I am pretty certain that there was a thud. There must have been. I didn’t hear it. I was eyeballing the mauve carpet strands just an inch or so from my nose.
“I should vacuum more often,” I thought. That thought faded quickly as thoughts of vacuuming often do. More important thoughts were running through my mind. I landed on my shoulder when I fell, that much was successful.
Just a minute or two earlier I had been sitting on the couch putting on my shoes and getting ready to leave for the day. I had not wanted to forget the camera again, so I had put the camera bag right there on the floor to the left so that I wouldn’t miss it. Lately I’d been forgetting things – at least one thing every time I left the house. Sometimes it was my notebook, sometimes it was the tablet, sometimes it was my ear muffs or my extra set of keys. The odd thing for me to forget was my camera. It is the one thing other than my cell phone that I could always count on being there in my hand. But that too had been missing several times during the past week. This particular morning, I did not want that to happen. I was going to be on top of things.
I stood up to go to the kitchen and I stepped over the camera bag with my right foot. As soon as the toe of my right shoe was tangled in the strap and handle from the camera bag, I knew. I could hear a very calm voice in my head, which was nothing compared to the angry and annoyed voice that came afterward.
The calm voice said, “We’re going down. We’re going down.” We… we who… it was just me there. In a rush I knew a multitude of things that were instantly important. I needed to fall in a way that did not cause major injury. “Don’t put your hands out, keep your arms in!” The voice instructed. There would be no broken bones. I needed to not hit the coffee table or the treadmill, both of which had hard unforgiving edges. There would be no concussion. I had to hit the carpet in between the two and I had to hit on my right shoulder. Why? Why was that important? I think because it was already injured in the last fall and rather than injure the other, it seemed prudent to just add on additional pain to the right.
In the process of falling, I was far too focused on my shoulder because my left knee became twisted and rammed hard against the heavy tread on the bottom of my right boot still tangled up in the camera bag. That hurt the most.
There were some tears. Mostly angry ones. This was not even remotely convenient. I needed to get to an appointment. I needed to not be in pain. I took inventory as I laid there noticing how pink the carpet was. The shoulder had been driven into it. But it didn’t seem upset. I pulled my legs apart and stretched them out, untangled. I pushed myself up on my knees…that was a mistake but how else would I stand? There would be no kneeling in my immediate future. Sorry God. The right knee had been injured Christmas Eve in a fall on the black ice in a friend’s driveway. Now this fall had taken out the left. They weren’t broken, and neither had hit on the knee cap so there would not be fluid building up underneath. But the bruising seemed to leave behind a tenderness that made kneeling extremely difficult even long after the bruises faded. It could have been a lot worse.
I rearranged myself, my hair, my clothing and my mind. I could not remember why I’d gotten up and stepped over the camera bag to start with. It was time to go. I was fine. I needed to get on with the day.
After the fall at Christmas, I remember telling the chiropractor, “I used to fall better.” He said, “we all used to fall better. When we get older, the tuck and roll doesn’t come as naturally.” No kidding. And the older you get, it seems, the more you fall.
I feel as though I remember every time I have ever fallen in my life. That could be because I haven’t fallen often, but it is more likely because when I fall, I fall hard. I fell hard down the steps in school in the sixth grade -which I blame on the trendy huge bell bottoms and platform shoes. Middle school stairs are made of granite or some other very unforgiving material. It was only about four steps to the landing. Prior to being launched into the air, I had been quite proud of myself for balancing on those shoes. Afterward, as I was picking up my scattered text books and folders, I was not. In true Middle School fashion in which everything you do is embarrassing, I managed to fall down the steps in full view of the entire cafeteria. Thankfully, the bruises lasted longer than the embarrassment.
I fell hard down the steps to my apartment building one Saturday morning after a freezing rain. Five concrete steps to the landing where I sat and cried from the pain that the brick steps had inflicted upon my back. I regrouped. A nice lady in the ground floor apartment came out to make sure I was okay. I was basically okay. She indicated I had not been the first. She couldn’t come help me up because, well, it was really slippery. I scooted down the rest of the steps on my bum. Two days later I had to explain the bruises to the gynecologist and several nurses who were certain, in far too enthusiastic a manner, that I was a battered woman. They did not believe me.
I fell on an icy trail in the woods and went flying down a frozen embankment. Just before the fall, in a magically flash of intuition, I remember looking down and thinking, “this looks slippery, I should slow down.” I magically stopped the downward slide by catching one foot around a small tree like a hook. Yes, that’s twisted. I had managed to hold on to my hiking stick with one hand and my camera with the other. But I dislocated my shoulder. When I fall, I fall hard.
If you have ever fallen hard, tripping over your own wonderful feet or tripping over something in the dark, the fall is out of control and the landing is so sudden after which the silence of it so deafening – it is a shock. Like a slap in the face, it successfully makes you stop and pay attention to what has happened.
Now that I think of it I have only ever been slapped in the face one time. In the tenth grade we were practicing our routines on the balance beam in gym class and little Laura Petit was nervous. I thought making her laugh would ease some of the tension. Well she lost balance and had to teeter off the beam. She turned around and slapped me right across the face. That was a shock for both of us. She wasn’t the type of girl to slap. And I wasn’t the type of girl to get slapped. But it was followed by more laughter so it was fine. There is very little laughter when I fall these days.
It is as though I haven’t only fallen down to the ground, a short few feet, or down a few brick steps, a few more feet. It is as though I’ve somehow fallen through a period of frozen time only to find myself breathless on the ground. So breathless that the force brings me right into the present moment more successfully than all my meditation tricks put together. And that current moment seems frozen as well – not for long, but long enough to separate all the thoughts before the fall from all the thoughts after. It is the strangest moment of clarity I’ve ever felt. It is that moment in between your inhale and your exhale.
Then it is over and I am annoyed with my klutzy self and mad because I know I will be aching for days, possibly limping and unable to hide it. I am embarrassed even though there is no one to see it. And for goodness sake, it hurts and I want my mommy. You never get too old to want your mommy.
But that moment of silent clarity – what is that? How do I get it back? Is there something in it I need to see? Is that why I fall?
No, I fall because I am not paying attention, if that moment of silent clarity is trying to tell me anything, it is trying to tell me to slow down, take a breath…be here…right now.