The stairs down into the basement were covered in orange, calico print carpet. A black and rust swirl that led from the steps, past the bathroom and my bedroom, down to the rec room at the end of the hall. For years that carpet was there, a reminder of a world that had lived through the 80’s. The carpet was there when my parents bought the house, so who really knows when it was installed. Maybe at the time it was chic and modern. Cutting edge. Dead cat print so ahead of it’s time that even Vogue would be jealous.
One day, my dad decided to pull up that carpeting and replace it with something more modern. A nice light taupe that, in thirty years, will be a reminder of the 90’s and 2000’s.
We’re constantly updating ourselves to age ourselves.
Back then, if my dad wasn’t replacing wallpaper, he was re-grouting the bathroom tile. If he wasn’t hanging new cabinets, he was installing a new electrical box. Still, no one understands how dad’s know the things they do. Even before YouTube and the internet, dad’s around the world were building swing sets and re-roofing their houses. They were the pioneers of DIY, doing it before Instructables and LifeHacks.
Before some nerd came along and posted a video of himself laying concrete or fixing a TV.
After all the carpet was out, our floors were bare. Cold, dark hardwood that would draft icy morning air through gaps in the boards. You couldn’t walk to the bathroom without socks or your soles would go numb from the cold. All the way up into the dinning room, the steps looked like something out of an abandoned house.
This was before my dad’s office downstairs became my bedroom. I was young enough to still think the basement was full of monsters and giant spiders, but old enough to know that those thoughts were stupid and irrational.
For hours, my dad had pulled up nails and staples. I’d go outside to ride my bike or shoot hoops and when I came back, he’d still be there. Pulling the carpet down the steps like a deer being skinned.
The day before the new carpet arrived, my sister was walking up the steps.
One foot up, Jump.
One foot up, jump.
This was back when she was about four years old. She’s holding onto the hand rail, taking a step and then launching her body upward onto the next. Either playing a game, or just entertaining herself up into the dining room. And then, she launches again, misjudging her landing, and her right foot slips off the edge of a step and she trips forward. She’s catches herself with a hand and is nearly lying on the steps. When she looks down to pick herself back up, she sees blood.
There’s a red, glossy shine on the head of the nail that stuck into my sister’s shin above her ankle and carved upward four inches, separating the meat like a butterflied steak. Her dark skin on her leg separated by a half-inch trench of wet, pink meat. In some spots, you see the surface of white pearl peeking through where her bone was exposed.
And then she screams.
Out of being afraid or in pain, I’m not sure, but it’s the same effect anyway.
After that, I forget what happens. I just remember my dad carrying my sister to our car with a washcloth draped over her open wound. My sister crying, my dad mumbling curses under his breath about that last nail he overlooked. Her washcloth stained dark and wet.
That day we took a family outing to the emergency room where my sister got numerous stitches and staples. In an hour, her shin had a zipper you couldn’t open. In a month, once the doctor pried out all those silver staples, all that was left was a thick, shiny scar that would never grow hair again.
Your kid makes one wrong move and Child Protective Services want to know if you carved up your kid’s leg. Why you burned their hand with a curling iron. Why they have this bruise here and that scratch there.
Because they’re kids, we say. We all do dumb shit when we're young.
The problem is you can’t tell the difference between a parent who gives their kid a black eye on purpose and a kid who just got into a fight at school. So everyone gets questioned the same. And my dad’s face is so red you can feel the heat just looking at him. All because they would even ask.
The first thing my dad did when we got home was pull that god damn nail out. That was the last time he ever replaced carpet himself.
Another time, when my friend was younger, she’s swimming in the public pool by her house. She’s wading in between spongy noodles and floaties that bounce along the surface of the water holding kids or parents.
Some snot-nosed kid with a blonde bowl cut and two missing teeth is on the diving board, bouncing and bouncing, higher and higher until his body arcs over the water, curling into a ball and hitting the surface. What this kid doesn’t see is that he lands partially on a body board that floated into his trajectory, sending it shooting away from him along the ripple of a wave. This plastic board flies across the surface of the water like a torpedo, all the way to the other end of the pool, and hits my friend square in the face.
Her head snaps backward from the force and then her left eye hurts. When she looks down the blue water is going cloudy with dark, red ink. Her legs kick off the ground and she’s attempting to swim to the edge of the pool. She’s trying to press her eye lids shut, but her left eye doesn’t close. Her vision is off.
She stops swimming near the middle of the pool and screams so loud she turns the volume off. It’s silent as a mausoleum and everyone looks at my friend with jaws hanging open. A woman puts a hand over her mouth and people scramble to get out of the pool before the red reaches them.
My friend, alone in that giant public pool, surrounded by a diluted cloud of her own blood, she reaches up with her left hand. Her fingers touch something slimy. Something glassy and white and cracked with red. She squeezes this round thing that’s soft and spongy between her fingers. When she looks down, she sees her reflection in the rippling rust. She’s holding her eyeball, as slippery as a skinned grape, it dangles on the side of her nose, and hangs by the spaghetti string of her tear duct. The back of her eye is a mess of tangled veins and nerves twisting back into the empty socket behind her closed eyelid.
No wonder her face hurts. No wonder her vision is off.
One eye pointed down to the water, one eye looking straight ahead, and no one jumps in to help. Everyone just staring at this deformed girl like a monstrosity you can’t look away from.
Something so bad you can’t unsee it.
Again, Child Protective Services want to know what you used to try and scoop your kid’s eyeball out and you can still smell the chlorine from your daughter’s hair.
Fast-forward to now and you’d never be able to tell that my friend almost lost her eyesight in that one eye.
The miracle of modern medicine.
The stupid things we do and the freak accidents that happen, we’re one step away from our own self-destruction.
Back at my house with the freshly carpeted basement, my dad’s spreading mulch around the border of the front lawn, or re-wiring electrical sockets. The things that only dads know how to do.
And me, I’m watching all this happen. The next generation of dad’s learning things no one else knows. A subconscious transmission of data from father to son. Either that, or I’m waiting for the next perfect opportunity to do something stupid and ruin everyone’s day.
That’s just as possible too.