Back in 2007, when I was blogging on Vox, the Question of the Day was, “How many bones have you broken? Yours or someone else’s?” I thought about that for a moment and started to laugh. I flexed my double-jointed fingers and typed my answer:
None. But back in Third Grade, I did reduce the class bully to tears by telling him he’d broken my finger back in First Grade. See, I’m “double jointed.” No, that doesn’t mean I can roll two joints with one hand, or be in two seedy dives at once. It means I have loose, overly flexible ligaments. In grade school, I could bend my index fingers backwards almost 90 degrees at the middle joint. Like this:
Wes saw my funny, flexible finger one day. He’d forgotten all about me and all about tormenting me in First Grade. I hadn’t forgotten – the memory of that wrenching pain and humiliation was still fresh in my mind. “How do you do that?” he asked, staring at my rubbery finger with a mixture of horror and fascination.
“Well, it’s not like I do it on purpose, Wesley,” I said, mustering a tone that was both dejected and scornful. “You remember back in First Grade, when you grabbed my finger and bent it backwards? You broke it, Wes.”
“Yes. And it never healed right. My family couldn’t afford the doctor’s bills, so my dad set it with an old pencil and some duct tape, but it healed crooked. See?” I held it up in front of Wesley’s nose.
He stared at my finger. He looked at me. He looked back at my finger. “I’m so sorry!” he wailed. And suddenly, there were big tears spilling down Wesley’s cheeks. Oh my G-d… Suddenly I knew what it was to bully the class bully, and I did not like it. You’d think I would enjoy the satisfaction of revenge, after all this time – making Wes cry right there in the middle of class, in front of his friends, making him suffer some of the guilt for some of the pain he’d caused me in First Grade, but I was the one who felt the full burden of guilt that day.
“Oh, forget it, Wes. My finger’s fine.” I showed him what I could do with the other nine fingers:
“I’m sorry, Wes.”
“For lying. For making you think you broke my finger.”
“Oh. Yeah, that was pretty mean,” he said, smiling. Like he wished he’d thought of it first. “I’m sorry I bent your finger backwards in First Grade.”
“Okay. I forgive you.”