Portrait of a Walking Disaster

ankle-injury
This is a very old picture. No need to send me a sympathy fruit basket. Unless you really want to.

 

A (Barely) Fictionalized Account of My Klutziness Through the Years

 

2016

“Uh, honey?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“So I really hurt my ankle taking the kids to school. I’m having a lot of trouble walking.”

“Are you serious? How?”

“Ice.”

“Uh, I do not know how to handle this right now. Are you okay?”

“Sure, I’ll just ice it, I’ll be fine.”

 

2014

“Ooooooooo, I really screwed up my elbow! Like, I think it might be broken.”

“Are you serious? How?”

“Weeding the garden.”

“Weeding the garden?”

“Yeah, there was one weed that was really stubborn and I yanked too hard, and when it gave way I went flying.”

“Uh, I am in the middle of grouting the backsplash. Are you okay to wait?”

“I’ll put some ice on it.”

“Did you really need to weed the garden two days before vacation?”

“Who the hell knew I would break my elbow just weeding?”

 

2012

“I hurt my ankle. I can’t really walk.”

“Are you serious? How?”

“I was playing with the kids at the park, and I was pretending to walk the curb as a balance beam and I stepped off funny.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m icing it right now.”

“And elevating it?”

“And elevating it.”

 

2008

“So, am so glad your cell phone is working, I just called 911, and Mom and Dad. I shattered my ankle pretty bad. Dad’s going with me to the hospital, Mom is going to watch Nicholas.”

“Oh my God, are you serious? How?

“Ice. I was taking out the garbage and I was wearing the wrong shoes and they slipped, and I went down hard and I tried to put weight on it but I couldn’t, and I had to crawl up the driveway in the snow, and then my cell phone wasn’t charged, and then I left the portable phone upstairs and I had to crawl upstairs and then I called Mom and Dad, but I couldn’t call you ’cause the cell phone wasn’t charged and we can’t call long distance from the house, but I could call 911. And it hurts really bad.”

“Uh, I don’t know how to handle this right now. Are you okay?”

“No, but I will be.”

“I’ll get a flight back, but I came out on a regional, I don’t know how fast I can get back.”

“I’m icing it until they get here.”

“And elevating it?”

“And elevating it.”

 

1993

“Mom, I think I really hurt my ankle!”

“Oh no. How?”

“I kind of missed the last two steps of the stairs.”

“Are you serious? How is it you can be graceful in dance class, but you can’t walk to save your life?”

“It’s not like this happens all the time.”

“Uh, I don’t really have time for this. Your brothers have soccer and boy scouts tonight. Can you ice it until I can get you to the doctor?”

“Yeah, I can ice it.”

 

1991

“Mr. DeMarco? Yes, thank you for calling us. Your daughter is still in the Emergency Room, we have not transferred her to a room yet. As soon as you get in the receptionist should be able to direct you here.

“Hmmmm. Well, it seems she was trailing her fingers along a wall by the fairground’s bathrooms and the hinge side of the door closed on it and took the tip clean off.

“Yes, hard to believe but I am serious. Is she okay? Yes, I’d say so. We’ve cleaned the wound and have given her painkillers, so she appears to be in good spirits. Oh and we’ve iced and elevated it until we could get you in and get a consultation with our surgeon.”

 

1985

“Awaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh”

“Oh no, Michael, there’s blood everywhere!”

“Are you serious?”

“Kristin, are you okay?”

“Awaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh”

“How? Just how?”

Sob, hiccup, sob “I was pretending the couch was balance beam, and I fell off and hit the coffee table.”

“Why on earth would you do something like that? Just two days after moving?”

“I didn’t know I was going to get hurt just (sob) PLAYING!”

Faint muttering stage whispered just loud enough to hear. “I thought those dance lessons were supposed to help her be less of a klutz. What are we paying all that money for?” Louder “Lorena, you go call the doctor.  I’ll go grab the ice.”

Rubbing of temples, pinching the bridge of his nose, muttering again. “Ugh, I do not know how to handle this right now.”

Chugach, Bears and a Suburban Mom

Bears
These were bears we saw from a bus, several hundred yards away. When you know you’re protected, they’re a lot cuter. Awww.

The first Saturday morning of our family vacation found the four of us at the Albert Loop trailhead near the Eagle River Nature Center of Chugach State Park, Alaska. This was supposed to be an easy, well-kept, three mile loop that would take us past crystal clear streams to a spectacular view of a mountain valley. We assured our nine and seven-year-old that they would be able to handle the hike by showing them through phone apps how far we had hiked other days: one and a quarter miles around University Lake next to our hotel, one and a half miles on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. Just wandering around the fourth of July fair was probably a couple of miles when it was all said and done. We all felt pretty confident.

