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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting the Monkey Off My Back

Probably this doesn't seem like a big deal to you. But it is.

Called into the Principal's office with my other 4th-grade confederates to explain why we had ambushed Jamel and Dessica (the truth of which amounted essentially to the ironic schoolyard mentality of "we liked them, therefore we tormented them") with water balloons in the park, I stood there, cracking my knuckles nervously as Ms. Drayson called upon each of us to explain ('testify', if you'll indulge me) what had happened.

Ms. Drayson was the first female Principal in Columbus Elementary history, and also the first woman I ever heard wishing to be referred to as "Ms." anything.  My mother explained to me that this was because Ms. Drayson (Linda to her friends. . . like my mother) was her own woman and preferred not having her identity tied to her marital status.  My father explained to me that it was possible she preferred this because no man would have her.  I don't recall whether they then (my mother and father) squared off to discuss the matter further or not.  The years have blunted the sharp edges of this memory.

I remember thinking even at that early age, "This has nothing to do with you, Ms. Drayson. It happened in the public park, after school. What authority can you possibly have to address this situation?" But Ms. Drayson played cards and drank wine with my mother, and so I stayed silent, except for the cracking of my nervous knuckles, glaring shamelessly (cheeky bastard) up at her as she admonished me.

That is the first time I recall cracking my knuckles. I remember it mostly because Ms. Drayson, annoyed with the sound commanded me to, "Please stop cracking your knuckles!" during the interview. I know it started before that. I have a vague recollection of thinking it looked really cool to clasp hands together, then thrust them out in front of me palms out, a reverse steepling of my fingers. . . stretching them out, hearing the cracks. . . before getting down to the business of kicking some ass. . . or so the movies i was allowed to watch as a youngster led me to believe (Dirty Harry was on the menu when Mom was away).
So i started TRYING to crack my knuckles. . . and when i'd mastered one, i moved to another. . . and experimented with all sorts of ways to crack them.  I could press my thumb against my index finger to crack the top joint of my thumb, for example. . . or wiggle each individual finger joint in with my other hand and get them all to pop. I could do the reverse steepling thing. . . though it wasn't as effective. . . or just push down on each finger with the thumb of the same hand to pop them. That's what I MOSTLY did. That's what I did when Ms. Drayson said, "Please stop cracking your knuckles!"

And so at the tender age of ten, i was an accomplished knuckle-cracker, but if called upon by counsel to testify as to the timeline of my first knuckle-cracking. . . i would answer "4th grade, just prior to summer vacation".  Fast forward to today. . . 30 years later. I still crack them. I know i shouldn't, but i do. I long ago left behind the idea that it would somehow "cause arthritis". It was never a true deterrent to my much matured vice anyway. But it can't be good for me. No, it took something far more serious then a rumored chronic debilitating disease to stop that snapping of my joints. It took the righteous wrath of my daughter.

Over the course of the last six or eight months, when she notices, she scolds me mercilessly. "DADDY!" she says loudly, and points a delicate little finger in my direction, "No, No!" like I might correct a two year-old.

For my part, i shame-facedly accept my due and apologize, unless i did it without thinking (which is the problem with a 30-year habit. . . it's so ingrained that you don't even know you're doing it) in which case i'll laugh and tell her, "sorry, baby, i didn't even know I was doing it."

Sometimes my joints crack without me intending them to do so, and when she scolds me then, i have to explain the process and how it doesn't count if I didn't do it on purpose, and she relaxes her beetled brows and replaces her scornful compressed lips with a smile of sweet serenity.

But i began to feel moderate panic a week or so ago when she announced that she knew EXACTLY what I could give up for lent next year. . . knuckle cracking. CAN i even stop myself, i wondered?

Yesterday at ABOUT 8:00 a.m, though I don't recall what actual time it was when i realized i was attempting NOT to crack my knuckles. I don't know exactly what time I stopped because I hadn't done it for a while, but not because I was trying to stop, but because i simply hadn't felt like it. When I found myself about to crack my knuckles. . . I stopped, and wondered how long I could continue to go without doing it. So it was early in the morning at work when I stopped, and if called upon by the same attorney who had previously grilled me on the onset of my cracking vice. . . "When did you stop cracking your knuckles?" I'd reply truthfully, "8:00 a.m. at the latest."
And that is the last time I have cracked my knuckles, reader. Currently all 24 of yesterday's hours plus today's13. I find myself considering it. I find myself flexing my fingers or clenching my hands into fists when i feel the tightness or stiffness that makes me want to loosen my joints and satisfy that sensory need. I even accidentally found myself flexing the pad of my thumb against my index finger in an attempt to crack it. . . but it didn't crack, then i caught myself and stopped.

Day 1. There's no KCA (Knuckle Crackers Anonymous). And nobody is going to give me a 1 day tag or 1 week or 1 lent. . . but I'm honestly amazed I've even made it a day.

It's just a damn good thing i never did drugs.