(This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on 5th February 2013. Hilary’s Huffington Post archive can be found here.)
In that great grand slam of life you could say I’ve achieved something Andy Murray hasn’t.
It wasn’t a particularly vicious assault, but last week I accidently, and forcefully, whacked my cheekbone with my own tennis racquet and, as a consequence, turned my blue eye black.
Interestingly had I bruised any other part of my body the injury would probably have been deemed socially acceptable. But facing up to dinner party guests, mourners at a memorial service, the supermarket cashier as well as staff and children at a school visit in the week following the injury has enlightened me to a broad spectrum of colourful reactions.
So here, for those, forced to looking at strangers and friends through a “periorbital hematoma” or “shiner”, is the BELT – the Black Eye Litmus Test.
To some a black eye smacks of domestic abuse. It’s that dark, murky badge that screams out “victim!” It is the ultimate symbol of repression. It is the last taboo. Needing a new kettle my daughter wryly advised me to go to the local neglected town because “You’ll fit in well there mum.”
Sadly, a pupil with whom I had been working on an author workshop just days after my fate said “My mum gets them.”
“I hope you hit him as hard as he hit you.” joked the supermarket cashier as he helped me bag up the frozen peas. Once again I explained how lunging for the same ball as my backhanded partner meant that if I hadn’t hit myself he might have hit me and then he would have been deemed the abuser.
Then the cashier turns it all into a joke and tells me I should be buying “black eyed peas” and “if you’d hit your nose you wouldn’t have to buy a red nose for Comic Relief.” Really funny that. Worth tweeting.
“What have you been doing?” said a knowledgeable friend who, as an ardent squash player, frequently suffers the same fate. This is the sensible, enlightened response. It comes from those that have a broad appreciation for the range of accidents that can lead to the black eye and, in doing so, adopts an objective, enquiring, sincere approach.
“Mine was worse than that.” No matter how bad your black eye you will always see the green eyed monster who claims to have suffered a worse fate, whose eye completely closed up for a month like when they “headbutted the dog by accident”, who “feared for their sight” and then suffered “recurring migraines” and has “been on the sick ever since.”
Like the colour of lillies this is the sympathetic, protective male keen to make amends for his primal kind effectively yelling out “We’re not all like that!” In my case this turned out to be a Greek waiter, who made an extra special effort by topping up my drink, “free of charge” or the lovely gentleman who told me to “hold on right there” when my satnav sent me into the gutter, disappeared for ten minutes, only to return with a photocopied map.
These are the people who talk to you while trying to pretend they can’t see anything is amiss. They tend to look at the white eye politely, occasionally glancing across to the black eye, then make an extra special effort to put a positive spin on anything that’s said, even the economy or Andy Murray’s loss.
But the best reaction and final word has to go to my dear Nigerian friend, Nick, who joked… “the colour just don’t suit you Hilary, leave the black eyes to me.”
Oh, and just a footnote; while everyone in my dark eyed moments seems to have felt sorry for me – I’ve felt sorry for tennis balls ever since.
Oh, and another footnote, just for the official social services record, my husband was at work the day it happened – but I did use his lethal tennis racquet. Zemblanity.
Hilary Robinson was born in Devon and brought up in Nigeria and England. She is the author of over forty books for young children of which her latest, The Copper Tree is the first in a series of accessible picturebooks that tackle challenging social issues as they affect children such as bereavement, prejudice and adoption. She is also a freelance network and regional radio producer for the BBC having produced Aled Jones with Good Morning Sunday for Radio 2 as well as specialist documentaries for the network. Hilary is also a regular feature writer for regional and national publications.