Newsletter 9: Heads Crack Open More Easily Than They Probably Should

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from July 2016, way back, about the time my oldest son cracked his head open. I’m always fascinated by scars. They’re like tree rings.

On Friday afternoon, my son cracked his head open. He was playing on the playground at his camp with a bunch of other kids. The game was, using nomenclature four-year-olds are uniquely skilled in creating, called “No, YOU’RE the Doodie-Doo.” The rules are very simple. When someone touches you on the arm and says, “YOU’RE the doodie-doo,” you have to fall down. If there were a Heisman for this game, my son would win it.

So, out in the playground, another boy, a sweet kid named Max, ran to William, tapped him, and said, “YOU’RE the doodie-doo.” William dutifully went down like a sack of potatoes. Unfortunately for William, there was a bench behind him that he hadn’t seen. And the back of his skull landed right on the corner of it.

We’re traveling to Buffalo to see family today, so my wife and I were both busy wrapping up a stressful week and packing for our trip when the camp called. William was in good spirits, they said, but there’s a lot of blood. He’s going to need stitches: You should come get him. When my wife got there — I stayed home with Wynn, our younger son — she discovered that William was giggling and happy, but that there was a disturbingly massive gash on the top of his head. William was handling this new development a lot better than his parents were.

I was not a heavily injured kid. I broke a toe chasing my sister around a coffee table once — which might the whitest, most bookish nerd injury I can come up with — but otherwise, I was never in a cast, never in a hospital, never sickly at all. I bit into a TV cord when I was 18 months old, electrocuting me and putting a welt on my lip that wouldn’t be surgically removed until I was five. Playing basketball knocked out my front tooth once, and another time it gave me a concussion when I went up for a rebound, got my feet kicked out from under me and landed on my head. But that was about it, except … I think I got my head cracked open, like, five times. It just happened, a lot. It happened from riding my bike — you didn’t have to wear a helmet to ride your bike in the ’80s — it happened from getting hit with a baseball bat’s backswing, it happened from opening a door too quickly and smashing right into it. The cracking open of the head is a signature Leitch injury. It’s my superpower.

This experience did not help me deal with William’s injury. While my wife was at the emergency room with him, I fretted and paced and scowled and stared at my phone for updates. I cursed the camp, and their counselors, and the kid who tapped him during the doodie-doo game, and the whole damn world for being so cruel and indifferent that it might create a circumstance in which my beautiful son could have a hole put in his head. And mostly I was mad at myself. Sure, he was at camp. Sure, you can’t watch your kid all the time. Sure, cracking your head open is a fairly common injury and is easily resolved. But still: My kid got hurt. I should have done something. I should have been there.

Three hours later, William and my wife came home. She was haggard and upset. Him? He just wanted to know what the score of the Blue Jays-Indians game was. His hair was matted with blood, his shirt was dirty and torn and, most notably, he had two massive staples in the top of his head. “He handled them great,” my wife said. “I almost vomited.”

If you dare, here is a picture of the staples. If you think it’s too much, just skip on by. It might be too much.

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He is very strong and brave.

The reason they use staples for little kids who crack their head open rather than stitches, my wife explained, is partly because it’s less painful but mostly because it’s a head injury. Staples are more likely to cause a scar, but nobody cares about a scar on your head: Your hair covers it up. You aren’t likely to ever know you even have one. Which made me realize that I must have a half-dozen of them, all over my skull, that I have never seen. One from the bat, one from the door, a couple from bike crashes. At the age of seven, they instantaneously became a part of my life forever. They outlasted the injuries, even the memory of my injuries. They just became permanent little markings that showed I had walked around the planet, that I had bumped into things, that I had gotten out there and lived. I might not know where the scars are. But they’re there.

William now has his own marking, his first. There will be a scar, and it will be there forever. He may never know about it, or why it’s there. But it’s a part of him. We might want to always keep him safe and unscathed and protected, but he’s a part of the world now. He is out there living. The scar is who he is, like arms or eyes or his snoring or the way he gets really excited when he sneezes. There are more to come. He’ll forget about those too, just like I forgot about mine. He’ll just keep moving forward. This is what we all signed up for. This is what it’s all about. Sometimes he’s gonna crack his head open. Sometimes they’re gonna put big-ass staples in his head. Sometimes you’re the doodie-doo.

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Written by

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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