We showed up about an hour before the nature center actually opened and read the notices pinned to the door to get oriented. There were bears nearby, and what we needed to do was to stay together and stay loud. You never want to surprise a bear, but he will steer clear of you if you are noisy and generally annoying. If a bear approaches you, you should stand your ground, and never ever run as they may begin a chase. Another chart explained all the reasons why standing your ground is helpful. A guidebook I had assured us that only polar bears stalk humans, and we were thousands of miles from polar bear habitat. As a last resort you could use your bear spray if the bear charged. We didn’t have bear spray (before researching this trip I wondered if bear spray was for spraying on ourselves to repel bears or if it was for spraying at the bears-for the record it’s something you spray in a bear’s face).

I

Got

Nervous.

We live in the suburbs of Chicago. When I camped as a little girl the most you had to worry about was a raccoon in your tent. A goose coming at you aggressively. A squirrel getting a little too familiar with humans and peeing all over your gear. No bears. No moose. Nothing really… deadly.

And here I was about to march my kids through bear territory for a vacation memory. Without a guide. Without other people on the path. Without bear spray (God help me, if I ever had to use it I’d probably spray myself in the face instead and just be putting a peppery garnish on the bear’s next meal).

But, I do tend to get anxious when there is nothing really to be afraid of. My husband looked like he was still game, so I swallowed it down and we started off. He didn’t look nervous until we were hemmed into a narrow pathway with very high grasses on all sides of us.

Up until that moment we had been talking casually, searching the trees and shrubs around us for less intimidating wildlife. Once we got to the grasses the need to keep noisy became something we both felt strongly about. The boys were confused as to why we needed to keep chatting about nothing, so my genius husband got them talking about the app “My Singing Monsters”. I swear to you that they did not stop talking over the next hour and a half. About two minutes into the boys talking, I realized that they would keep us constantly conversating, but they weren’t particularly loud. I added in claps, loud cheerleading claps with an ever-changing rhythm. We trudged on, past the grasses and through thickets of trees and mosquitos, scaring away every animal within earshot. Except a Great Horned owl. He did, however, seem annoyed.

About three quarters of a mile in we came across a path sign saying that the normal trail had been washed away by recent rainstorms. We could retreat or follow a bypass route. Hoping that the bypass wouldn’t take us back into low-visibility grass, we stomped forward. The trail became a mass of tangled roots that we couldn’t ignore, so our attention became divided between watching the forest and watching our feet. I clapped even louder and faster, exhorting the boys to be careful as we still had a long ways to go and we could not carry them if they got a twisted ankle. My husband was leading the way, and the boys followed him and I brought up the rear, listening to chatter about how to get new monsters on an app and clapping furiously “We will, we will, rock you.” This was definitely not the serene, life-affirming communion with nature we had been promised. At one point I know I was singing Macklemore’s “Ceiling Can’t Hold Us” at the top of my lungs.

Then off to my left I heard something. It sounded like the loud exhale of a very large creature at about the height of my shoulder and ten feet away. I tried to explain to my husband that I heard something. He looked around, decided he hadn’t seen anything and kept going. Between the mosquitos and the large mammal I was sure was right next to me, I wasn’t about to stop and get super quiet to find out what it really was. (Later my husband would confess that he looked in the trees far away, not the shrubs near me, and excitedly said, “Aw man, I wish you had explained where to look, I bet something was there, that would have been awesome!” to which I replied, “Are you insane?!?”)

We advanced on a bridge and were able to relax for a moment, me shaking out my hands, my husband asking the boys to pause on the “My Singing Monsters” talk for a second. There were crystal clear streams, and interesting birds, and most importantly less trees so we could tell that at least here there were no bears within a hundred-yard radius. We took pictures and trudged on.

Finally we finished, unscathed if a little jumpy. The nature center was finally open and we overheard a worker explain that lots of people saw black bears on the path just in the last day or so. Later on I would tell my husband, “And no one will see any today, you’re welcome other hikers. I did the heavy lifting of scaring them away for you.” He guessed that they were probably the sort of people who were hoping to see a bear in his natural habitat. To that I shrugged and gave a look as if to say, “Sucks to be them, I’m all about the self-preservation.” And I’ll be damned if some hikers think that them seeing a bear is more important than me not seeing my baby boys being eaten by black bears on a family vacation.

We ate granola bars and went to the bathroom and set back out for the half-mile hike that EVERYBODY takes. A lady in a skirt and flip-flops preceded us, holding her iPad up to take pictures on this fifteen minute, totally cleared path. A bunch of other tourists like us walked up and down the trails, totally sure that they would not be part of a bear attack that day. And we were finally able to get quiet for a second and actually enjoy the view.

