May 22, 2014
In the middle of Tuesday night, I get up from bed and walk in the dark to the bathroom and pee . . . and fall backward in the dark, one second of time but I’m thinking at supersonic speed and feel I’m falling from a great height, and I land on my right elbow and right shin, on the rim of the bathtub, and I fall on my back, my elbow screaming, my right shoulder screaming, my right shin tearing on something . . . and I slam into the floor of the tub and crack my head . . . and lie in the dark and assess.
What happened? What’s my name? Where am I?
Toes, fingers move. Arms move but pain in the right wrist and shoulder. Tailbone throbs. Head aches. I manage to align my body with the bathtub’s bowl, blood dripping down my right leg. All is quiet.
The nearest phone is one room away on a desk. I have to get out of this tub no matter what. I plant my hands at my sides, dreading re-tearing my recently repaired shoulder, and I push up, shoving legs over the bathtub rim, rolling across the porcelain surface and falling on the linoleum floor. I pedal backwards and shove my body out of the bathroom, and turn right into the bedroom. Can I stand? Yes. Just like Karl Wallenda, the day he fell to his death from a tightrope. I collapse on the bed. If a man falls in the bedroom, is there anyone to hear him scream?
I mentally search my body, in the process falling asleep and nightmaring and waking up again. My right shin is swollen as large as the calf muscle. My right wrist is swollen. I have to get outside, so someone can see me. I lower myself to the floor and crawl for clothes and pull them on, over the bruises and the blood and the swellings, my head pounding.
Once outside, the birdsong is deafening. I decide to walk. Walking is a huge part of my life. I’m not broken; walking can’t make bruises any worse—or so I hope—and I limp down Clifton Terrace Road, before sunrise. I reach the River Road walk and assess. Everything in me hurts. I put one foot in front of the other, and I make it, up Stroke Hill, east on Route 3, me walking like Frankenstein’s monster, and I limp to my neighbor Irene’s house and she makes me lemon zinger tea and stares at me as though I am . . . crazy?
Everything on my walk is falling: the cliffs, bit by bit, the cottonwood trees’ spewed seeds, the June bugs writhing on the trail, the pelican flock raining down onto the water, the waterfalls in the limestone cracks, the iris petals, the discarded coffee containers thrown onto the roads, the plastic water bottles; and there are the fallen: a dead hawk splatted on the asphalt, racoons and possums and a snake.
In the late afternoon, I drive to St. Anthony’s hospital. I have a slight concussion. I have two sprains and multiple contusions. I spend the evening stretching muscle groups and moaning, my cat worried and I can’t explain it to her. I even have a good long laugh.
I have been trying for years to die by falling off a cliff, I remind myself. I’ve climbed countless miles of mountains and cliffs and waterfalls. I’ve had two spectacular falls, most notably off a cliff on the Appalachian Trail, in Virginia, almost 85 feet down into the top of a forgiving fir tree, which bent and dropped me onto some rocks, breaking my pelvis; and two Christmases ago, off a cliff above the Mississippi River, breaking ribs and a neck vertebrae and my collar bone. So far, I’ve walked away.
Two nights ago, I could have died in by falling into a bathtub. You should have heard the scolding I got from a young ER doc: You’re too old to be so reckless. “Youth is wasted on the young,” I told him.
I can hear the gales of laughter now, from my friends.
Today, my toes, fingers move. Arms move but pain in the right wrist and shoulder. Tailbone throbs. Head aches. All is quiet.
And I’m still here, still falling, ever falling, and pain is the luxury and the price of being alive.