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Why I miss getting bruises, the marks of a lost youth

Remember at school, when a bruise was a badge of honour?

Why I miss getting bruises, the marks of a lost youth

When I was a kid, bruises were a large part of me. I mean that both in that they covered literally a large part of my body and that they oddly meant a lot to me. They were a visual representation of fun, and experiences, at a time in my life when things happened so quickly – one day you were doing a science lesson outside, the next you were in a caravan in Clacton, the next you were getting a kicking from kids who went to another school because you were wearing Boys Base Wallabees instead of Kickers – that I needed some kind of anchor point. Bruises were an anchor.

Bruises come in many shapes and sizes: reddy-orangey, purpley-blue, reddy-blue, bluey-red, yellow ones, black ones, awful deep purple ones that you pretended were love bites, colours that spread and mutated, colours like sunsets, like cocktails, like broken film in cameras, football-shaped bruises, heart-shaped bruises, bruises that were shaped like a roast chicken. I once had one I swore looked like an elephant, but without pictorial evidence to back it up, you’ll just have to take my word on it. And I’m not even talking about cuts, bruises’ nasty older brother. Cuts made things too serious, cuts got adults involved. Grazes too, the bruise’s slightly less nasty but still a bit of a dickhead older brother, were just annoying: sticky and slow-healing. Bruises, though. Man, they were a badge of honour. In school we’d stand in huddles showing off our latest and greatest, our bluest and greenest, and ooh and ahh at those to whom the aesthetically-pleasing blushes would affect the most.

To my best knowledge, I’ve not had a bruise in years. I play football regularly, haphazardly and without much protection, and still I can’t get a decent bruise. Just once I want to look down at my leg and see the colours seeping across my calf. I miss the pleasing pain of knowing they were there, that you could raise your heart rate with a single push. You knew where you stood with a bruise: bruises made me feel like I had achieved something, in lieu of, you know, actual achievements. And their fleeting nature only made me want more, like the transient high of heroin or eBay, dragging me every further into danger.

One time, in year six, I got a huge bruise on my ribs that took weeks to heal. I was at the top of a slide and went to jump down to the bottom, misjudged, and frog-splashed onto a metal handrail. I felt like all of the air had left my body along with most of my blood and dignity, but the boys around me looked on in wonder. Even as my lips turned blue and I struggled to speak, mouth opening and closing uselessly like a dumb-ass fish, I felt a kinship then. It’s like we all knew what was coming: an afternoon off school and one helluva bruise. I wish I still had that bruise, probably like 10cm long, and looking gnarly as hell against my small frame and pale skin. Sometime soon, as the cold nights draw close around me, as my Muji bedsheets envelope me in grey jersey warmth, I’ll put my hand to my ribs and say: “Where are you, Mr. Bruise? What are you doing now?”

It’s not like Jackass, the boyish bravado of doing dumb shit. It’s the thought that it was something that I owned at a time when I owned nothing. As a kid, nothing is yours, but this purple bruise shaped like a bunch of bananas on the back of my arm, from a combined pinch and dead-arm tag-team manoeuvre your friends Chris and Darren performed on you as punishment for doing well at your homework, was mine. Covered by my shirt-sleeves, it was a secret charm, a pleasingly painful bijou that my parents couldn’t take away from me no matter how much I back chatted them for not eating my peas.

Bruises heal, which is a shame, because as a boy they are worth something. To my chocolate Rice Crispie cake-addled brain, they functioned as a device for what American social psychologist Daniel Wegner first called ‘transactive memory’. I didn’t have to remember each glorious, painful tackle on the football pitch, because those memories were stored in the hematoma of tissue in which capillaries and sometimes venules are damaged by trauma, allowing blood to seep, hemorrhage, or extravasate into the surrounding interstitial tissues.

Think the myriad bruises that patterned my young body acting like the endless tabs you keep open in Google Chrome: this is a memory you don’t want to forget, one that is important to you, a feeling you had, an experience, and you’ll keep them as long as you can… until they go away. And then they’re gone. I think about bruises now – like the bad-ass fucking frog-splash one on my ribs, seriously you should’ve seen it, because that one was fucking class – and wonder what I have to replace them. Are we too protected in this age? The spectrum of pain and safety seems ever wider, ever more dramatic: sometimes you just want a little bloom of colour, a little taste of pain, to remind you of that time you let danger seep into your life like a bruise lets blood seep into surrounding tissue. Sometimes you just want to remember you’re alive.