How My Life Has Changed Since Someone Cut Me in the Face
To be 100 percent honest, this isn’t the easiest thing to write. I’ve played this lede in my head a thousand times over. No words can do it justice. Only emotions can. I’m still not sure I’m starting this story in the right place. But here’s my best attempt at it.
You may have seen me at the Barclay’s Center or Madison Square Garden. You may have seen me in Bedstuy, at Blink Fitness or CRUNCH gym, on the A or R train. Maybe we chatted in an UberPOOL. If it’s nice out, you’ve seen me going for a run. You may have seen me at the grocery store. You may have seen me at a bar.
What I know for certain is that if you’ve seen me, you probably haven’t forgotten. That’s because I have a big ass scar from right under my ear to right above my mustache. It’s not even a sexy scar — not yet. Having a scar is kind of like growing out dreadlocks: there’s a real ugly stage before it turns into something magical.
Nine months have passed since I woke up in the emergency room to my brother — who holds a position of authority at one of the best orthopedic hospitals on the planet — watching over a resident while she stitched two flaps of my cheek skin into one. My life hasn’t been the same since. I never would have imagined it got this good.
Let me first walk you through how I got this scar in the first place. This isn’t your average skim-through story. If you don’t have a good 15 minutes to read this through, bookmark this page and revisit it another time. If you do have the time, well, here we go:
I have a tendency, and most of my friends have probably taken note: When I get too drunk, I like to leave. It doesn’t matter how active the venue is, if I’m drunk and not being distracted, I like to get out and usually get some food. Maybe that’s social anxiety, I don’t know. All I know is on my 25th birthday, I did just that.
I had gone out with some friends and, well, 25 isn’t your average birthday. It’s a quarter century, dammit. You go hard, or you go home. Well, I went hard.
I pre-gamed with some college friends in Harlem, then made the trip down to Meatpacking District for a Halloween party. (If you don’t know what “pre-gaming” is, it’s basically drinking before drinking). I didn’t say no to any drinks. That was the beginning of the end.
When we got to the club, I was already drunk. Like a good 8.5/10 drunk. Drunk enough to have drunk-called my ex-girlfriend (we’ve all been there once or twice, right?). Drunk enough to have left my wallet at my boy’s house. My friends pooled money together to pay for my entry. That’s when I remembered: We had a table at the club (my idea, of course), and we had bottles at our table (also my idea, of course). I had an entire bottle of Don Julio with my name on it. Remember, I’m already an 8.5/10 drunk.
That’s when the night becomes a blur. A serious blur. I don’t remember much else about the club except jumping around left and right to one of my favorite songs, “Palance.” The lyrics literally go, “Jump, jump, jump, jump. Jump and lift your hands up” before you jump left four times and right four times, over and over again. Probably not the best thing to do when you’ve been mixing liquors.
Things escalated pretty quickly at that point. One of my friends says he saw me talking to some girls, and the unwritten rule among men is not to interrupt your friend while he’s talking to a lady. The rest of my friends say I disappeared. In a way, I did.
The next thing I remember is getting into an argument with a nearby Halal truck driver. I love my chicken over rice. I need that white sauce, hot sauce and barbecue sauce, too. More white sauce, don’t be stingy. But this driver and I had gotten into an argument — probably because I didn’t have my wallet, so how on Earth was I going to pay for food?
The detective says at this point, I stumbled up a block to a nearby store. Then I went to a bus stop and sat down. It was about 4 a.m. Looking through my call log, this is the time when I started calling my friends. I was alone outside the club. On my 25th birthday. Where the hell are my friends?
The detective tells me the video he has shows me sitting at that bus stop for about 20 minutes, give or take. I’m tearing up right now as I’m writing this. I’m holding more emotions back re-editing this story three months later. I feel tears coming as I type. I know what comes next. This shit really sucks, but I’ll get through it.
The detective tells me after sitting at the bus stop and making phone calls, I ran off. I darted across the street. After I crossed the street, the video ends. There are no more cameras where I was walking.
Judging from what the detective told me about how I stumbled throughout streets up until that point, it’s a safe assumption that I continued stumbling, that I hadn’t sobered up to the point where I could walk upright. I was blackout drunk. I don’t remember any of this happening.
I stumbled and stumbled, and the detective tells me six words that defined my fate that night:
“You stumbled down the wrong block.”
