I keep falling

By Michelle Dee | Jun 02, 2010

I have fallen so many times in my life. Mostly, it has been down a flight of stairs and a few times it's been on flat, icy ground. So many times that you'd think they'd all blend into one memory of a single catastrophic fall, but they don't. I remember each one vividly. I don't recall ever seeing my life flash before my eyes as my feet left the ground each time. I remember a sense of life hanging by a thread -- being so fully aware of that fact in the space of a sheer second -- how utterly fragile our living time is and how easily it can come to be over.

I guess there are falls I don't remember. Like the one that happened when I was 3 or 4 years old. I tumbled from a sitting position atop the kitchen table, leaving me with a chipped tooth and a small gash above my right eye. The scar remains today, but the baby tooth is long gone.

One of the scariest falls I had was at Lourdes Camp one summer in the late 1970s or early ‘80s. It was canteen hour -- just after dinner and before evening activity. Boys and girls of 10-12 years of age purchased sugary snacks and flirted with their crushes. Counselors were scattered about, keeping an eye on things from a comfortable distance.

I didn't like the shirt I had on so I ran back up to my cabin to change. I entered through the front door and changed my T-shirt for a blousey, off-white cotton top with a ruffled scoop neck. I felt pretty and less tomboyish. I left the cabin through the back door and down the slimy wooden steps, where all our wet bathing suits and towels were drip-drying. As the screen door creaked open and slammed shut behind me, my mind replayed the words of our counselor, Amy. "Do not come and go from the back entrance. The steps are too slippery."

Step. Step. One. Two. Three. And my left foot slipped back behind the step and hooked around it, while my right foot went shooting up and forward. Nothing to reach for and no time to think. All I could do was fall.

The edge of the thick wooden step came fast to my lower spine, creating a crack of lightning that I heard snap throughout my body. Then it was a loud humming that surrounded me. The slumping sound of muscle and bone hitting a hard surface followed. My body hit hard and fast, and then spring-boarded forward, leaving me face down, my left foot still partially hooked behind the step. I don't remember where my right leg ended up.

I lay there, stunned, for a bit before I briefly passed out. When I came to, I could move my arms, head, neck, shoulders and torso. I could not move my legs. The sun was going down and the distant voices of the other campers came and went in my ears. I had dirt in my mouth, and a carpet of leaves from the previous autumn all around me. Everything was cold and hard and musty smelling. I'd forgotten all about my pretty blouse. I wasn't sure if I was dead or alive.

I dug my elbows into the ground below me, having to burrow through the loose leaves, pulling the lower half of my body off and away from that staircase. I needed to be out in view of whomever might be walking by. The chances were slim as everyone was across the bridge and down in the center of camp.

I was a few feet away, far enough so the staircase wasn't blocking me anymore. The exhaustion of dragging my dead weight a few feet overcame me and the humming sound rose up louder and pushed against my head and eyes, and I passed out again.

I came to for the second time, still alone and unfound. I had no sense of my body below mid-chest. The leaves were deep all around me as I lifted my head up to look down the hill toward the bridge. Two counselors were standing there, standing close to each other, talking and making out.

Like one of those really bad dreams, I tried to yell to them, but not a peep came out of me. That terrified me more than my motionless lower half. I slumped back down in defeat, thoroughly spent. I kept my head turned with one eye peeking out above the leaves. They kept smiling, touching, rubbing and kissing.

"Look at me. Please look up here," I thought, over and over.

Unable to keep my arm lifted in the air to wave them over, I could only fling my right arm back and forth in an arcing motion. Finally, they embraced and the boy's face was looking out over the girl's shoulder. "Hey! Look at that girl up there!"


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