I’m in Chicago. It’s cold here. Real cold. The first two weeks of the year were so cold, it remained below 0F for most of it. To compare, last year was nearly 50F warmer. Only now is the temperature creeping back up to freezing.
My skin is dry, and in the Winter it splits and cracks like the salt flats. I spend most Winters with hands that look like I narrowly escaped a bar fight. Jokes about the “other guy” never get any laughs.
This Winter, my hands have cracked but remained relatively bloodless. No, instead my nose has borne my injury. Reflexively I’ll stretch my nostrils at my desk and a stream of blood will roll down my face, avoiding my notice until it touches my lip. Each morning I wake up and it is caked so thick I have to clear my nostrils just to breath.
Blood is so prevalent, essential to all human life, and yet shielded from view if at all possible. Blood is obscene; depraved. Even America, a culture steeped in violence and aggression, rarely shows the bloody aftermath.
Since the dawn of man, blood has been a universal sign of trouble, of pain. Something to be in awe of and fearful for. Finding a smear of blood on the ground told our ancestors of the danger ahead, blood from a wound helped show the severity as it worked to seal it.
Instead now we’re left with violence without the result; which turns it into a twisted perversion of itself. If you never have to face the consequence, the equation loses weight. The media that does show blood are often marked as more violent, even if they death toll or other metrics for gauging this are less.
I’m reminded of the alleged inspiration for Palahniuk to write Fight Club, in which he showed up to work bloodied and bruised and had no one mention it. If I didn’t react to my nose bleeds at work, would anyone else? Could I sit at my desk, like Andrew W.K., undisturbed? Who would break the illusion?
Occasionally, I get the taste of blood in my mouth. Just writing about that here, I can feel the smallest tinge of it. I don’t know what prompts it. It’s infrequent, only every few months or so.
Last Summer, I was riding my bike downtown and had such a vivid taste of blood in my mouth I was convinced I’d bitten my tongue without realizing. I stopped, got off my bike while crossing a bridge, pulled off to the side to check. Finding it clean only left me more confused.
Nothing else tastes like blood. That slight metallic tang, the warm, almost syrupy sweetness. If you’ve ever cut your mouth growing up, you probably know what I’m talking about.
It’s a taste without a smell, but a smell is almost conjured from the nothing. It smells as I suspect a rafflesia to, though I’ve got no experience to confirm this theory or not. A warm, sickly sweet smell, almost too much, like flowers rotting in the sun of an early Summer day.
In children, often it is the sight of blood that prompts fear. Perhaps this is a genetic response, something baked into us from the first days of man, where the sight of blood was an indicator that something had gone terribly wrong.
And yet, often kids wait for another’s input, before deciding if the experienced is worth outcry or not. The first reaction taken on by anyone in the vicinity (child or adult alike) is quickly adopted and spread through the group. The lone child, who scrapes their knee with Mom, who responds cooly, might refrain from shedding any tears at all.
What would the world be like if we went against this natural response in children? How would society be if we didn’t fear blood, but accepted it? What would a population be like that didn’t react to blood with shock and fear, but calmly?
I don’t know, but I’m going to go wipe my nose.