I vaguely remember someone pulling out some sort of weapon. I don’t remember exactly what it was: It was definitely sharp, and it was nothing to fuck with. I vividly remember putting my hands up and repeating the words, “Yo, I don’t want no problems.” I’m a Brooklyn boy from Bedstuy who went to college and writes about basketball for a living. I’m not throwing that away for anything — not a watch, not a bracelet, not a phone. I didn’t even have my wallet on me.
Then I got slapped in the face.
Or at least that’s what it felt like at first. I remember being ready to fight. No grown man is gonna slap me in my face and not expect to get it rocking. Even if I got washed in that fight, you’re not about to just slap me. I have a little more pride than that.
Pride goes out the window when your face starts raining. That’s what it felt like. I got slapped, and a tropical thunderstorm started on the left side of my face. It was so cold. That’s one of the only things I remember. Dead cold. It wasn’t real until I touched my face and looked down at my hand. There was blood leaking from my face. My gold watch was bloody red. I had been buck-fiftied.
I don’t remember what happened immediately after I got cut. The detective says I stumbled along and found the closest police car, which directed me to an ambulance. At some point before then, I had taken a selfie to see the damage. We thought that selfie would be helpful: the logo on an awning in the background was visible enough to where my brother and I successfully sleuthed exactly the store I was standing in front of when I took it. Turned out to be a dead lead. The detective said he watched all possible video, and the incident wasn’t caught on tape.
What I do know is I called the people most important to me: My mother and my brother, then my ex-girlfriend — on FaceTime. Lord, I don’t want to know what that night was like for her.
When you’re in an ambulance after a traumatic experience, you tend to remember things in blips, almost exactly like you see in the movies. For me, I remember giving the ambulance and reporting police officer hell while I was in the truck. Thankfully, they call them New York’s finest for a reason. The police officer somehow found a way to keep me calm. He and the EMT in the ambulance were absolute professionals, and in hindsight, that experience gave me a new appreciation for the job police officers and medical professionals do.
I laid there, depressed, sliced open, wondering, “Why me?” “Not this pretty face,” “Who did this?” “Will I miss the next episode of ‘Power’?” and “Is this gonna leave a scar?” (Of course it will.) Then the deeper doubts crept in: “How will this affect my career as a budding sports reporter?” “How am I going to explain this to people?” “Will I really be able to date again?” “What is everyone going to think?”
We’ll revisit that last question in a few.
From there, things become a blur. The next thing I remember is being in the emergency room having a woman stitch my face up. My brother says I was trying to hit on her. With an entire gash on the side of my face, boy, I must have been off the Henny.
I don’t think there’s an experience you can go through that’ll quite prepare you for adversity like having someone sew your face together. I got lucky, both the resident and my brother said. The cut could have been a lot deeper. It could have been a half-inch further back and nicked my neck. It could have gone up to my nose, hit me in the eye, cut my mouth — or worse, cut all the way through my cheek into my gums.
That doesn’t make the stitching process any less painful. They loaded me up with anesthetics — or at least they claim they did — and started. Two minutes in, I was screaming and slapping at the resident’s hands. My thought process: “What the fuck are you doing to my face?” Had my brother not been there, I’m not sure I would have calmed down.
I don’t remember exactly what my brother said to me, but he said something along the lines of, “You have to calm down, or she’s going to fuck your face up.” At least that’s what my still-drunk mind translated his Charlie Brown sounding ass that night. I went to a place. It was up and to the right of my brain. I don’t care what the science says about left or right brain. I know for those next moments, I was up and to the right. I took one deep breath and went to that place. The place where I couldn’t feel pain. The place where my mind was stronger than my body. The place where I was in full control, yet completely helpless. The place that got me through getting my face stitched up. In a way, I’m grateful to know I can go to that place when I need to.
Some say your identity is defined in the things you do when no one is watching. I never felt more alone than two or so days after I got cut. Of course not the day after. I had family call me. My best friend and his girlfriend brought me Indian food — what a time to be alive. I told my editor-in-chief what happened, who then let our company know, which prompted an outpour of love and support I never expected. My EIC was so supportive while also cracking perfectly appropriate jokes. That’s what real leadership is about. I’m so grateful for Elena Bergeron because of that night.
But two days later, when the phone calls stopped coming in, when the group chats continued blaring with the same friends I had gone out with, making plans for another party just three days later; when Twitter kept it pushing, when Instagram never stopped, I realized one thing I haven’t let go of: Neither can I.
I couldn’t stop just because someone cut me in the face. I have a purpose to serve on this planet. I have goals to smash through, passions to pursue, stories to tell, connections to make, money to stack, and a legacy to forge. I learned a lot about life between three and 14 days after waking up with a gash on my face. It goes on with or without you. I had to get up. I had to get my mind off of this setback. I had to get back to work.
