A friend tried, but you can't rub away a bruise

The Baltimore Sun

I have a mammoth, purple bruise on my face, directly above my left eye. It seems to be ripening in a most unflattering way, extending down into the pale skin under my eyebrow.

I've discovered that walking around with a big, honking bruise on my face is not unlike wearing a pirate eye-patch and shoulder-parrot to the mall, or a bathing suit and Miss Maryland sash to a business meeting. People want an explanation.

I learned this the very first day I injured myself. Afterward that afternoon, I confidently drove to the grocery store. I thought I had applied enough concealer to camouflage the bruise. Apparently not, as evidenced by the following exchange at the meat counter:

Janet: Good afternoon! Is this Angus beef, in the case here?

Butcher: Whoa. What happened to you?

Janet: Excuse me?

Butcher: That's a big honking bruise you got there!

I have also learned that if people don't ask outright, they usually just make surreptitious glances at my Cyclopean bruise until I find myself thinking, "I must have a piece of spinach stuck on my left eyebrow." Now, to save time, I just randomly interject my bruise story into every conversation. People are curious, even if they are too polite to ask.

There's a part of me that wants to make up a really juicy story - something that concludes with a hurled dinner plate or botched bungee jump. But the underwhelming truth is, I was on my way to the kitchen to refill my coffee when I stopped to pet my dog, Moose, sleeping in the hallway. He sleeps in the foyer under a large ficus tree, stretched out on the floor mirroring the curve of the staircase that rises and - foreshadowing! - juts out sharply above him.

I enjoy petting my dog when he is sleeping. I think it's because I can avoid all the drooly parts, as well as the parts that smell like wet mulch. So I crouched below the stairs to stroke his face and coo the embarrassing dog-talk people only make in the privacy of their homes - usually a singsong statement, followed by the same words phrased as a question.

"You're such a goooooood boy!" I said. "Who's such a goooooood boy?"

I was up to the "You're so sweeeeet! Who's so sweeeeet?" iteration when the phone rang, and I bolted upright. Suddenly I was hearing a lot more ringing than the telephone. I had caught the wooden corner of a stair step on the way up.

Once I could open my eyes, I felt my head for blood, and there wasn't any. I refilled my coffee and went back to work, muttering about my klutziness.

A few minutes later, rereading something I had written, I attempted to raise one eyebrow and realized the landscape of my face had changed. I got up and looked in the powder room mirror and was shocked to see that the quirky bird of muse had laid the jumbo speckled egg of inspiration on my forehead!

To be sure, this minor facial injury has been insightful, opening my eyes to the emotionally exhausting experiences of people who have to deal with stares or comments daily because they look different.

But on a lighter note, I am happy to report that a dear companion has passed the Janet's World Bruise Test for True Friendship.

We met last week for an early-morning walk, but before I could blurt out my story, she reached out with one thumb and vigorously attempted to "rub off" the "big dirt smudge" on my forehead.

"Ow!" I said. "You're hurting me!"

She looked confused. I started laughing.

"Oh no!" she said, joining in the laughter when she realized it was a bruise that could not be erased with the time-honored Mom-method.

Funny, though. She did, somehow, make it all better.

To contact Janet Gilbert or hear podcasts, go to http://www.janetgilbert.net.

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