Derek

photo credit greg shirilla

is a Chicago-based musician, actor, and filmmaker. He watches crappy old movies and keeps strange hours. You can visit him on Twitter or at derekdziak.com.

(Photo credit Greg Shirilla)

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Amazingly True Stories: Bryan Cut Off Another Finger

a table knife and a severed finger

Bryan had cut off another finger.

He had cut off another one of his fingers, he said, on accident.

An accident. Do you fucking believe that? I have never come close to losing any of my digits, not once, not in the 28 years I’ve been on this Earth, yet Bryan had managed to chop off two of his most important fingers within the week. (Well, they’re all important.)

The first severed finger landed him in the hospital for six hours. He said that one was an accident, too. I think I felt sympathy. I wanted to feel sympathy. I might have laughed instead. I was in high school. I felt confused. That was normal—I seldom know whether to believe Bryan. Then I witnessed the second finger incident, and suddenly it was easier to imagine him hacking off another. In fact, knowing what I know now, I’m amazed he hasn’t lopped off more.

The first one was sewn back on; Bryan had brought it to the hospital in a ziplock baggy.

I guess Bryan had been alone in the apartment, which he shared with two cats and his mother. He was standing in the kitchen, cutting a tomato into thin red slices, right. And he cut his whole finger off. He did this with a butter knife, an ordinary table knife with a serrated edge and a rounded tip. But he had already sharpened the butter knife for four hours—no, I know—which is batshit crazy. He had whetted, by hand, a marvelously dangerous instrument, this Butter Knife of Doom (BKoD).

So Bryan had cut off his own finger. At first the hospital staff thought this was a cry for help, a suicide attempt or something.

It wasn’t. I’ve known Bryan for 18 years. Bryan is just unusually, preternaturally attracted to anything sure to end in failure, disaster, or injury. Hell, if the kid stabbed himself in the chest it would probably be an accident. Actually, that’s another story.

In the end, the hospital staff—satisfied that Bryan had not deliberately mutilated himself—sent him home with six stitches and a lollipop. The razor-sharp BKoD, in the meantime, was returned to the silverware drawer, a terrible blade among dozens of duller utensils. 

I can’t give you the exact dates. If you were to check Bryan’s insurance claims, you could verify my story. But I think the second incident occurred four days later.

I remember that it was a weekend. Bryan and I, along with a third guy, were hanging out at Bryan’s place. There was little to do at Bryan’s place. It was a tight fit; the tiny living space limited our teenaged activities to eating, Sega, and dial-up. But Bryan’s mother was never home, so of course we were there all the time, stir-crazy teenagers.

I remember that Bryan’s fridge was mostly empty. There was a loaf of bread, some tomatoes. We ate peanut butter sandwiches until we ran out of peanut butter.

That was when Bryan starting smearing catsup onto two slices of bread. To make his minimalist sandwich extra tomato-y and postmodern, Bryan announced that he needed to add a real tomato to it. He wandered into the kitchen, unsupervised.

I wasn’t thinking. I was playing the Sega. I was playing the Sega, with Bryan alone in the kitchen. Which knife was he using? I paused the game and pondered. I got a bad vibe.

From the next room, Bryan swore. Loudly.

“Fuck! Gah! I did it again!” He walked into the living room clutching his hand.

I jumped up, dropped the controller on the carpet, and rushed over to inspect Bryan’s hand. The sutures were still in his index finger, but a large chunk of his pinky was very obviously missing. His hand was bleeding profusely; there was even blood pooling on the floor.

I remember thinking, How? Again? I was amazed. I remember the third guy, the mutual friend, walking into the living room. He did not seem surprised in the least. He only shook his head, and then he motioned for us to follow him out of the apartment. The three of us piled into his car, Bryan toting another bloody ziplock bag.

The friend sped us to the hospital in short time. Incredibly, it was entirely the same hospital staff as before, on the same shift. So as Bryan’s wound was cleaned, nurses and orderlies might walk by and ask him questions like, “Is it the same finger?” or “What are you going to cut off next week?” They couldn’t help themselves.

I am telling you all this because Bryan will never live this story down. And the truth is, I lose sleep, even now, over shit he does. What goes through Bryan’s mind? Who sharpens a butter knife?  Who does that? And why? Did Bryan find a stick of butter in the freezer, frozen solid? Could he not wait for it to thaw? What could the reason be for even having a dangerously sharp piece of flatware?

What do you do with a knife like that?

Clearly a knife with a history of attempted manslaughter should be dealt with responsibly: indeed, all humankind needed to be protected from this butter knife. We might have simply tossed it in the garbage, but that could have been a safety hazard.

We decided to bury it.

It was like burying a dead pet. Bryan seemed really sad. He even said a prayer over it. Aloud. He prayed that maybe someone would find it years later and melt it down into something really cool. Like a pair of glasses or jewelry or whatever.

But it had to be done. No knife that dangerous could ever fall into the wrong hands, especially Bryan’s hands. So it forever rests in a plot in the ground, its bloodlust quenched, finally at peace.

Somehow Bryan still has all his fingers.

How many am I holding up?

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