Ice, Ice Baby

One of the most challenging aspects of adapting to life with my new physical limitations has been learning to deal with fear.  Of course, I’ve got the kinds of fear that are to be expected after the type of accident I went through; nobody can blame me for freaking out during thunderstorms or losing control in confined spaces.  People understand when I tell them about the big fears.  It’s the little fears that make folks think I’ve lost my mind.

When the doctor took off that brace, he warned me about all of the activities I would have to avoid for the rest of my life. Horseback riding? Well, the horses of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief on that one. Speedboats? Not a problem, except when the Big Guy got carried away with the fishing boat.  Sledding, bumper cars, carnival rides?  Slight tremor there; I always liked that sort of thing.  Diving? Okay, I’m going to miss that one.

Then came the kicker.  “You’re going to have to be really careful about falling,” he told me.

Oh, Lord.  My then-husband dropped his face in his hands and groaned.

Here’s the problem:  I’m a klutz.  Always have been, always will be.  I have not ounce of physical grace or coordination.  You’ve heard the saying about people having “two left feet”?  Well, I’ve got three of them.  I’m forever stepping into holes or rolling an ankle, stumbling over nonexistent things, tumbling down hills.

I’ve lost count of the times I would fall into holes or down hills while walking with my husband, only to catch up to him as he stood there with a mystified look on his face, muttering “ . . . the hell did she go?”

So my heart sank when the doctor told me to be careful about falling.  Because of the location and sheer amount of damage done to my neck, I have to avoid anything that might have any kind of impact on my spine.  A simple slip on the ice or on stairs, for example, with a hard landing on my derriere, could do irreparable harm.

My first big fall happened about six months later.  I was rushing out the back door for something or other, tripped over the dog, and launched myself face-first into a snowbank.  I lay there on my belly for the longest time doing a mental inventory.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Nope.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Then why the hell am I laying in the snow? Umm. . . Dunno.

I got up rather sheepishly and headed back inside, feeling a thousand pounds lighter at the realization that a fall wasn’t going to kill me.  I lost a lot of my fear that day, but I still catch myself walking like I’m constantly on ice.  I stare at the ground and take tiny steps, avoid uneven ground, clutch at handrails as though my life depends upon it.

I move like an old lady.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a vow to myself that at least once a week, I am going to do something that scares me.  Something that may seem small to others but represents a huge step for me, like posting a selfie online, or asking a very handsome man to meet me for a drink.  The selfie went well, Mr. Handsome said no, and I survived both.  (For the record, Mr. Handsome was very kind about it, so my feelings weren’t hurt at all.)

So last week, I faced my fear of walking on dangerous surfaces.  I walked to and from work every day.  Granted, it’s only about two blocks, and I should be embarrassed about all the times I was lazy enough to drive that far, but we’re not going to talk about that.  Not right now, anyway.  No, I walked on the slippery ice and uneven ground, through deep snow and bumpy driveways, and it didn’t hurt.  I skidded and stumbled a few times, but no biggie.

I made it over the big hurdle.  It’s the little ones that always seem to get me.

I got up early Saturday morning to make my trademark peanut butter no-bakes for a fundraiser that afternoon.  Of course, I was out of milk, so I bustled outside to shovel out my car, which I hadn’t had to bother with since I’d been walking to and from work.

I had a flat tire.

A quick text message to the ex and an even quicker prayer of thanks that I can still call on him for help, but there was still the matter of the milk for the cookies.  Well, I thought, I’d walked back and forth from the school for five days; why not a quick jaunt to the store?   Temps had climbed from sub-zero to mid-40’s, so it would be safer than it had been all week.

Or so one would assume.

I hit that patch of ice on the way home while stepping around a nasty-looking, slushy drain.  It must have been the only piece of ice that was still fully frozen.  I didn’t even have time to holler; feet went up and butt came down and I hit hard, right on the tailbone.  I felt that impact all the way up into my skull.  Exactly the kind of fall the doctor had warned me about.

