Tuesday, June 22, 2010

She Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease


(Image from NY Times)


The other day, as I endeavored to buy myself a new t-shirt from Old Navy - a courtesy I felt the friends at my high school reunion would appreciate - my toe caught the slope of the handicapped dip in the curb. The first indication that I was airborne came as the cup of coffee I held in my hand sailed past my head in slow-motion. The second indicator was the realization that my body was parallel to the ground. For a split-second, Superman-style, my arms were outstretched and my entire corpse was in the air. The pavement came at me fast but there was plenty of time to think, oh-God-this-is-going-to-hurt.

My boobs hit the ground first, and this saved my teeth from catching the full impact of my fall from grace. Acting like boat bumpers at the dock where humiliation and gratitude come bouncingly together, they kept my lip, cheek and upper row of teeth from raking against the cement with the forward thrust of my landing. Had my D's not absorbed the G's, I'd have shown up to my reunion looking like, well, someone who had fallen face first in front the vestibule of an Old Navy.

I sat on the ground for a minute taking inventory. A rivulet of coffee streamed under my knee, which was only slightly scraped and bloodied. The meaty part of my palms were pink, but otherwise I was completely whole. A miracle. From across the nearly empty parking lot I heard a woman cry out, "OH MY GOD!!! ARE YOU ALRIGHT? THAT WAS A TERRIBLE FALL!!" I assured her I was totally fine, which she seemed reluctant to believe.

Falling is one of the times in pedestrian life when you completely lose control of your physical composure and your body is subject to its destiny in the most immediate sense. Now, I know there are those who seek this feeling, stuffing a backpack with laundry and jumping out of an airplane, say, or throwing themselves off a bridge attached to a slingshot. But those people are foolish and possibly drunk, and I'm not one of them. I like it when my head is up and my feet are down.

However, and I'm not proud admitting this, I love watching other people fall. I don't like seeing injuries, not at all in fact, but I do adore watching people lose their shit for a moment, watching them scramble for composure, seeing them try to shake it off, or blame the inanimate object that's summoned their embarrassment with an over-the-shoulder glance that says, "Where the hell did that sidewalk come from?"

When I went to U-Mass, there was a a vast set of concrete steps that descended from upper parts of the campus to a lower reflecting pool type setting.
The steps were w i d e, and there were many of them, and so they were a place people congregated. One of those many steps had heaved in the temperature fluctuations of Massachusetts weather, making it just slightly out of kilter with the rest. During breaks from class, it was my great pleasure to watch students come clip-cloppity down the stairs, catching the rythym of downward gallop, the confident descent and near flying extasy of a romping drop in altitude and then hit that weird step and see all the confidence drain from their faces as they disintigrated into gravity's embrace. Some would wobble and recover, looking around to make sure they'd not been seen, and swagger on. Others would sort of crumble at the knees and pop back up like marionettes. All of them gave that step the same backward glance that said, "What the fuck?!" It was slapstick at its purest and most fine.

I know my mother is reading this, having just had her own fall, considerably less funny the older you get. But, as she was unhurt, I will give you the image of my mom laying in a pool of freshly slopped epoxy in a New York pharmacy, struggling like a fly on flypaper, her clothing ruined, her dignity cracked open like a walnut. Ok, not that funny, but a certain terrible humor lurks there too, I think she'd agree. If she doesn't, I'm in big trouble.

Its that moment of complete relenting that makes me so happy. The rest of my life is a constant pursuit of control. Control of schedules, business, body, children, finances, cleanliness, diet, time, even rest for me is something I have to grab hold of and try to pin down as its opportunity sails past me. Of course I actually control nothing, but it isn't until I see someone fly through the air, or am airborne myself, that I realize how completely powerless I am, and I enjoy being reminded of how totally futile an attempt to be in charge of anything can be.

For today I am just going to try to keep the pavement down there, the sky up there, and me right in between the two.