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The Opposite of Falling Down

September 14, 2008 by · 7 comments

Photo: toniblay

My first memory is of falling down. One minute, I was running across my grandmother’s driveway, staring down at my new shoes. With their red uppers, sunshine yellow tongue, and bright blue laces, they were perfection in primary colors. That moment, I was the wind and my feet were a rainbow. The next minute, I was a sobbing heap with bloody knees and a chin full of gravel. And so it begins.

The day before I was to start kindergarten, I was trotting my Pinto pony, Lil Bit, around the yard, weaving in and out of the massive maple trees that lined the lawn when a dancing shadow spooked the horse and sent me plummeting to the ground, then on to the emergency room for my first plaster cast. On “I Love to Read Day” in the second grade, I dressed as Laura Ingalls Wilder. My gingham prairie frock was not conducive to seesawing. Somehow, it got wrapped around the u-shaped metal hand grip, and I flipped off backwards. The harder the teachers tried to untangle me, the more they banged my bonnet against the concrete.

I partially blame that head injury for the current state of my mental health. When I was nine, I was roller-skating in our unfinished basement, lost in my own personal version of Xanadu. So ensorceled was I by the whirring of my wheels, the swooshing of my purple corduroy gauchos, and the sultry singing of Donna Summer that I didn’t notice the fifteen pound country ham curing on the beam. My head hit it so hard, that it knocked me down and knocked me out. I partially blame that injury for the current state of my ass–it may still be swollen.

Most people seem to gain equilibrium with age. They become more balanced, both emotionally and physically. Not so with me. As I got bigger, so did my falls.

During my junior year of high school, two weeks prior to the Montgomery County Junior Miss pageant, I “fell” from a moving car going thirty miles per hour. Thanks to my mother and the man she paid to pluck the pavement from my limbs and then scrub off the damaged skin with a wire-bristled brush, I didn’t scar and went on to win first-runner up. But, as my mom always told me, if you can’t win, don’t bother, because no one gives a flying fuck who comes in second. Actually, she didn’t say flying fuck, but I love cursing and alliteration. In the first week of my senior year of college, I slipped off a boulder, slick with algae and assorted other slime, and landed on the razor sharp edge of another rock. It sliced through my Achilles tendon and ended my career as a dancer.

My battle with gravity has only intensified through the years.

After finding out my husband and best friend made a carnal connection in our home while I slept, I went on a six-week sabbatical from sobriety. Just prior to the infidelity, I’d been cast in my big comeback role as Eleanor of Aquitane. During an early rehearsal, I staggered through my whiskey fog and right off the edge of the stage into a massive woodpile. Both my pride and aforementioned plump rump were severely splintered. At a 2000 New Year’s Eve party, I broke all the toes on my right foot when, in a mad dash to stash a plate of cocaine, I toppled down a flight of stairs.

Within minutes, my turgid, discolored toes were sticking through my fishnet hose like jumbo shrimp trying to escape. Fear of being stomped on by another drunken reveler sent me scrambling under a table where I rang in the millennium alone. I spent the rest of the night huddled there, swilling champagne, popping Percosets, and nibbling on cold baby quiche.

My examining doctor told me I couldn’t wear high heels for three months, but I shoved my feet into stilettos the next week leaving them permanently misshapen. This same vanity led to one of my most severe spills. When the first snow fell last winter and covered the ground with frozen diamonds, I wore a pair of adorable fur mukluks that were all style and no traction. This resulted in a fractured tibia, titanium plate, and newfound respect for my spouse. Through my recovery, he doted on me with a gentleness I hadn’t seen since very early in our courtship–this despite fact that I looked like a leper.

The pain medication caused an allergic reaction that made me feel like I was lined with fiberglass insulation, so I picked at my skin until open sores were erupting all over my body. Remarkably, the only scar I still bear is a long jagged one the color of a kitten’s nose that runs up the soft skin on the inside of my arm and looks like I tried to slit my wrist the right way.

Despite these disasters, it is my mental missteps for which I am best known.

By fifteen, I’d stumbled through two suicide attempts. By twenty, I’d amassed a handful of different diagnoses. By twenty five, I’d fallen in and out of a cornucopia of careers and a legion of lover’s beds. By thirty, I had a duo of divorces to show for it. At some point, I slipped on my genetic predisposition for addiction and did a belly flop into a bottle of bourbon. I’ve been floating there ever since. Finally, five years ago, my id tripped over my ego and I keeled into the psychiatry ward at The Ridge for a long weekend. Somehow, I slipped back into sanity…or something like it.

My most recent tumble took place on the dance floor of The Dame when a Zambian lesbian half my size tried to dip me, but instead dropped me. I lay on the sticky planks in a puddle of someone’s spilled Screwdriver, enjoying the subtle scent of orange and the erratic performance of the pulsating lights overhead, and wondered what to do next. I contemplated feigning a serious injury and demanding immediate sympathy, but instead I simply crawled to the front door and limped around the corner to another nightclub to watch a drag show.

Nothing cheers me up like a brawny farm boy from Menifee County in a ruffled ball gown lip-synching to Mariah Carey. And, Club 141 has my favorite type of transvestites—high camp in high heels with gardenias woven into their wigs and no concern for passing for “real.” That night, I laughed, and tipped, and danced, and drank, and lived to fall again, which leads me to my point.

I did not write this while lying prostrate on the floor. On the contrary, I wrote this while sitting at my mahogany desk with my dog at my feet and the sun pouring through the window, while sipping on a woodsy Merlot.

You see, this is not a story of falling down. It is a story of getting up.

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