- The Fall
One Saturday morning a couple of winters ago, as I was rounding a corner in my suburban neighborhood, leaning into the wind and pumping my arms, I tripped over a forty-year-old piece of rebar that was jutting into the sidewalk and broke both wrists. Blinking into the rough pores of cold cement and too stunned to move for the first few minutes, I ran my tongue tentatively over my front teeth, which seemed all to be there, and, gradually lifting my hips—inchworm-like—into a pitch that shortened my sprawl, I slowly stood up. My mittened hands hung from the ends of my arms like dish towels. Stepping over my irretrievable glasses, I blearily padded the three blocks home, climbed onto the porch, and nudged the doorbell with my elbow. When my husband, Larry, who was just leaving for tennis, opened the door and put down his gym bag, I burst into tears. Settling me onto the couch, he disappeared down the street to reclaim my glasses, which he worked gently over my ears, then packed me into the car, pulled the seatbelt across my chest—a move he would perfect in the following weeks— and drove to an urgent-care facility where an X-ray pinned to a lighted panel gave us the bad news: both wrists—definitely—broken.
Back at home, I returned to the couch, where Larry lowered my [End Page 45] splinted arms and hands—a pair of ruined paddles—onto a pillow he placed over my lap and fed me pain pills. “I’ll be fine in a couple of days,” I assured him brightly. I had rallied on the ride home. “My students will help me.” I pictured a spirited stage production where grinning teenagers vaulted rows of desks to slide into their seats, tossed textbooks to each other which they snatched from the air, and filed out waving when the bell rang: jazz hands! My pain meds were not half-bad. Propped up with pillows, outfitted with a glass of ice water and a bendable straw and a headful of fanciful choreography, I could think of nothing more for Larry to do, so I insisted—insisted—he go off to play tennis. As soon as he left, however, the situation took on a darker hue, as looking down, I assessed myself. I was still wearing the baggy snow pants I’d fallen in, now shredded near the knees. My shirt, which had been partially cut away to splint my wrists, hung from my neck in jagged strips, like a motley collar. My shoes—bought big to accommodate thick winter socks—were smeared with mud, and I still had a purple bandana tied under my chin. I looked like a filthy clown on the skids, chucked out of the suburban birthday scene for his low habits, and recalled a drunken Santa Claus I’d come across years ago in Florence, swaying on his corner, soiled and soaked in the Tuscan rain. How ruined and exotic he had seemed to my youthful, ebullient self, how fallen.
In the quiet house, in the company of our concerned labs—Gracie curled next to me on the couch and Tess collapsed at my feet—little waves of self-pity began lapping at my toes and, as if I were having my portrait done on velvet, a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks, which I tried to wipe off on my shoulder. I sniffled. Then, stepping over Tess, I shuffled to the phone and with the tip of my middle finger, which just cleared the bandage, pecked away gingerly in a hit-or-miss method that went on and on—like the proverbial monkey, whose haphazard typing, given world enough and time, will eventually yield Hamlet—until my friend Jeanne answered the phone. “If you want to open a can of whoop-ass, call Jeanne,” one of our old colleagues had once declared. I needed the kind of high-octane whoop-ass that would break records, would be one hundred percent in my corner, would drop everything [End Page 46] for me. Fifteen minutes later, Jeanne, who lives twenty minutes...