Black-eyed Susans |

Black-eyed Susans

Alison Osius
Staff Photo |

Charlie, who was 60 feet away and over a small rise, said he heard what he could only describe as a “hollow thunk.”

He turned to his girlfriend, Alida, and said, “I just heard something. It sounded like metal hitting something … hollow.”

Which was my head — although I personally think of it more as dense.

At the base of a cliff near New Castle where some dozen people were rock climbing, my husband, a friend and I had just been wrapping up a beautiful sunny day in late winter when, as I lowered Mike off a route, something hit me so hard I thought a falling rock had broken on my face.

I turned to our friend Jim, stunned, and said, “Am I OK?” I thought my forehead was laid open.

He peered at me in concern. “Yeah.”

“Am I OK?” I repeated, and he repeated his answer.

Somehow, from 30 or 40 feet up, a quickdraw — a short sling with a metal carabiner at each end — had fallen and clocked me. Mike didn’t even know he’d dropped it, nor to shout a warning; it somehow twisted off his harness.

My sunglasses had slammed into my face, and one vermillion patch appeared on my cheekbone, while a perfectly nosepad-shaped one formed between my eye and nose. My lip was bruised, and a knot and blue patch marked my forehead.

People hurried over in concern. A nice guy named Pat, whom I don’t even know, pulled out a dog-poop bag (a clean one, everyone was glad to note) and hiked down the trail for several big scoops of snow, which I pressed on the knot on the hike out and drive home.

My coworkers at Rock and Ice magazine were fine, amused. I was also teaching a CMC writing class that day. My young students were a little taken aback, but we had a laugh about it.

Mostly I went around throwing out that joke, “You should see the other guy.”

But while an adult male looks kind of tough with a shiner, one on the eye of a female or child elicits concern, not to mention dirty looks to the accompanying suspect. It was always better when people asked — “So, you been fighting?” — and we could get the explanation out of the way. But strangers, even the familiar person behind the supermarket counter, feel uneasy, and don’t ask. Meanwhile the patch on my forehead faded to green and yellow, and drained downward between my eyes. Friends joked that I looked like a convict or meth head.

Yet people get hit in the face, or run into things, all the time. I’ve known or read of some gaining shiners from: badminton, volleyball, a pet’s head, a child’s head, a child’s flashlight. From wiping out on skis or while running in mud. One friend was nailed by a falling branch on a windy day. One woman was throwing old potatoes out into her large backyard. She happened to have a phone in her pocket and, pitching one underhand, hit the phone, which bounced up and whacked her in the eye.

When I was a teenager in Annapolis, my friend Clem got cracked in the forehead by a boom on a sailboat. I saw it happen. That week she arrived at our workplace, an ice-cream counter, with two raccoon eyes from the drainage. Clem carried on perfectly calmly, scooping ice creaming and smiling up from the vats at the customers as if everything was perfectly normal.

It’s not my first black eye; rather, my fourth. At age 4, I had two, consecutively, earning me the nickname Black-Eyed Susan, from a pole with metal rings to swing from at the playground. In college, I gave my honors thesis defense with a slight black eye from rugby, though I didn’t remember about it until afterwards when I saw it in a mirror. And these don’t even count the red grape, a burst blood vessel, that rose instantly on my cheekbone when one of my sons as a small child hit me in the face with a spoon (while winding up to chuck it at his brother).

There are a lot of home remedies, but beyond the dog-poop bag full of snow, I didn’t do any. It didn’t matter and I knew I was lucky anyway, that my teeth weren’t knocked out. You can always put it in perspective. My intern just sprained her ankle, and it hobbled her but wasn’t a torn ACL. My older son once needed reconstructive surgery on his elbow after a spring game of “seven-on-seven” supposedly touch football. But, as someone reminded me, a lot worse things happen in football.

A black eye is just a black eye, and gone in two weeks.

— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at

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