The screw came loose. And then I dropped it. Why? Because I'm an idiot.
I was trying to do a little mechanic work on the lawn mower in the middle of the lawn. The grass was high, high like it gets when someone hasn't cut it all summer, and then suddenly, decides to hire a grass-cutting kid. It was high and thick and I was cutting through it, when the mower blades clogged with shredded green grass and the engine choked and died.
I tipped it back, exposing the blades. I reached in, cleaning the steaming, half-mulched shreds of Augustine and Fescue and Crab grasses, pulling it all into a clumpy pile. I tried to start the engine again, grabbing the cord and yanking, and yanking, and yanking. I could see the fly wheel turn, at the end of the pull cord. I could hear the motor whir, but it wouldn't start, and I tried some mid-yard repair.
I checked the spark plug, knocking it clean with a small rock. I checked the oil. I checked the gas. I unscrewed the casing to clean the air filter, carefully twisting off the first screw and holding it in my hand. I twisted off the second screw and then, 'dink', it dropped down below the muffler, rolling under the engine.
I could have walked home, to where the tools where hanging on my dad's peg board. I could have called it a day, waited for him to come and fix the problem. But it seemed like such a simple problem. So I reached in.
My skin seared. My finger burned. My flesh bubbled up and I could hear the little sizzling noise.
I stuck my hand in, after the lost screw, and ran my finger right up under the still-hot muffler, leaving a little, white burn mark near the pointer's joint.
"Arrrrgh," I thought, and I yelled.
In the moment after the burn, all I could think of was pain. In the moment after that, all I could think was how stupid I was.
I have a series of scars, on my hands, my arms, my forehead and on one leg. Some of them are bubbly burns, looking like letters from a lost language. Others are pale gashes, and I can see where the skin stitched itself together again over my mistake. All of them were followed by the thought, "I am an idiot. Obviously that was going to happen. I am such an idiot."
I was hoping I would grow out of that, though. I was hoping it was just a phase, an awkward thing that happens to teens. But, while I haven't cut, burned or bloodied myself in a number of years, I still seem to make these stupid, and painful mistakes.
Normally, it happens when I say something I shouldn't say. The other end of the phone goes silent and I can hear both of our hearts beat -- boom, boom, boom -- and I can hear the static on my cell phone and hear my tossed-off, too bitter remark bite someone I care about.
"Arrrrgh," I think, in an unarticulated self-curse, and I wonder how stupid I am.
It happens when I flip a remark, lash back, speak too quickly, move to make myself feel safer, or look better. I don't even know it's happened until it's too late. I see a face fall and I think, "I'm an idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot."
It's always obvious, as a moment passes, that I've caused pain.
I'm still hoping it's something I'll grow out of, hoping it's a phase, a thing I'll go through.
I'm especially hoping, though, that my friends and loved ones are more forgiving than flesh and bone. I'm hoping that they will heal, without the ugly marks left behind from my barks and bites.
I'm hoping that they will forgive me my bull-headed blunders and, somehow, still show me grace.
Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 254, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.