On October 22nd, five days before my twenty-eighth birthday, I went shopping with my mother at the mall, where I bought not one, but two pairs of hip, warm boots as a present to myself for the upcoming winter.
Back home at my grandfather’s house, with my mother about to leave, we were preparing for the transfer of soda from the kitchen to her car. Every week for years and years, for as long as I can remember, my grandfather would buy, along with his own groceries, cases of soda for the whole family. My father would pick up the soda every week and drop some off at my uncle’s on the way home, or I would cart it with me when I visited my parents and leave my sister to divvy it up between their house and my uncle’s. If cases sat in the kitchen corner for too long, my grandfather seemed to find some reason unrelated to soda to make a trip south, and he always loaded the sodas in the car and distributed them on his errands.
I was about twenty when I began realizing that other families didn’t worry and arrange and plan around retrieval and distribution of soda, that this was perhaps a little odd.
That night, I was carrying two or three boxes down the driveway to my mother’s car, though it could have been my sister’s, too. She hadn’t gone shopping with us, but I remember that she was at the house for some reason and also outside somewhere along the driveway, probably carrying boxes of soda, too.
The first good thing that happened that night, after the purchase of the boots, was that she was outside with me. It probably took a second or two to hit the ground, but I don’t remember actually falling. I was walking, and then I wasn’t. I was upright in the driveway, and then I was bent over on the grass, surrounded by ripped cardboard boxes and some rolling soda cans: a victim of my own mild clumsiness, flimsy flip-flops, and a driveway that isn’t flush with the adjoining yard. I’m not even sure the cases of soda, unwieldy though they were, had much to do with it.
My sister came from somewhere in the dark to help me up and supported me as I hopped into the house. Sitting in the kitchen, I propped my right foot onto a chair while everyone tried to figure out what to do. I became vaguely aware of my teeth chattering and heard my sister whisper to my mother that I was in shock. At one point I started crying because of the pain and also because my mother seemed to think if I just took a hot bath I would feel better; the horror of getting into a filthy tub I hadn’t cleaned in months almost matched the horror of watching my foot swell and throb.
That night, my mother jokingly tried to pass the task of taking me to the emergency room to my sister, who wasn’t working at the time. (I don’t blame her, really – it was now late on a Thursday night, and we both had to work the next day, though neither of us ended up making it in.) As it happened, both took me. Though they made jokes at my expense and took turns taking cellphone pictures of my increasingly grotesque foot, I knew this was another good thing. I had two people go to the hospital with me. Some have zero.
At the emergency room, it was hours before they gave me any pain medicine, and I’m baby-ish about even mild physical discomfort. The most excruciating moment of the whole months-long experience happened when the doctor had me turn completely from my back to my stomach to see if my Achilles tendon was ruptured. (It wasn’t, another doctor pronounced happily a few days later.) I informed her that simply was not going to happen, but I couldn’t hold my ground. The sharp stab that traveled up my leg as I rolled slowly over is a feeling that my entirely alert and unmedicated mind registered completely.
The next few weeks are a blur of pain and medicines, doctor’s offices and x-ray machines, sleeping on my parents’ couch, and slogging through work days in a fog.
My foot was broken but in a peculiar way. A piece of the bone was jutting to the side, almost coming through the skin, but hadn’t completely detached. The doctors couldn’t go in and remove the piece, because it hadn’t broken off completely, but they knew it wouldn’t heal correctly at that angle. In fifteen years, one doctor told me, he’d only seen one other break like mine. I was special: that was some consolation. The doctors seemed unsure what to do about me and consulted other doctors at other hospitals. Finally it was decided: surgery to put the bone back and pins to hold it in place until it healed.
Everyone took care of me during this time. One friend picked me up to see New Moon and sat patiently with me until the theater emptied so I could hop down the steps without being trampled by Jacob- and Edward-crazed teeny boppers. My sister fetched prescriptions for me and kept my grandfather company in my absence. My father stood nearby as I scooted up and down steps on my butt; later, more sure but not always steady on crutches, he caught me when I almost fell again for the first time. My mother, ever optimistic, made me mugs and mugs of tea and smoothed the sheets and blankets and pillows every time I got up from the couch. She also kept my self-pity at bay. When one day she asked me how I was and I joked bitterly that my foot was still attached, she responded, in a tone that hinted I was discovering something she had known for a while, “and for that you should be grateful.”
And my grandfather … When I finally made it back home, I decided to take a bath with my foot, in a neon pink cast, hanging off the side of the tub, something at which I would become quite expert during my convalescence. In the bathroom, I stood for a moment gazing into shiny cleanliness. While I was gone, he had gotten down on his knees and scrubbed that filthy tub. For me.
Parts of not being able to walk are terrible, and my sentimental self will never take walking for granted again. But parts of not walking were also kind of fun. My grandfather borrowed from an elderly neighbor a roll-a-bout and I tooled around the house on that. I could roll from the kitchen to the living room with a tea cup in my hand and not spill anything. The medicines made me unable to concentrate on reading anything more demanding than Twilight, so when I wasn’t at work I mostly just slept and watched tv and felt no guilt.
Before I fell, I had become an avid walker and had lost most of the weight gained during stressful and time-consuming teaching years. My initial worries about gaining weight back while sitting on my ass were completely unnecessary. It turns out that when you can’t walk, trips to the kitchen 15 feet away require lots of preparation and planning. Like those people who live three hours from the closest grocery store, I strategized the entire operation, got what I needed during one trip, and wasn’t going back for months.
At work, I sat at my desk for eight-and-a-half hours straight, broken only by the occasional bathroom break. I brought SlimFasts every day in an unstylish backpack and drank them for breakfast and lunch. When I did move around with the crutches, I worked muscles I didn’t know I had. On Christmas Day, my doctor allowed me to wear regular shoes again, and I finally put on the boots I had bought months before. A few days later, I stepped on a scale. I actually weighed less than I had before my fall.
There were other perks, too. I was able to ditch the guy I had been seeing, who had increasingly been annoying me. (A sidebar on him: He knew I didn’t like to drive, but one time came to my grandfather’s house in his huge truck, hoping that I would drive us in my small car, and then whined when he found himself trying to maneuver his truck into a tight space at the movie theater. He seemed to think everything I did was “cute,” which would be sweet and flattering with someone else, but with him just felt patronizing. He told stories on topics about which I was ignorant, and when I showed some comprehension or understanding, he would express what came across as genuine congratulations. How irritatingly ludicrous! Sometimes my own arrogance gives way to an admiration of the cleverness and intelligence of others, but this idiot didn’t realize it wasn’t happening with him.) I felt a little trapped with him, though, because his mother was dying of cancer when we met and did pass away during the time we dated. Broken foot: problem solved. The weekend after my fall, he had a birthday party, and I felt that being basically immobile and cracked out on pain meds was the perfect excuse not to attend. I never heard from him again. Maybe he got some satisfaction from knowing that the horrible girl who didn’t want to comfort him about his dying mother soon suffered a painful, slow-healing injury. At least, it makes me feel a little better.
Everything healed pretty nicely. Two years later, I have a bump on my foot, a scar that will never go away, and some weird feelings if you push the right area and hit the muscles or tendons or whatever’s in there. But I can walk for miles now, whenever I want to. And I still go up and down my grandfather’s driveway every day, sometimes carrying boxes of soda. Just a little more careful now.