If you know me, you know that I am a very anxious person. There is rarely a moment when my head is completely clear and I am devoting all my attention to one subject matter. I can’t even relax in my sleep: I solve math problems in my dreams more than I would like to admit. However, there is one time in my life in which my head was completely clear: when I accidentally stabbed myself with an X-Acto knife.
It was freshman year and I wanted to explore the new and exciting electives that I could enroll in that my middle school didn’t offer. As I carefully studied the list of what seemed like a million courses I could take, one stuck out to me: Interior Design. My mom and I watch HGTV every Sunday morning as we sip on our coffees and alternate turns cuddling with our sleepy dog, Toby. After watching so many of these shows, I was confident that I could design a whole house (similar to the confidence that the young man at the bar in Good Will Hunting had when he thought he knew the whole history of economics, but he only knew the information that he was studying from his college textbook that semester). What could go wrong, it’s just colors and patterns and textures and furniture, right?
Well, we were all in for a huge surprise when we realized what the class actually entailed after a week or so. We had to take an endless amount of notes from an endless amount of PowerPoints on information that seemed irrelevant. “These people invented this type of house,” or “Look at these trillion different examples of windows,” littered my notebook as I scrambled to scribble down every last word projected onto the dingy whiteboard along with a few other goody-two-shoes students while the rest of the class smacked their gum, gossiped, ate snacks, or slept with their eyes open.
By the end of the semester, I had made new friends in the class. It’s funny how going through tough circumstances together brings people closer. We had defaced our notebooks with the copious amounts of notes, burnt our hands on hot glue guns one too many times, and even tried (and failed) to use an antique sewing machine. But, we were at the final stretch of the year, with only about a week left of regular classes before finals, and we were working on our final projects. The prompt was simple: “Design a 3D model of a room in your dream home.” Perfect, I thought to myself, an easy 100 final grade. Little did I know, I would shed blood, sweat, and tears for that 100.
I had decided to go the mediocre route and chose to construct my dream bedroom inside of a shoebox. We were all required to embrace our own inner middle-aged suburban mom and create Pinterest accounts in order to create boards to help inspire us. I had to make a second account because I already had an account that I used for fun (I am 100% going to be part of a carpool group and the kids are all going to love Mrs.Martarano’s minivan and snacks).
For my mini bedroom, I wanted to add a unique feature to spice up the mediocrity: a bay window. I was planning it out all day up until fourth period. Now, I had an awful day up to that point, so when I got to the class, I was already annoyed and angry. I had only three hours of sleep the night before because I had to stay up until 3:00 am doing homework on my cheap IKEA desk, obnoxiously lit by my fluorescent desk lamp that was imitating the sun at those ungodly hours of the night. Then, I slept through all of my alarms and had to get ready in ten minutes; I had no time to grab a water bottle for the day or grab a granola bar for breakfast. My dad drove me to school and then he made his way to work from there in his little black Toyota Camry, that is now mine, so when I was late to school, he was late to work. He yelled at me to hurry up as I hobbled to the car, my weak upper body struggling to carry my enormous track bag and overstuffed backpack and there was tension in that car all the way to the student drop off area.
When I arrived in my first period class after hiking up a grueling three flights of stairs, I realized I had left my humongous orange envelope folder that I use for every single class’ homework on my cheap IKEA desk. I’d used that color-coded godsend for four years straight, even though it was stained and falling apart (much like that stuffed animal that you received as an infant that you find comfort in even now and will probably bring to college). My legs began shaking uncontrollably in my boots as I fidgeted with my earring and struggled to take a full, deep breath. At least I was wearing a stylish outfit and my honey-brown hair fell nicely to mask my distress, just as the beautiful lithosphere hides the raging inner core of the earth.
So, you can understand how accidentally lodging an X-Acto knife into my arm was the only logical outcome of the situation.
When I got to the classroom, lit with buzzing fluorescent lights and accompanied by the taunting smell of the treats from the Baking Basics class next door, I went to my cubby, the highest one that even my 5’9” self had to reach for, and retrieved my gray painted shoebox. Finally, something I had complete control over during this hectic day I thought as I finally began to unwind a bit.
When I brought it back to my station, I noticed a girl I had become friends with had a sour look on her face. When I asked her what happened, she quickly snapped back with, “The test in US History was so hard!” My immediate reaction was sympathy and relief that it didn’t really affect me. Then, the thought crept up in my mind: We have the same US History teacher and I totally forgot to study for this huge test that I have next period. At that point, I had reached my breaking point. I began furiously working on my project with tears threatening to flood my agitated face.
I was trying to cut a stubborn piece of cardboard because I thought IF NOTHING ELSE GOOD HAPPENS TODAY, AT LEAST I’LL HAVE MY BAY WINDOW! I was trying to battle this thick piece of cardboard with one small, dinky X-Acto knife. The more attempts I made, the more infuriated I got. Finally, I decided that sheer force was the only way to break the thick brown flesh. However, I tore a thinner, lighter brown flesh instead.
