“Want to see the dent in my leg?”
Most people say yes when I ask that question, though it’s probably more out of social courtesy than concern, or even curiosity. Then I volunteer to tell them how it got there. Once again, they’re too polite to stop me. I wouldn’t normally put people on the spot like that, but I find it fascinating—the dent, I mean—and I always think someday I’ll run into someone who agrees with me.
So, this dent. It’s in my left shinbone, maybe five inches above my ankle, and it’s been there for just about three years. I got it while I was …I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. It’s not even that good of a story; it’s just one I like to tell. That’s probably because it’s about me, and because I have the evidence to prove it’s true.
I think most people enjoy telling stories about themselves, certainly more than hearing someone else’s story. It’s the same with photographs. You might look carefully at a picture of other people, as long as you know them; if it’s of people you don’t even know, you probably skip right past it. But if it’s a picture of yourself, you damn near memorize the thing. At least, that’s what I do. I study every inch to make sure my hair is right, my teeth are clean, my eyes are open, and my face isn’t frozen in some horrid contortion. It’s narcissistic, but I bet you do it too.
When it comes to listening to other people’s stories, it’s generally only interesting if you’re one of the characters. But when you’re the one doing the telling, it’s about seeing the audience’s reaction. Are you funny, smart, interesting? Everyone likes a suspenseful narration of that night last year when you were followed and made a quick getaway just in the nick of time, or when you thought someone was breaking into your house last week but it turned out to be the cat… Comedy can be harder. If the story is only mildly entertaining, well, you get a polite grin and maybe a look of “why did you make me sit through that?” The really funny stories, however, those get the whole table laughing and then everyone is having fun, and the crowd likes you and the boys think you’re cute, and isn’t that the whole point?
Sounding smart is nice too, but no one likes a know-it-all, so it’s better to go for clever.
Anyway, back to this dent in my leg. (I’ll just tell part of the story, if that’s all right.) I got it while I was staying in an RV in Austin for the summer. I was renting the RV from a guy who lived in it full time. Actually, that’s a story unto itself. On a whim my friend invited me to come spend the summer with her in Austin, so I found a recreational vehicle for rent on craigslist and three weeks later I was driving from Missouri to Texas, ready to move in. The owner of this condo on wheels was headed to North Carolina and needed someone to “watch” it while he was away—for a small fee. Subletting was not allowed in the park, but he did want to make some money.
The RV was permanently situated in an RV park behind a Cuban restaurant, and it had a lean-to attached to the side of it with clear packing tape. The interior of the RV itself was about what you would expect: dirty brown carpet, a steering wheel at the front, a “kitchen” in the hallway, and at the back, a bedroom that fit a bed and nothing else. But the attached room, with its decent furniture, acceptable sunlight, and awesome stereo system, is where I spent most of my time. It even had Wi-Fi.
I stayed in Austin for seven weeks, although I wasn’t in the RV that whole time. (Due to unforeseen events, some of which are relevant to this story, I moved roughly every two weeks, earning me the nickname of Gypsy Bitch.) It was a great experience. I and my friend—let’s call her Kathy—had full-time jobs, but we managed to work those in around the drinking and eating and live music that filled our nights and weekends. With all that drinking and merrymaking, we ended up with some outrageous tales to tell.
Speaking of drinking stories, anyone over the age of eighteen has at least one. And if you’re in the right crowd, trading those stories can last all night. Of course, after a while you have to preface your account with, “OK, don’t think I’m an alcoholic or anything” before you can tell about the blurry two weeks you spent drunk and the one week you spent drying out. This is also where some real competition can come into play: who has the most outrageous, hideous, funny, puke your guts out drinking story? While the frosty beverages do seem to bring about some unbelievable events, the alcohol-soaked brain has a way of distorting the facts and exaggerating the smallest detail to epic proportions. And if you’re drinking while telling your drinking stories (which is usually the case), the hyperbole knows no bounds.
But I wasn’t drinking when I got the dent. (I was getting ready to go drinking, but that’s clearly not the same thing.) I was standing in the shower, naked, just about to lather up. It was one of those tiny RV showers, which I had never experienced before, and it was tricky as hell. To get in, you had to lift the broken latch just right, step over the eighteen-inch-high doorframe into the four-foot-by-four-foot shower stall, latch the door again using your fingertips, and pull the curtain closed. The actual showering was just as complicated. To keep the hot water from running out, I was instructed to take a “navy shower.” That meant turn on the water, get wet, turn off the water, lather up, turn on the water, rinse off and wet my hair, turn off the water, lather up the shampoo, turn on the water, rinse off. Just imagine what it was like when I tried to shave my legs!
It’s too bad movies never make use of the RV shower. What if the most famous of all shower scenes had taken place in an RV? That would have been something. I mean, it would have given a whole different feel to that movie. Norman Bates could have run this remote RV Park where he lived with his mother in a silver Airstream, and it was the close quarters that drove him to murder. Everyone knows people who grow up in RV parks are predisposed to criminal behavior, so it really wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. And if Lila had been driving a double-wide when she was escaping with that bag of money, it would have been much more exciting than the getaway in her little sedan. I wonder if Hitchcock considered having Lila shave her legs during that scene in the shower. The razor would have come in handy.
But I wasn’t shaving my legs when I got this dent. I didn’t make it that far. (Since I’ve told you this much, mind if I just fill in the rest?) I was standing in the shower and had completed the first two steps—“turn on the water and get wet”—in the navy shower ritual. As I reached for the soap I must have knocked the curtain, because a giant living cockroach fell from the ceiling, grazed my shoulder, and bounced onto the shower floor! I screamed! Mashing myself up against the wall, I struggled to draw back the curtain and undo that tricky latch while la cucaracha menacingly crawled around on the wet floor. I was in such a hurry to get away from the awful creature that when the door finally swung open, I leaped out of that would-be coffin without stepping over the eighteen inches of metal that separated the shower from the hall. In so doing, my shin crashed into the doorframe and my foot followed suit. When it was all done, I was naked, wet, spread out on the RV’s filthy shag rug, and after a moment, crying.
With a couple of deep breaths I got myself together, wrapped a towel around my body, then called Kathy for help. In a pathetic, anguished voice I said, “I hurt my leg real bad.” Being the excellent friend that she is, Kathy replied with “I’ll be right there” and left work to come to my aid. Shortly after I hung up, I realized I had not broken the bone, but it didn’t look good. Kathy helped me get ice on my leg, and then very gently loaded me into her car. Less than twenty minutes after the accident I was at her house finishing my shower so we could get on with our night’s entertainment: the bar. I had been in town for just shy of two weeks, and that was the last night I spent in the RV.
Unfortunately, all the ice in the world wasn’t going to help that injury. For days my shin was swollen and purple, and the top of my foot was one giant bruise. The gross part came when the blood from the bruise in my shin began to spread down my leg to my ankle. That’s what weak blood vessels will do for you. At least I have strong bones. Nothing was broken, but my tibia has never fully healed.
And that’s how I got this dent in my leg. Wanna see?
About the Author
Katherine Hinkebein, owner of P.O.P. Editorial Services, has been an editor for more than ten years. She has had three other essays published with the online magazine Keepgoing.org. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.