Let me tell you, I sat in the middle of that road for a long time.   It hurt, but I was so surprised that I really couldn’t tell how much it hurt.  I just sat there doing the same mental inventory I had done before.

Can I move? Check.

Does my neck hurt? Well, yeah.

Am I dead? Don’t think so.

Hot damn.

I finally crawled over to the curb and hauled my slushy self upright so I could walk home.  I made my cookies, called in a few apologies to the people who were expecting me to work the fundraiser, and sat down to wait for the pain to kick in.  Which it did.

So today has been a slow day involving lots of ibuprofen and hot tea.  I ache in ways I can’t even describe; everything from the waist up is on fire.  But . . .

I fell.

I fell in the worst way possible.

And I’m still here.

Those little fears?  Getting smaller every day.

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Obviously I’ve never been afraid to accessorize.

Of Water, Ice and Fog

In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut

I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan.  According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.

On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving.  I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes.  My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.

But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water.  I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic.  When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful.  Strong.  It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.

I feared nothing in the water.  Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it.  It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.

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But time passes.  Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season.  There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.

In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake.  It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets.  It is beautiful and sometimes deadly.  A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre

It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form.  Courage that I lack.  I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter.  I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.

WINTRY WEATHER MICHIGAN

If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown.  We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk.  We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.

And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances.   Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late!  Too late!”

I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more.  I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance.  For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.

I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/ice-water-steam/”>Ice, Water, Steam</a>

Looking Up

It's not nice to blog about Mother Nature!
It’s not nice to blog about Mother Nature!

When I was a kid, there was a popular commercial that proclaimed, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Well, apparently it’s also a bad idea to write a blog post entitled “Up Yours, Mother Nature.”

About two hours after I posted that, my kids got home from school and came rushing in the back door nearly bursting with excitement.  “You need to go look at your car, Mom,” said the oldest.  “Your car may be blocked in,” the middle one told me.  “It’s awesome!”  my youngest crowed.

I’m not exactly known for my ability to move quickly, but I think I broke a few personal speed records hauling ass to the driveway.  And there it was:  the slab of ice from the roof had finally come loose and fallen.  At least six feet long, probably three or four feet thick at its deepest point; the “ice-jam” buildup that had been causing our roof to leak.

I don’t even want to try to estimate how much it weighed.  Suffice it to say that the thing was huge.  Massive.  Enormous.  Even when it broke into chunks on impact, the chunks it left probably weighed more than some of the people in my life.

I think we all know where it landed, right?

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In our eighteen years in this house, we have never had an ice-jam as large as this one.  In eighteen years, any ice chunks that have fallen have landed easily in the flower bed, nowhere near the driveway.  For eighteen years, I have parked my car in exactly that same spot.

As I stared at the ice and my poor little car, I had a sudden flash of memory.  About twenty-five years ago, I drove my very first brand-new car up to Mount Pleasant to visit my friend Michelle.  I parked my cherry-red Plymouth Horizon (don’t judge me, I was young and stupid) in my friend’s usual spot close to the house, where a sudden gust of wind sent a tree branch through my windshield.  Never mind that the tree had been standing for close to one hundred years, or that Michelle had been parking her vehicle there for nearly a decade.  My car sat there for less than ten minutes, and Mother Nature dropped a tree branch on it.

Almost three decades later, she dropped an entire tree on my Ford Windstar.  Gotta give her props for that one:  my vehicle was a moving target that time, and she still managed to hit it.

This time, it’s a ton of ice.  Literally.

You know, I’m kind of over this whole “let’s drop things out of the sky on Amy’s car” business.  What’s next, a satellite?  A randomly-falling sperm whale or bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

Yup, that pretty much says it all.
Yup, that pretty much says it all.

But this time, the joke’s on Mother Nature, because she missed.  That’s right; she missed my car this time.  The ice landed less than an inch away from my trusty little Ford Focus, close enough to cover it with snow and ice chips, but didn’t even leave a scratch.

Maybe things are looking up.

Or maybe I should just start looking up more often.