In my rage, I had forgotten that I was holding the X-Acto knife in my right hand and when I lost my grip on the cardboard, the force I had put into breaking it transferred to the knife and I jabbed it into the inside of my elbow on my left arm, missing two gigantic veins by just a few millimeters. My mind went blank and then my body took over: I yanked the rusty knife out of my arm (thank God I’d had my tetanus shot a month before), pushed out my chair, announced I was bleeding and briskly walked to the front of the room to tell my teacher as everyone was gasping and yelling at the bloody scene. My friend Chantel unknowingly held down the button on the hot glue gun in her hand as she screamed “VANESSA OHMYGOD WHAT HAPPENED” as the molten glue oozed onto a piece of cardboard that she was using. The quiet kids that sat at the front of the class widened their worried eyes; the gossipers halted their uber-important conversation about what Becky was wearing today; those with their heads down shockingly lifted them up to see what the commotion was about.
My teacher was helping another student with something, but my usual politeness went down the drain and I stepped between them.
“I’m bleeding,” I announced as I thrust my arm towards her, dark red blood spilling out of the gaping crater that I had created on my arm.
Without looking up, and obviously annoyed at my rude interruption, she sighed and said “I have a band-aid, in my desk-” and then when her eyes finally met my bloody arm she yelled, “OH MY GOD SOMEONE GET HER A TOWEL!”
Her eyes got so wide they looked like shiny golf balls and she muttered about a hundred words per minute in order to calm me (and herself) down.
“Ok you’re fine, it’s gonna be fine, it’s just blood, we’re all gonna be fine, WHERE’S THAT TOWEL?”
Some girl whose face I didn’t even look at sprinted to a cabinet and got me a dirty once-white towel that my teacher then frantically wrapped around my blood-soaked arm that was threatening to drip on the mustard-colored tile floor. She walked me out the door and to the nurse’s office as I dizzily stumbled down the stairs, somehow laughing at the situation (coping mechanisms are odd). When we got to the office, all of the kids there who had a sore throat or a stomach ache quickly forgot why they were there and sat around with their mouths gaping at the bloody towel that was swaddled around my arm. I was brought into the dark back room that smelled of bile and told to lay down on the germ-infested pleather couch by the panicked nurse, reverting to the generic question that they always ask whether you have a stomach ache or a broken leg: “Do you want a saltine cracker?!”
My mind was completely clear and I knew exactly what to do as I had my panicked interior design teacher, rattled nurse, and gasping students surrounding me. My survival instincts took over and I knew instantly that I had to remain calm or else the rest of the people helping me would freak out and not help me to the best of their abilities. I calmly laid on the bed, told them “I’m fine, I just need some water,” and when the nurse shakily came back with a styrofoam cup of cool water, I took a sip, and gave them my mother’s phone number to come pick me up. I knew she was working that day, but her job is in Lynn and my dad’s is all the way in Lowell. I quickly realized that she is terrified of blood, as I am usually, so I told them to have her wait outside of the nurse’s office until all of the bloody gauze and towels were disposed of and out of sight. I even added in a few small jokes and laughs while we were waiting for my mom to show up to lighten the mood for everyone and assure them that I was totally fine (though I obviously wasn’t).
“Well that definitely woke everyone up!” I chortled awkwardly.
When my mom got to the school she was aggressively chewing her gum as she forcefully laughed at the nurse’s jokes- all the while, having her wide eyes trained on me. She thanked me quietly, as we walked out of the Big Brown Box that is the high school, for telling the nurses to hide all traces of blood and for telling them to tell her that I was completely fine so she wouldn’t be as worried on the ride over.
When we got to her car, she said the thing that I was thinking the whole time: “You’re the frog.”
We were dissecting frogs all of that week in my biology class and we had to use an X-Acto knife to cut it open. My group consisted of me and the three most “macho” guys in my class who were so excited to rip open another animal. I wasn’t excited, but when it came time to do so, I was the only one who didn’t chicken out and refuse to touch the limp, formalin-scented amphibian. I had been essentially doing all of the work all week and carving into this animal’s green flesh with the same tool I tore into my light brown flesh with and wondering which princess this frog had disappointed so badly. The princess in the original Grimm Brothers version of the story threw the frog against a wall and it then changed into a prince, but my egregious acts sadly didn’t have the same effect.
When we got to the doctor’s office in Beverly, the doctor who walked in the room was an unfamiliar older gentleman with a kind yet worn face. With him was a young woman with blonde hair and the eagerness of a newly graduated med student. He asked me how it happened, I told him, and he then removed the bloody gauze from my drained arm.
“The gash isn’t too deep, but we are going to have to stitch it up because it is on a joint and you move it around a lot.”
I looked to my mother with wide eyes and reluctantly said, “Alrighty!”
“Oh, and one more thing: could Marissa do the stitches on you? She’s never done them on a patient before!”
“Yeah that’s fine!” I said through a forced smile.
Marissa was alright at it. However, she didn’t numb the whole area with the giant needle that I refused to watch puncture my skin, but she quickly fixed it and I was out of there in no time.
This unique experience revealed a previously undiscovered part of my personality: resiliency through hardships. It also taught me that instead of pushing through the anger from a few moments of the day, step back, make sure you don’t have any sharp objects in your hands, and just breathe. Also, don’t tear apart other once-living creatures “for science”- they will come back to haunt you. The princess in the Grimm’s brothers version of the story treated the frog very well by inviting him into her home and was rewarded with him turning into a handsome prince. I’m not telling you to kiss the first frog you see, but I’m just saying, those royal weddings look pretty nice!
Vanessa is a senior at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School. She enjoys watching The Office, good food, and her adorable puppy named Toby.