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Out of all the stories I have heard in my life, the ones I remember from my fourth grade classmates were easily the most inventive. It seemed like no matter who you were talking to, they would have a wildly adventurous tale to share. One common theme in these recitations was the infamous “unusual injury story”.
These woven marvels ranged from jammed digits to shattered bones. In fact, it became almost a competition to see whose recounting could induce the most shock. Events were told and retold with greater exaggeration each time by gloating children, their eyes agleam with reminiscence at the most jaw-dropping moments in their accounts. . I listened with bitter envy; I was always too meek and safe to have anything as extreme to capture my classmate’s attention.
It became obvious that the best story tellers ran with a much larger crowd of companions. Noticing this, I began to feel increasingly estranged. I did my best to keep my insecurities tucked away to avoid further alienating myself, but the longing for comrades was always in the back of my mind.
Sometime in the middle of my fourth grade year I was visiting a family friend. Their family had a young girl my age and we decided to go exploring on her farm. The two of us spent hours running through her fields. We played in old rail cars and climbed countless fences. We played Marco Polo, and a rather futile game of Tag, (no “tag-backs”). We had races and tried out a two kid version of Hide-n-Seek. It was during the last game that we were separated. I was the seeker, hunting for my elusive prey. It was during this hunt that I discovered a decaying board with a nail protruding from one end.
While staring at the nail, the stories that were never far from my thoughts resurfaced. It would be completely unexpected. No one ever thought that such quiet, goody-two-shoes was capable of the plan I was currently conceiving. Talk about living on the edge, no, surely it was not feasible that I would go through with it. I studied the nail some more. It was so dull and old. Rust clung tight to the faded contours. This nail was nothing like the polished, shiny ones at the hardware store. Looking at it I got the impression that the nail would be soft, that the sun had started to melt the solid metal. I was afraid it might bend if I touched it and then the idea I had formulated would not work.
I gave the nail an experimental prod with the left toe of my worn sneakers. The nail held. Satisfied, I shut my eyes tight, and bit my lip hard, as I raised my foot towards the board. Hesitation restrained me for only a moment. It was quickly being overpowered by my desire for the admiration of my peers. I could imagine their rapturous expressions as I described to them what I was about to do. I slammed my foot down.
The pain exploded, white hot and primitive in the arch of my foot. Warm blood pooled in my shoe, soaking through hand-me-down socks. As the pain subsided it occurred to me how terribly stupid stepping on that nail had been. I began to laugh hysterically while tears poured down my cheeks and blood continued to puddle inside my shoe.
My friend came running toward me, “I heard you scream! What happened?”
I pointed at my foot and the nail. She gasped and sped off to get her mother. A few moments later she returned with her mom. I was scooped up and carried into the house. I was too embarrassed and afraid of getting into trouble to admit that I had stepped on the nail on purpose.
My parents picked me up and drove me to the doctor where I was promptly given a Tetanus shot. After we got home I decided that I was really excited to tell my classmates about my horrible “accident”. Even though I knew how foolish I had been to go through with it, and I felt ashamed of myself, I couldn’t wait for all the new friends I would have.
Monday finally came and at recess I limped out to the playground. I started telling my story to the first person I saw, Mary Rink. I had rehearsed my speech in the mirror all that Sunday. I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I knew precisely where and how I would project my voice to highlight the most dramatic moments. I knew the perfect elements to exaggerate. My presentation was flawless. Mary stopped my halfway through my story and patted me on the back. She then winked at me and walked away. I stared at her retreating from somewhat perturbed, but resolved to try with someone else.
As I continued my pattern of seeking out listeners and giving them my well devised spiel, I noticed a trend emerging. Every single person I approached shrugged me off in nearly the same manner as Mary had. Several fourth graders even heckled my idiocy for not seeing the nail I had stepped on. As a nine year old, I was flummoxed. I had done all the same things my classmate’s had done in their stories and yet no one seemed interested in what I had to say.
I sat down on the gravel and considered the conundrum. At one point I was nearly convinced that my story was just not extreme enough for their standards. A few seconds after that thought I concluded that it wasn’t about my story. These people didn’t dislike my story, they disliked me. My next realization was that I didn’t like them either. Their approval had not been worth stepping on a nail for. Their affection had not been worth my shame. Hurting myself for them had not gotten me anywhere, but to the doctor’s office. With that last thought, the bell rang and I went into the school with a knowing smile on my face.