouble of all sorts, especially the kinds he did: disapproving adults by laughing up and down our neighborly street after three in the morning, or crushing his other arm, years later, under a construction roller at his job. But it just wasn’t fair that he got to wear his cast for two months and got to be subject of so much gossip from adults, and admiration from peers, and sympathy from both. He just didn’t know how good he had it.
I also couldn’t think of anyway to have so many things I wanted without seriously compromising my ability to do things like carry a plate of burritos from the microwave to the table.
But, I did know that you didn’t always have to do super dangerous things to get hurt and that things everybody did, like jumping on the tramp, could make you break your arm too.
Then I realized, just maybe, I could get away with not breaking my arm but it seeming as if I had.
So, one morning, shortly after my brother’s arm was better I got up extra early and hid the thick brown bandaging in my backpack, started my walk to school, paused along the road so my brother would go ahead without me and wrapped it around my arm.
Mrs. Finnigan, my second grade teacher, noticed immediately when I walked it, just as class was starting.
So far, it was probably the best school day I had ever had.
No one else said anything about it, but I wasn’t too worried because they still had plenty of time to show up at my doorstep with flowers and chocolate–they had weeks.
However, someone must have noticed and passed the word along, because my brother cornered me about it after school.
Brother: Lizzie, did you wear a cast to school today?
Brother: Are you sure?
Me: Um. Definitely.
Brother: Okay, I’ll believe you.
Me: You will?
Brother: But if I see you wear a cast tomorrow, I’ll tell everyone in the school that you lied.
So I didn’t put it on the next day.
The worst part was that nothing terrible happened. My brother didn’t report me to my parents or the principal or all of his friends. I didn’t even get in trouble for misbehaving. I didn’t even have the guts to keep on misbehaving. You would think that if I couldn’t have my days in an arm cast, I could at least get some notoriety for misbehaving so badly–that would have been some consolation. Instead, I remained the not-trouble maker to whom life-threatening situations and other disasters didn’t happen.