I fell on the sidewalk last week. There wasn’t anything there to trip me up: no ice, uneven pavement or protruding tree vines to trick the unsuspecting. I wasn’t distracted by my phone or lost in thought. I just … fell.
I wasn’t hurt. My muscle memory kicked in and I performed (if I do say so myself) an impressive roll onto the pavement. When combined with my winter jacket and considerable girth, it left me with little more than a few scratches on my knee and palms. The worst part was that I fell at a very busy intersection, so my neighbors got to wonder if I’d suddenly picked up drinking in the afternoon as I struggled to my feet and dusted myself off.
There is something disconcerting about a surprise fall. Unlike a tumble one takes on the basketball court or in the middle of a game of Twister, an accidental fall hurts twice. The first is a gentler, physical pain as the body hits the ground. The second, slower to arrive but lasting far longer, is the pain of realization. “This is a thing now,” the body seems to say. “You have one more thing to worry about besides cancer, hearing loss or falling meteorites.”
A fall after the age of 50 gets one thinking about mortality. If I can go down so easily, what else could happen? I’ve become uncomfortably aware that my reflexes have slowed down while washing dishes; more than a few plates have chips in them as I helplessly watched them slip from my grasp. Trivia nights at a local club have become unofficial referenda on how many names and historical events now hide behind that diaphanous veil of hazy memory.
My brother, a physical therapist, often shared horrific stories of young people who slipped in their bathtubs. One minute they were perfectly healthy; the next, they were paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of their lives. Those stories made me go out and buy one of those rubber suction mats for my shower so I’d avoid that dreaded tumble.
Those stories now haunt me ever since we rebuilt our shower and were too vain to put that rubber mat down for fear of covering up the pretty tile. Accidental falls bring up these memories like darts thrown at my self confidence.
My rational mind realizes I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but there’s nothing rational about the sudden realization that one is getting old.
There was a moment just as I stubbed my shoe on the ground that threw me off balance; that moment where my second step couldn’t compensate and came up short of where it had to land to give me a shot of staying on my feet. In that slow-motion moment between my former life and this new, unpredictable world into which I was just about to plunge like Alice in Tumbleland, my mind calmly accepted that everything I knew was forever changed.
I was a guy who could fall for no reason at all. By the time I got home, I started looking online for a new rubber bath mat for the shower.