The circumstances that lead to my messed-up face are equal parts luxurious, childish and exceptional, which makes the retelling difficult. I was at the beach. I was in a fort. An enormous piece of wood fell on me. Right on my face. While I was fast asleep.
At that point, the person I’m telling is laughing, which is the correct response.
Despite the fact that I am looking at them through two swollen purple eyes and mouth breathing because of my broken nose, it is a hilarious thing to hear. I was crushed in the face by a 9-foot-tall piece of driftwood that fell over -- “TIMBERRRRrrrr” style -- directly onto my nose as I slept happily inside a fort made of bed sheets my friends had named “Fort The Best.”
We were at another fort, a bigger one, a beach called Fort Tilden -- adored by Brooklyn kids for being super-far from civilization and accessible by ferry. The ferry serves mimosas. We had had several on our way to the beach that day.
When the biggest, heaviest and sturdiest pillar of Fort The Best collapsed onto my face and broke my nose, we immediately realized that the only bad thing about being far from civilization is that civilization is where hospitals are. We had to take the ferry back to Manhattan to get to the hospital, an act for which I was well prepared thanks to a childhood of Oregon Trail. We could have also caulked the wagon and floated across, or perhaps forded the river.
I received typically inadequate treatment at the ER from an attractive young doctor I named Hot Doc, who told me he had broken his nose on a trapeze in Williamsburg six months earlier, which sounded even more exceptional, childish and luxurious than my story.
Hot Doc basically told me my face wasn’t fucked up enough to need any crazy procedures, so I just had to wait to see if I would turn normal again.
After leaving the ER, I went to grab food with a gentleman I’d just begun to see. Despite the incredible pain in my general face area, I had immediately forgotten how I looked. The waiter looked away uncomfortably. As the gentleman and I held hands across the table, I noticed a woman giving me a loaded look. Oh Christ, I realized. Everyone’s going to think I’m a victim of domestic violence.
The thing is, I looked like I had been hit in the face, because I had. But when a guy looks like he’s been hit in the face, you assume he is either a boxer or a loudmouth who got in a bar fight. I assume that if I was male-bodied, strangers would have dealt with their discomfort by lobbing a “You should see the other guy” joke.
In my (undergrown, obviously unathletic) female body, strangers just looked at me really, really sadly. It was weird.
During the day, less people seemed to notice -- the “exceptional thing to see” scale in New York is so highly calibrated that no one even noticed my bashed-in face. But at night, on the subway, people felt so bad for me. They’d stare at me until I made eye contact with them, and even then they wouldn’t look away, breaking everything I thought I knew about extended eye contact etiquette betwixt strangers. They’d just keep staring, as if their weird sad eyes would heal my face or help me out of whatever story they had written about me in their head.
I am lucky enough to have never been a victim of domestic violence. When a bouncer at a bar checking my ID asked me, “Lady, I’m sorry to be personal, but did somebody hit you?” I didn’t know whether to be offended or moved. I still don’t.
On the one hand, victims of domestic violence are largely invisible, suffering from a lack of structural support, awareness and empathy. Our culture is so victim-blamey that the stories we write about victims of domestic violence usually go something like, “Why did you put yourself in that situation?” or “Why didn’t you get out sooner?” rather than addressing the perpetrators of the violence or the lack of support for the victims themselves.
On the other hand, it felt presumptuous and aggressive for the bouncer to ask me a question like that. I was in a comical freak accident -- but what about those who are hurt for serious reasons? How do they experience the onslaught of “What happened?” in a culture where we so rarely talk about such violence?
To make everything slightly more complicated, I’m a stand-up comic, and this happened the week after the Tosh rape joke controversy, which was like adding insult to irony to injury.
After a week of sometimes productive, sometimes discouraging conversations about violence against women, I got to walk around with two black eyes and bear witness to the words that came out of comics’ mouths as they saw me.
Almost all of them were actually incredibly kind, despite a handful of “I’m more aroused by you now than ever” jokes. The week culminated with the only time I wished I actually was a boxer, when one of them grinned, nudged me and said, “Looks like you finally learned to listen.” He was joking, but that was the whole point about the Tosh thing -- sometimes jokes have shitty targets that don’t deserve to be targets.
I’m not a victim of violence, I’m a victim of driftwood. I hope the closest I ever come to knowing what it’s like is my week with two black eyes. My nose is still a little fucked up, which I should probably be upset and angsty about, but really I’m just pumped to still have two eyes and all my teeth.
A friend of mine told me he was glad I’m a comedian because I could laugh at the pain -- the truth is, I became a comedian because laughing is almost always better than not laughing. But the people who are hurt for not-funny reasons need our support, not our judgment. We need to see them, but in a more meaningful way than the late night subway stares.
And when you’re sleeping inside a fort, keep your guard up You never know.