That One Time I Got a Papercut in the Sanctuary of Chestnut Grove Methodist Church, But It Was Ok Because I Knew It Was Coming Anyway (and Other Intriguing Tales of Injury)


By Jack Spencer Gentry

I was standing in the church my Dad went to as a kid and his parents before him and theirs before them admiring a drawing depicting the church building in the various forms it had taken across those many generations, when I put my right hand in my pocket past a devotional booklet and split the skin of my thumb on the paper there. This was an immense relief. It had been suspiciously long since my last papercut. The suspense was killing me.

The next finger on that hand bares a scar from an act of pure incompetence. I, an Eagle Scout by rank and thus lightly trained in the art of blade safety, forgot all guidelines for the utilization of sharp objects on my first night in a college dorm. Attempting to open the unreasonably dense package for a can of pepper spray, and failing by most conventional means, I opted in my frustration to somehow wedge the heat fused polyethylene sheets apart. A pocket knife, I surmised, would be a thin enough tool for the job. That was a poor guess. I realized this when the knife slipped from my grasp and skidded along the top of the package, through the label, and into the flesh just left of the nail of my right index finger. The dorm I was in at the time was hall-style. I went screaming through the corridor down to the shared bathroom where I drowned the wound in water and rubbing alcohol, trapping in the bloody cocktail with a bandage slightly larger than necessary. Two weeks later everyone on campus was sent home with little more than six hours warning because covid-19 spread like wildfire among a student body too occupied with their newfound freedom to think about the consequences of congregation. The scar on my right index finger serves as my only souvenir of my stay.

This, however, was not as great a souvenir as the one I got from breaking my arm. That injury left a persistent click in my left wrist which is only present when rotated counterclockwise. Why only this direction is beyond me, but I’ve canonized it internally as a result of the direction that I rolled upon impact with the ground. I had been scootering down the large hill which served as the entrance to my neighborhood’s walking trail. This was the custom for all local children since the speeds achieved by bombing said hill were unlike any we could attain anywhere else (compared to roads, walking trails have far fewer cars you need to brake for). Though I had descended this slope many times before, something was amiss on this particular run. I must have grown, as children tend to do, and whatever additional height I’d acquired since my last visit to the trail was enough to move my center of balance just a smidge too high, so that when I hit a pebble just a smidge too tall the scooter shot out from under me as I went flying forwards onto my left shoulder, where I rolled counterclockwise once before skidding for a smidgen of time on the pavement and coming to a halt. My mom was the first person to me. A neighbor’s friend who happened to be nearby drove us back to our house. There I witnessed a brief whirlwind as she shoveled granola bars, applesauces, a hand sanitizer large enough to last a month, insurance cards, a water bottle, a blanket, a phone charger, another water bottle (she doubled back), and a stack of magazines left on the kitchen table into a tote bag before we left in a rush for the emergency room, her handing me a bag of ice on our way out the door. Months after the plaster cast on my arm was removed, my mom would mention how, despite everything, it was lucky I hadn’t also broken my teeth. You can’t put a cast on your incisors.

A similar stroke of luck came when my brother threw a pencil in my eye. I had made the mistake of asking him to pass it to me. He had made the mistake of doing so tomahawk style. For both our sakes (but especially mine) the utensil hit my cornea eraser side first. I’ll say this to that: rubber may be preferable, but it still fricking hurts. This trip to the ER was far less frantic than my previous outing. A simple little car ride with mom semi-silently ranting to herself about the necessity of us not doing stupid things like throwing pencils at each other, and my brother silently sitting next to me in a state of penitent sorrow. I don’t remember if I was angry with him. I hope I wasn’t. He didn’t mean anything by the action beyond simply giving me the pencil I had requested. I didn’t need to enact some form of twisted justice by berating him for partaking in an incompetence I similarly partook in from time to time. But the universe, in any case, saw fit for karmic revenge some eight years later when, during an impromptu game of touch football, my brother ran headlong into the back of my skull and broke his nose. The doctors did a good job on him; you’d never know it’d been broken by looking.

Jack Spencer Gentry is a prose and screenwriter who spends far too much time thinking about words. His writing focuses on highlighting the beauty of the mundane, while satirizing the ironies that underpin it. A junior at UNC Chapel Hill, he’s part of the 2024 writing for the screen and stage class.