That’s the type of person I’ve been my entire life. Everyone takes Ls. It’s how you respond to an L that defines you. I grew up a real fat kid. You don’t understand: being a fat black kid in Brooklyn is one of the worst things you can be. No one in the history of life has ever run out of fat jokes. It’s scientifically proven. Being a fat kid hardens you: You’ve gotta be able to take a joke and dish one out, knowing you’re about to get cooked. Getting flamed is an L. You push back, then keep it pushing.
It’s really hard to keep it pushing, though, when you’ve got a big ass scar on your face. New York is a big city, and working in media makes it even bigger. It’s overcrowded. People are living on top of one another. That only means you see new faces every day. In my case, it’s a new set of new faces staring at my face every day, and only 33 percent are staring because I’m handsome as hell. Imagine walking into Barclay’s Center and walking up an aisle, only for a sea of people to be looking at your cheek. I’ve got my place: up and right. It’s like the treehouse I never had.
It’s also really hard to keep it pushing when fragments of the incident play hopscotch all over your brain. At any moment, I have a replay of what I remember, or I recall a small detail I couldn’t remember before. It happens whenever I think of or touch my scar. It also happens whenever it wants to. It sucks. This is lower-scale PTSD. I’ve found my ways to deal with it. I accept it as what happened and let it play its course.
The first party I went to after my cut was a house party in my area, just a few blocks away. I saw a few friends from high school there. Everyone was asking about my face.
Please excuse my semi-narcissistic tendencies, but you have to understand: I am an incredibly handsome young man. Scar or no scar, this face is beautiful. A nasty slice stands out. It’s impossible to miss.
My friends kept asking, so I told them I got buck-fiftied on my birthday and to leave it alone. Then my friend Cristina walked in. She looked at me and said, “Bruh, what happened?”
“I got buck-fiftied.”
She laughed and said: “That’s not a buck-fifty. That’s a buck.”
Cristina passed away a few weeks ago. I’ll never forget those words.
See, perception is reality, and the more I thought my scar was hideous, the more hideous it actually was. My scar actually ain’t that bad. It’s becoming sexier every day. I’m cool with that.
I’m also cool with the person I’ve become since getting cut. I signed up with a trainer I met on Twitter — Irving Hypolite of Quantum Leap Fitness — and he’s turned me into a machine. I’m down damn near 30 pounds while adding more muscle than I’ve ever had in my life. For a kid who dealt with borderline morbid obesity up until the age of 21, then yo-yoed back and forth from relatively in shape to noticeably out of shape, this is one of the biggest milestones of my life. Irv’s unlocked some things I didn’t know I had in me. It’s the me who’s been begging to be unleashed all these years.
I’m so grateful I didn’t get stabbed in the spleen or sliced in the throat. I’m so glad I was able to find a police car and an ambulance that rushed me to a good hospital. I’m so grateful my brother was there to watch over everything. I’m so grateful for that resident’s steady hand. I’m so grateful my ex actually picked up the phone and was there for me until I calmed down. I really owe you for that. I hadn’t spoken to my father for years before I got sliced in the face. Now, we text every week — or whenever the Jets or Knicks either have done a good thing or are about to really mess up. It’s almost like there’s half of me I haven’t been in tune with all these years. That’s actually exactly what it is.
I’ve also been reading a lot of books lately and doing a lot of soul searching. Life is precious, and it shouldn’t be wasted. I’ve committed not to waste any more time or energy and to morph into the best version of myself possible. You should make that same commitment to yourself.
I feel now I’m in a place where I can speak about mental health because I’ve identified and strengthened mine to an all-time high. And my mental health goes back to the deepest doubt I had to grapple with in the days after my cut.
“What is everyone going to think?” Nine months later, I can say idgaf what anyone thinks. This is my life. Your world is yours. Life is too precious to worry about what people who have no bearing on your life have to think. Find your place. Find your purpose.
This has been really drawn-out, so I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts. Nothing profound, only practical:
1. Don’t mix your damn liquors. Nothing good has come from the times I have.
2. Family is the most important thing on this planet.
3. Find your up and right. When all else fails, when shit hits the fan, that’s your treehouse.
4. Lastly, for me and for anyone else you may know who has suffered an incident or accident, save your sorries. Sub those out for laughs and smiles. They go so much further than you think.
Photo by Asafo Artistry.