December 5, 2005

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent two months in Berlin studying German at the Goethe Institut. After a few days spent adjusting to the time change and another few days spent having nightmares about things like being abandoned by my father at Auschwitz, I started to settle in nicely and get to know some of the people in my class. One of my closest friends was a woman named Sarah, from somewhere in the midwest. She was dating a Frenchman whose hair was too long but who was very charming nonetheless, so I could eventually bring myself to overlook his ill-conceived coiffure.

One evening the three of us were having dinner, and Sarah said, “I think the world can be divided into two groups of people.” I was interested to hear what her two groups were, as I myself usually divide the world into two groups of people; namely, people I hate on the one hand and me on the other hand, but I suspected her groups would be constituted differently. Indeed, I was right. When I asked her what the two groups she was referring to were, she replied, “People who had head injuries as children and people who didn’t.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Yes. You had a head injury as a child, right?”

I had to admit that yes, I had been injured at the tender age of two, cracking my head and bleeding profusely and creating a tiny bald spot on the top of my head. My mother, who had been out shopping, yelled at my father upon her return, “I told you to watch him!”, to which he replied, “I did! I watched him climb up on the sink. I watched him fall. I watched him hit his head.”

“How did you know?” I asked Sarah, as her French boyfriend gazed adoringly at her.

“Oh, I can always tell.” And then she went through our class, dividing its members up. Belen had not had a head injury; Michael had. Gary and Laurent had not; Patrice had. Mario she wasn’t sure about but suspected not. And so on.

The next day, before class started, we went around and asked everybody. Sarah had been right in every single case.

And this is one of the many, many, many reasons I will never have children. Because it was crystal clear that people who had had head injuries as children were better than people who had not, so if I were ever to come into possession of a child I would feel compelled to give it a head injury, for its own future good. But I would have no idea how to hurt it just enough to make it interesting but not enough to make it developmentally disabled. And the resulting paralysis as I tried to figure it out would prevent me from ever getting anything done again.

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29 Responses to The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent two months

  1. Gérard says:

    I’m sure i got the wrong kind of head injury. story of my life really.

  2. Uncle Zoloft says:

    Oy! My 1st head injury was a gay bashing. I was in 2nd grade, it was Halloween afternoon, 3 neighborhood kids held me against a fence while a 4th threw rusty cans at my head until he nailed me. They all ran away, I got 4 stitches and was pissed I couldn’t wear my Halloween mask.

    My 2nd head injury I was about 10. My cousins and I were playing on a swing set, with wooden seats. The object of the game was to jump off the swing when you reached you highest point. I did. While I was getting up my cousin’s swing, with her on it, came from behind and cracked the back of my head open. 10 stitches that time. I was pissed ’cause they had to shave the hair around the wound to do the stitches.

  3. David says:

    Oh come now, surely with medical technology advancing as it has, there will be a way to give your child a head injury through a simple outpatient procedure, with minimal risk.

    My head injury was minor, no stitches but lots of blood. I was four and cracked it against the stone fireplace while horseing around with my sister. I’m sure I’m still unexceptional.

  4. glo says:

    had the originator of this HITOD (head-injury-theory-of-division) herself suffered a head injury? my guess is that yes, she had, and this led to her studying at the goethe institute and your friendship.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    Darn, now *everyone* is going to want one.

  6. Lauren says:

    Except that if that story is true, you technically gave yourself a head injury without anyone’s help. So it’s not actually the parent’s responsibility to injure the child, just to ignore the child as much as possible. Just send it to boarding school at the age of 2 and hope someone pushes the kid down a flight of stairs or something. Children are incredibly resilient right up to the point where they give up and slit their wrists and die.

  7. Frank says:

    Lauren, may I quote you on this: “Children are incredibly resilient right up to the point where they give up and slit their wrists and die”, or was that from someone else?

    I just like it a lot, somehow.

  8. Mush says:

    Babies just throw themselves on their heads, you don’t really have to figure anything out. One day you’ll be standing there and the thing will just wiggle itself right onto its head. Nothing you can do to stop it, really.

    In other news, I liked you better when you posted more frequently. I realize you’re buying a brick shoebox in Brooklyn and all, but hey – the Internet, we NEED you.

  9. Jess says:

    I was reading this, shaking my head and thinking, “only Faustus.”


  10. Andy says:

    My mom fell off a bus when she was pregnant with me, does that count? Oh, actually, no, once a light fixture fell on my head when I was about 7 and I bled profusely, even though I wasn’t really hurt that bad. So, put the two together, and I think I’m definitely okay.

  11. anapestic says:

    Perhaps the paralysis is an indication that the head injury wasn’t an entirely good thing.

