I want to tell you why my father once put his belt in my mouth while blood streamed down my leg into a bathtub. First, I will tell you about who he was.
My father loved cars. He loved knowing how they work and how the parts fit together. When he was a child, my father spent days alone in his room building model cars.
As a teenager in the 1960’s, he took engines apart and put them back together to make them faster. He raced musclecars down the straight streets of Indianapolis.
My father’s best friend was a street racer. Bob was flying past flat houses when the boy he was racing against veered toward him. Bob was doing over the speed limit when he ran into a parked car.
After Bob died, my father trained to be a medic. He became a paramedic for the city of Indianapolis. When people wrecked cars or had heart attacks, he drove ambulances through red lights to get to them.
You know the scene on old TV where a sweaty doctor is doing CPR on somebody, and after a few seconds the other doctor stops him? The calm doctor puts his hands over the pumping fists and says “He’s gone.”
Every time I saw this scene with my father, he would explode out of his big recliner. He’d leap and tower over the TV and shake his fists. “You can’t stop! Your arms are sore for days! You can’t show this shit! Real doctors watch TV and believe it!”
When he was a paramedic, my father worked on bodies. He could take a ripped leg and make it stop spraying blood on the ground. When blood stays inside a body, oxygen can flow between lungs and brains. He took hearts that had stopped pumping blood, and forced them with his hands to start pumping again.
After he was a paramedic, my father became a firefighter like his father was for 35 years. He drove a firetruck through red lights.
Randall Shelby weighed 285 pounds, so his team used him to break down doors. He taught me what the wrong way was to break down a door, and what the right way was.
He busted doors and grabbed people trapped in smoky rooms. He used the Jaws of Life to open up cars that had clamped shut on people. The Jaws are a huge vice-grip that works in reverse. He measured skidmarks on the highway while red lights flashed over his face, and collected body parts from the shoulder of the road.
He taught me to use my steering wheel and not my brakes, to avoid accidents.
When he was driving our family car, my father tried teaching things to the drivers of other cars. He shook his fists and pounded the steering wheel and yelled, but they did not listen. He screamed at the windshield as loud as he could, but the other drivers did not learn about how to avoid accidents. My father did not want to find their parts by the side of the road.
I once dove after a basketball that was shooting towards a street. I ripped open my knee. The flesh came apart under my kneecap in ragged curls. There was blood, and something white underneath it. You could see the tibia. My father picked me up and we got in the car.
He put my leg in a bathtub. He wrapped his belt around his fist, and put the belt in my mouth. “This will hurt.” He used large tweezers to pick gravel out from underneath the flesh while blood streamed. “Bite down.” He poured hydrogen peroxide into my knee, and red fizz bubbled out. He continued pouring until the fizz turned from red to pink to clear liquid running down the drain.
My father bent a long sewing needle into an L-shape, and cooked it with a lighter. He poured rubbing alcohol over a length of fishing line, and tied a tiny knot at the end of the needle. He sewed my flesh in a room that smelled like a penny tastes. The ragged curls of my knee tugged toward each other and the blood stayed inside me. I healed, and that scar can barely be seen.