Chugach.JPG

And as much as I was eventually teased for looking like a crazy lady, clapping and yelling through a state park, the kids and my husband and I all decided that that was enough adventure for us for one day. Possibly for the whole summer.

Ghost Town

defalted santa

I drive my youngest to afternoon kindergarten every weekday around noon. If it is cold outside, or if we are very early, we will wait in the car until we see the first of two yellow school buses pull up to the front doors. Sometimes my five-year-old will get bug-eyed and giggly and give me a scene to imagine. “Mommy, what if…” giggle, giggle “What if all of our clocks were wrong? And what if we didn’t know what time it was ever? And we are waiting for the bus, but it never comes because it already came?” His eyes are shining with possibilities. Would we wait forever until we turned old and grey? Would we try to find out if the bus had arrived only to be turned away because we should have known school started hours ago? Would we shrug and say, “Well, we gave it our best shot. Instead of going to school, should we go to Disney World?”

I tell him that would be pretty strange, but pretty cool. I give him two hugs and a kiss and tell him what time I’ll be coming to pick him up (more to remind myself than to reassure him). Afterwards, I decided to go take a walk. I was feeling decidedly blah. It was only ten days before Christmas, and Chicagoland was abnormally warm at fifty degrees. It felt like spring, which meant mentally I’d checked out of Christmas festivities and moved on to fretting about swimsuit weather, soccer schedules and Easter. We had fog, rain, confused lawns trying to turn green again and confused Canadian geese going North instead of South. I started my short walk out by our pond.

The first part of my walk took me past a garbage can that really needed emptying. Sticking out of the top was a grocery store shopping basket filled with vitamins and supplements. I am trying to figure out what it all means. What if…what if someone managed to shoplift the whole basket of stuff? He ditched it here because…the cops were on his tail and he had two strikes already? What if an unfaithful husband had taken on an affair with a much older woman, one who needed joint pain supplements specifically? What if his wife is one step away from finding out the truth about them, so he ditched the evidence?

The path I take winds away from a small parking lot with the garbage can that contains a mystery, past cattail-filled wetlands and ponds. Then it runs alongside an elementary school.

No one is outside, not the kids who would be out for recess, not the joggers. I suspect that the drizzle coming down kept the kids inside, and that Christmas shopping has kept the adults I might normally see in the mall. It is eerily quiet and still.

I pad along hearing only a faint thud of my boots on the sidewalk. I keep tossing and turning my head looking for evidence of other human lives around me. I try to remember what human activity there might normally be: construction workers cleaning out storm sewers, SUVs passing me on the street, older neighbors wrapping up garden hoses or raking leaves, a mom slamming the trunk of her car in the driveway and grappling with grocery bags. None of it is here. All I can see is evidence of human beings having once lived here. All that remains are their houses and the sad, deflated reindeer strewn across their lawns.

Trees are budding and birds are singing. I start to imagine it really is spring, then become alarmed at how many houses are still covered in Christmas decorations. From my understanding of this community, the people are good upstanding citizens who (for the most part) take down the lights and inflatables and signs in a socially prescribed, timely manner. Responsible. What has happened here? It is as if something mysterious called them all away at once.

I suspect that if I looked in windows I would see that the inhabitants left so fast that there are still dishes in the sink, laundry in the washer. Everyone has simply vanished! Like Roanoke, like a ghost town, like a zombie apocalypse. Was everyone killed? No, no bodies. Were they somehow abducted? Possibly, but if so by whom? Aliens? A government agency who decided the whole town knew too much? Did they leave of their own accord? Was there a disaster of such magnitude that no one could still live here? Is the air poisoned? Is the presence of geese and ducks and new grass evidence that we are the weakest of all species on earth, that humans pretend to be so tough but we can be wiped out in the blink of an eye and the rest of the world will still move on? Will this ghost town become a time capsule and mystery to future generations, a costumed tour guide exclaiming how, “No one really knows what happened here,”?

I pause to take a picture of a squirrel trampling all over a flattened Santa, a reminder that one day nature will triumph over all of human culture, and that maybe that day is upon us. In the stillness I ask myself, am I the last person left on earth?

“Excuse me.”

I startle out of my story and realize that I am squatting in the middle of a sidewalk and blocking the way of a very nice and polite woman. She had to have been no more than a few feet behind me, and I never realized she was there.

I have a feeling that in front of her she saw a discombobulated woman, a woman a little wild-eyed, a woman who was possibly muttering to herself and oblivious to the world around her, who inexplicably squatted down right in front of her to photograph someone’s unremarkable front yard.

I get up quickly and mutter a shy apology while blushing and let her get twenty feet in front of me before I begin my walk again.

And I wonder what story she is having to come up with to explain me.