42. Numb Skulls

42. Numb Skulls

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Numb Skulls

It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.

~Garrison Keillor

I come from a family full of adventure-seeking (aka injury-seeking) people, and I’m proud to announce that this is our key to achieving laughter-filled family gatherings. It may seem odd, but it’s a fact that my family has grown stronger and stayed together simply due to the fact that we like to gather and share with one another our recent adventures—and, even more so, our resulting injuries.

Growing up in a Niezen household, one realizes quite quickly what is expected. From a young age, my siblings and I were thrown into the world of sports and were told to do our best. And if it didn’t work out, at least make it a good crash. We found our family motto one day when my brother Derek walked in wearing a shirt that said, “It’s only funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s hilarious.” My family burst out laughing and realized someone had made a shirt about us.

I’m not sure what we find so funny about injuries, but if you ever want to see my father cry, just play an injury reel from a home video TV show (the skateboarder falling down stairs, the breaking diving board, the infamous dad-getting-sacked shot, etc.). These kinds of things are pure gold when it comes to laughter in my house. I’d like to say that it’s not funny, and that I feel bad for the unfortunate person receiving my laughter, but I’d be lying—at least about the “not being funny” part. I blame it on my genes.

Perhaps Niezens enjoy the unfortunate injuries of others so much because they know better than anyone how injuries like that can occur and how it becomes a good story afterward as you proudly display your wounds, or “injury trophies.” Ever since I can remember, going to family gatherings could be compared to watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on repeat as family members vividly described their latest bruise, cut, stitches, sprain, cast, etc. If someone didn’t show up with a sling, cast or significant injury, something wasn’t right.

Niezens are known for having strong heads, which we just love to prove by continually crashing and then proceeding to use our heads to stop our falls. We believe scratched elbows and knees are for other families, the ones with weak skulls. We congratulate each other on head scars achieved by amazing acts of bravery, which just happened to end wrong. Good proof of this is my ever-growing collection of family members who have matching chin and face scars from various acts of “bravery” resulting in stitches. I’m proud to tell you that my very own sister, Melissa, is an owner of two chin scars: one from simply falling on her face at the lake and the other from falling off a countertop (why she was up there is anyone’s guess). Did I mention the countertop incident happened the same day she got her previous stitches out? And that our babysitter panicked to the point that my oldest sister, familiar with head wounds, had to phone my mother to come home? Yes, these are the skills of my family. We push ourselves to find our limits and outdo one another.

When my brother fell off his bike in his early teenage years (doing some amazing, life-changing trick, I’m sure), he ended up with about a four-and-a-half-inch road burn up his jawbone and cheek. To prevent this injury from happening again, my parents did what every other parent would do. (This is where I would tell you that they made him wear a helmet all the time or taught him to put his hands out to block his falls, but see, ordinary helmets clearly cannot contain the Niezen skull.) They bought him a fancy new full-face, protect-the-entire-skull helmet because Niezens love falling on their heads, and you just can’t stop us!

Again, I would like to say that I am immune to this love of skull-bashing, but again I would be lying. As a young, aspiring figure skater, I put so much focus on my graceful, artistic moves that I lacked the ability to simultaneously focus on where the skating rink boards were. I fell, slid, and smacked my head on the boards with a powerful thud… yes, right in front of my proud parents, witnesses to one of my first concussions. What’s a loud thud if it doesn’t come with a concussion? And, hey, since the first head-butting incident was so fun, why not do it again? And I did, two weeks later. Boastful stories for the next family reunion.

Sometimes, my parents liked to keep us on our toes or perhaps just help strengthen our skull invincibility, so they would challenge us. My oldest sister, Kristina, was unfortunately the target of one of my mother’s challenges. My mother claims she “passed” the pool chlorine case to Kristina when she was swimming (about a four-pound gizmo), but my sister will tell you that the resulting two-inch welt on her forehead and corresponding concussion points to the worst “pass” in passing history. In the end, though, I believe Kristina truly benefited from this challenge. When my brother accidentally slammed a door on her a couple months later, the forehead welt came right back and we knew exactly what to do!

At the end of the day, the legacy of the Niezens’ strong skulls is what keeps my family together. Whether we like it or not, we continue to hurt ourselves and find joy in describing to one another just how exactly we achieved our latest wound(s). I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure how long our strong skulls will be passed along, but I’m grateful and proud to have a Niezen skull.

~Sherylynn Niezen

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