“Oh no coach, you’re bleeding!”
“I’m always bleeding.”
I can’t believe I still have this conversation. Honestly, everyone should know by now.
Back at the cars after a mountain bike ride, blood streaks my arms. A kid, usually one of the younger ones, approaches me with concern. At some point during the ride, I brush up against a branch or bust through an overhanging thorn bush and my skin tears. Bright red blood seeps through my skin and mixes with sweat. Dramatic streams flow and then clot along my forearms, causing tacky scabs, several inches long. By the end of practice, I look like I lost a fight with a raccoon. This only seems to happen to me. I’m the oldest coach.
A couple years ago, the skin on my forearms began to emulate crepe paper—dry, rough, wrinkled and see-through. I believe this is a common feature of the aged—meaning late seventies on up. Not someone still in his fifties. In a short story I wrote five years ago, I poked at this and possibly jinxed myself.
The Blue Trail: His only distinctive feature was age. I’d put him squarely in his eighties. But not with a wrinkled face; he was the sort of man who aged without developing the deep lines of expressive emotions. The feature that told his age was his papery transparency. I could see beneath his skin.
That transparency is my feature now, at least on my arms. The bloody mess is easily washed away in my post-ride shower, but I’m left with splashes of blood that spread just beneath my skin. Like a Jackson Pollock tattoo, my arms are speckled and splattered with red blooms. Because they take a week or so to fade, they become part of my summer and fall wardrobe.
A few weeks ago, my father entered the dining room at his assisted living complex. He brushed his leg against a parked wheelchair, and his skin simply tore open. His lower pant leg and sock immediately drenched with blood. He spent the day at the emergency room getting stitched and glued back together. A few days later, he returned for a twenty-four-hour antibiotic I.V. drip.
I see my future. I’m wet newspaper.
Last summer, my wife, kids and I met up with my brothers to watch planes land. Washington National Airport adjoins a field where planes buzz directly above you as they take off or land (depending on wind direction). Landing days are more interesting because you can see the planes coming in for miles. As we sat and talked and tried to be the first to identify an incoming plane, Eli noticed a bloom on my brother Dana’s arm. “Oh yeah, I get these all the time.”
I guess this crepe paper skin thing is genetic. For me, it swings between mildly interesting and slightly annoying, but I see it can become a serious problem. This was actually the second time my father wound up in the hospital after peeling a sizable portion of his shin like a banana. My leg-skin is still pliable, which is good, since I bump into stuff all the time.
Right now, I can’t show you a good picture of recent blooms. A couple of weeks’ worth of blooms are in various stages of fading, but my most recent ride just left me with a bunch of obvious scratches. A photo now won’t properly illustrate what I’m talking about. Here’s a 2019 photo of the first bloom I ever had. At the time, I believed I poisoned myself by cracking open a cathode ray TV screen. Now I believe it was caused by a mosquito bite.
Painting by Jackson Pollock.