  12. Jill Smith says:

    I’ve always said there were two types of people in the world: those who believe the world can be divided into two types, and those who do not.

  13. Patrick (the other one) says:

    Wow – cool connection. I took German lessons at the Goethe Institut in Berlin for four months back in 1991-92. No one with head injury theories in my class though – shame.

    I did have my first serious boyfriend there though, called Marcus. It lasted about eight months and didn’t end very well – we had a huge fight on a trip to Copenhagen and didn’t talk the whole way back, even though we were taking an overnight train.

    I was back in Berlin this summer, though, and got on an S-Bahn commuter train where I saw Marcus for the first time in 13 years. I wasn’t fully sure if it was him, so I went up to him and asked, “Are you Marcus?” He looked at me with a half-smile, said, “Ja, and Du bist der Patrick” (Yes, and you are Patrick), and then he walked off without another word.

    La guerre, la guerre…

  14. Brian says:

    Hmm. I got a baseball to the face when I was 11, smashed my forehead into a counter when I was 9, had a brick dropped on my head when I was 6, and fell face-first so many times when I was a toddler that I have a dent in my forehead.

    What does that mean?

  15. Brian says:

    Oh! I also fell off a slide onto my head.

    I think I may be an overachiever.

  16. campbell says:

    Look, I don’t want to piss on anyone’s chips, but try finding me someone who HASN’T had a head injury in childhood. Why I, myself, when riding my bran new racing bike…….

  17. BabyD says:

    Ooohhh…so I’m not alone…that’s good to know.

    Since birth I’ve been prone to accidents, even cracked my head open in the middle of my forehead. But I must admit, I’m as screwed up as ever. Actually, I prefer to lable myself as eccentric with way to much flare.

  18. Margaret says:

    Finally, it all makes sense…

  19. Sin says:

    More importantly, does one get extra credit for giving out head injuries as well as receiving them?

  20. Ruby says:

    I never had a head injury before. I mean, it never cracked open but there were a lot of bumps on it while I was a kid.

    There is an incident that happened when I was in the 3rd grade, I was stabbed in the forehead with a sharp pencil, and the led broke off. I didn’t want anyone touching my head and the led was removed in a tiny operation when I was in the 5th grade.
    Does this count?

  21. farmboyz says:

    hit with a baseball – out cold,
    on ice skates, fell backwards – out cold.
    Having two childhood head injuries might cancel out the benefit of the one. I also went through the Goethe Institut (Rothenburg ob der Taube), a frighteningly efficient organization.

  22. Christopher says:

    I have suffered four head traumas in my life: one as a child, two as a teenager and one as an adult (last year infact.) And just this evening I banged my forehead on the corner of the door frame on the car. While I am sure that I am much brighter than most of the plebs I know, one might say that the fact that I keep hitting my head means that I am really, really careless.

  23. matt says:

    It’s the other way around. We are not better people because we had childhood head injuries, we had childhood head injuries because we are better people. Inflicting an injury pre-emptively would just be cheating.

    Should you unexpectedly come into possession of a child, the only sensible course of action is to raise it as best you can and then disown the little bastard if it hasn’t, inter alia, managed to crack its own skull at least once in the process of growing up.

  24. Ruby says:

    I banged my head today on the sharp angled edge of my office table. How? A Hershy kiss fell on the ground and I kneeled to pick it up. In thr process of returning to my chair, I hit my head and I am now proudly wearing a bandage on the left side of my forehead (which is hiding 4 stitches by the way).

    Since my injury wasn’t self inflicted, and since I am less than 100 years old, I hereby deem my glorious self ‘cool’.

    Now if only I can remember what my name is….

  25. josh says:

    My mother once put me in a drying machine when I was eighteen months old because she had to pick up a package from the UPS delivery person and couldn’t hold both of us at once. She figured I wouldn’t get away if I was in the dryer.

    Then, lost in the rapture of the package she’d received, she forgot about me for an hour and a half.

    I own you all.

  26. mike says:

    Fractured skull, 18 months! My mother dropped me! Then got my grandmother to take the rap! Woo, I’m in the club!

  27. nadine says:

    I went to the Goethe institute at Staufen im Breisgau. Staufen is also known as the town in which the historical Faust blew himself up.

    I too looked up my bohemian, all-black-wearing, long-curly-blond-haired boyfriend of that time. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was balding, in a three piece suit, having come from a board meeting for the computer company that he was running.

  28. Oana says:

    I cannot agree with this. First of all…you will not find any person who doesn’t have a head injury from the childhood. Second, i don’t think that a head injury will make us a better person, but is the life condition which will affect the quality of a person.

  29. Silviu says:

    Oh! I also fell off a slide onto my head.

    I think I may be an overachiever.


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