It’s funny what pops into one’s mind as they’re pouring their morning coffee and sitting in front of their word processor. It’s even funnier when a simple action like reaching for a tissue after a sneeze triggers a memory, as though jarring something loose that’s been hidden for years.
I’ve been afflicted with nose bleeds my entire life. When I was a kid, I used to get them for one or two hours at a time. It was horrible. As a child, I used to think that there were these little men inside me and they wore construction hats, yellow vests, and work boots running around looking for things to repair. They’d use their little hammer, nails, and maybe even glue to fix me up when I got hurt. So, the crazy idea of one of them feeling cheeky and turning on my bloody nose faucet seemed to fit.
My nose bleeds showed up at the worst times, like once in class when Mrs. Graudin was teaching. I was in third grade sitting behind my desk, the one with the aperture that you could shove things into. Mine was always the worst, stuffed with papers, pencils, and anything else I could find. Debris usually hung out of the opening like Grouper who swallowed a fish too big for it’s mouth. It was a carbon copy of my room – no one but me could find anything, and it was a total mess.
Before I knew it, I had a tickle that feels like a runny nose, but it’s not. I knew right away it was blood. The trickle feels different – slightly warm, not as thick. I was always able to tell a nose bleed. Being in third grade, I didn’t do much about it but get embarrassed. A droplet on my desk, then my shirt, then, as an approaching rain, the intensity would increase, and the next thing I knew, some kid next to me gets that crunchy faced look and says loud enough for the entire class to hear, “Hey, Mrs. Graudin, Mike DiMatteo’s nose is bleeding!”
Instinctively, I place my forefinger under my nose, wiping the blood, a bit panicked as now the entire class is looking my way, some with “ooh’s”, others with “ew”, and others laughing. I tilt my head up, my shirt now stained with the sang rouge, and some droplets even on my pants. There was also proof of my attendance at school that day on my desk. My desk area looked like a bad red art project.
Mrs. Graudin would run over with some tissue, tell me to tilt my head back, and then tell me to pinch the bridge of my nose at the very top where it meets my skull. I was so mortified that I pinched hard, trying to crush the little nasal canal, hoping in my little head that it would all just stop. I could feel the warm liquid run down the back of my throat, and have to swallow once in a while. If it went on too long, my throat would get scratchy sore, so I would swallow and hope it wouldn’t.
Eventually, Mrs. Graudin would walk me to the cloak room where I could bleed in peace, sans the piercing eyes of my classmates. Once in a while, I’d go to the nurse and she’d give me a bag of ice that covered my entire face. I hated that. I mean, who likes a frozen face in third grade?
I’m sure the angst and anxiety I felt didn’t help the matter, but there was nothing I could do. When it was over, there was the aftermath. Blood on my shirt, on my face, dried blood on my nostrils, my pants. I looked like a refugee from a Truman Capote novel. I was actually pretty good at cleaning myself up, although sometimes, in my zeal to try to return to normalcy, I’d blow my nose too early, popping the cap off the plug and it would start all over again. Those times were rare though as I’d become an expert by third grade in knowing when to blow and when not to.
All of this leads me to Mr. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was the father of Lisa Lewis. A tall, thin distinguished black man who was a member of our church. His daughter and I were in the same class all throughout grade school, and her outlook reflected his. She always had a big beautiful smile on her face, and a disposition that led you to believe that it was always sunny, even during the rain.
Mr. Lewis had that same smile, same outlook on life, and always seemed to bring light with him wherever he went. My father and Mr. Lewis would talk after church on Sunday all the time. Small talk, but they always made time for each other. They were quite similar, Mr. Lewis and my father. Loved people, loved their kids, and enjoyed being alive. Even when I got older and moved out of the house, Dad would be sure to tell me, “I saw Mr. Lewis in Church Sunday.” He always called him Mr. Lewis, everyone did. He had that kind of weight.
Mr. Lewis saw me that tragic day in third grade after the debacle was over. He’d heard from Lisa that I had a nose bleed when he came to pick her up at the end of the day. I mean, it’s hard not to talk about the “nose bleed kid” when his desk area looked like a murder scene. I was getting my things from the cloak room and preparing to make my way to the bus pick up line. He came over to me, bent down and said, “Hey Mike, I heard you had a nosebleed today.”
“Yeah, I did, Mr. Lewis,” was my reply. I recall putting my head down, a bit embarrassed. It was then, to my little third grade mind, something extraordinary happened. Mr. Lewis squatted down to be at eye level with me. Then, he touched my shoulder.
“You know,” he said, “I get nose bleeds too.” I looked at him with a stunned look on my face.
“Yep, even at my age I do.” As he said those words, he smiled. “Don’t worry, it happens to everyone, even me. Sometimes, they just happen.”
I stood there and smiled. Just – smiled. Here was Mr. Lewis, a grown-up, and he got nose bleeds too. I have no idea why, but I instantly felt better, like we were kindred spirits. Me and Mr. Lewis, nosebleed friends.
I’ve not forgotten that moment, ever. In fact, I still get nosebleeds today, although not as severe. Just pinch my nostrils together, breathe through my mouth and in a minute or so, its over. In that minute, I always think of Mr. Lewis – always – and the kindness he showed me that day. A small, momentary gesture of kindness for him, but a gesture that lived a lifetime for me.
I guess it goes to show that where we least expect it, even the smallest act of kindness toward others resonates, no matter how small the person initiating the act thinks it is.
I remember the day I heard Mr. Lewis passed. When I heard, I instantly recalled that moment he shared with me. I also remembered my tears.