Common Threads of Broken Bones and the Loss of Innocence
by Fiona Madsen (United States)
Audio: "Common Threads of Broken Bones and the Loss of Innocence," read by Anna Gibbs
“Watch this!” I turn sharply on my heels, with a toothy grin echoing a child begging for attention. Yet again, I am the youngest person in the room, desperately craving the approval of the “big kids.” My friends, both cusping twenty-one, turn to watch as the wheels of my skates brush against each other and I come crashing to the ground.
I am seventeen years old, but even that draws to a close. The August heat wraps around me like a blanket, as uneasy darkness settles over the sky. I am seventeen years old lying against the sandpaper floor of the basketball courts at the same park where I had my first birthday party. The same park where I broke my first bone and learned to ride a bike. First picnic, first kiss, first fight. My elementary school sits across the street, watching my friends fuss over me. The old brick building, still watching my life play out on a reel, has had the same view for the past twelve years. Lights on or off, doors open or closed, the school has watched me grow up in this park.
The night sky hovers at the edge of my eyes, a choir of one note rings in my ears, the threat of unconsciousness looming, the pain unrelenting. I came down hard on the crook of my left arm, now cradled against me as a smile touches the corners of my lips. A laugh blooms from my chest—echoing an age-old impulse to obscure the pain.
It was seven years ago, across the field of grass now glinting with streetlight, when my ankle snapped at age ten. I laughed as the brother of my best friend carried me to the bench. I laughed and laughed until I was placed into my mother’s backseat, where I finally let the tears spill over my cheeks as we drove away. I held onto her hand in the hospital waiting room, and I smiled for the X-rays, just in case.
I start laughing on impulse—“It’s fine. Probably just a sprain”—because we can’t go to the hospital. Not when there are varying degrees of weakened lungs in our family—asthma, cigarettes, and cancer diagnoses. Besides, I am almost eighteen. And that is too old to cry about broken bones and scraped knees.
I always envisioned being seventeen as a string of adventures, you know, the sterotypical high school fantasy. This was supposed to be a summer spent revelling in youth, throwing caution to the wind in the name of experiencing everything. Somehow, my idea of seventeen didn’t involve debating whether or not it was safe to go to UMC. It didn’t involve twisting a broken bone, trying to define “emergency.” But then, nothing about this year is what I thought it would be.
We drove to the hospital, and the nurses couldn’t see my smile under the mask. They could see the tears threatening to spill over my eyes. It was the last time I would go to the Children’s Hospital, with its murals of flowers and bees, old copies of Shel Silverstein. I start laughing as the nurse, adorned in butterfly scrubs, wraps my arm in the splint. She tells me about her teenage years spent on roller skates. She wishes me a happy early birthday, and good luck for eighteen.
I am coming of age in a world that doesn’t make sense to me. I will turn eighteen quietly, without a party, without my extended family. My last summer of childhood was spent in between the house I grew up in and the park down the street. The world is smaller; and emptier than ever before. I'm not familiar with this kind of distant cold, the distance that challenges everything I’ve ever known.
I didn't realize how fragile life is before. I wasn't prepared to grapple with the possibility of risking lives by breaking my arm. I was seventeen, as much a child as I’ll ever be. But you can only feel so young when you're bracing yourself against the thought of seeing someone for the last time.
I was seventeen, in a butterfly mask and a temporary cast, resenting absolutely everything. I cried every day for a week, mourning the loss of a year—the last year of childhood.
The cast came off before I turned eighteen. The bandages shed along with whatever figurative pieces of my youth remained. I am eighteen years old, and the park is still here. My life is the same as it was yesterday, my reflection unchanged. I don't feel older, but God, do I feel the weight of age. I want to scream and shout at every child I see never to take anything for granted ever again.
I fantasize about sitting in restaurants, going to my cousin’s house, window shopping, and a normal Christmas Eve. I think about how things were just one year ago, but it feels so far away. A year from today, I hope to feel the absence of cloth from my face. I hope the feeling bothers me—I hope it makes me come to terms with vulnerability. Forget adventure, forget adolescence, and the dream college experience. I hope I turn nineteen surrounded by family.
The cold of December gnaws on my sleeve. It is too cold for parks and rollerskating. It's hardly 4 p.m. by the time dusk reaches out over the mountains. I'll drive home, towards the sun dipping beneath Horizon. It has taken a year to follow the currents of stagnance, to find the dynamics of static, to get used to the cold. I am beginning to understand this distant new world, but I hope that it, too, soon draws to a close.