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My left thumb has been aching a lot recently, in what medical professionals would know as my first metacarpophalangeal joint. I have a lot of little aches in this and that joint, no doubt arthritis mostly due to the wear and tear of years, but this one is worse; it throbs. That is probably because arthritis is accelerated by injury. I remember the injury that is now making itself felt.

My then-husband, Matt, and I were driving around the rural roads around Syracuse, New York, in 1992, looking at apartments to rent. We didn’t have a lot of time; we were just in Syracuse for a few days, trying to get things set up before we moved there for graduate school. Matt had a lot of anxieties and phobias, and one of them, apparently, was doing anything on the road that might attract the negative attention of other drivers, such as halting too long at a stop sign. He was always terrified of someone regarding him badly, even a stranger.

Matt was driving. We stopped at an intersection and I, looking at the map, was confused. Right or left? I was just saying that I wasn’t sure what he needed to do, when his anxiety boiled up into fury. He grabbed my thumb and pulled it back toward my wrist. I screamed in fright and pain, and he let go.

In the weeks after that, no one would have been able to tell that I was hurt. I can’t remember whether there was any bruising or swelling, just a lot of pain in that joint. It lingered for a long time, and then after it was mostly healed, it made itself felt again whenever I needed a strong left thumb. For example, it took months before I could grip a can opener strongly enough with my left hand to keep the opener locked on a can as I turned the wheel with my right.

We have now been divorced for 15 years, and Matt has been deceased for 12, but I still have this reminder of him. It’s not a way he would have liked to be memorialized, but my thumb remembers in its own way.


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