May 20, 2015

15 to 15: Falling

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

It is interesting how much falling is involved in a relationship.  One day, waiting for a star to fall, you are sitting there and good fortune falls into your lap.  An angel falls from Heaven.  You immediately fall for that person.  Your heart falls when it appears they are not interested.  But your hope doesn't fall.  Instead you end up falling in love with each other.  You fall into their arms.  Then you start jumping.  You jump for joy.  You want to jump into things too early.  Well, you actually want to jump into bed with them because your heart leaps whenever you see them. (Leaping is a synonym for jumping.)  But you don't want to jump start something when it isn't right.  So you jump into marriage.  Jump into having kids.  Jump up whenever one of them cries in the middle of the night.  Then you get back to falling.  You fall into bed because you are exhausted.  You fall into a deep funk because you think you are a horrible parent.  

With Heather and I, we decided to not just metaphorically fall in our relationship.  We also decided to physically manifest that falling.  I was sitting there today thinking of the number of times one of us has fallen since we've been together.  Now, if you have read this blog for a while, you know that I have a propensity for injuries.  I am the most injured non-athlete around.  I'm like Samuel Jackson's character in Unbreakable - Mr. Glass or whatever.  So I obviously have the majorities of the falls.  But I also have passed my stink on to Heather.  Aside from having a C-Section for childbirth because our children don't believe in entering the world correctly (A character flaw, I believe.  They won't get onto a couch right either.  Slide in over the arms.  Like Steven Wright says, they would go in and out of the house through the window, if they weren't locked.)  Anyway, aside from having C-sections and her horrific car wreck in high school, the worst injury Heather has ever had was a sprained ankle after we got married.  Notice the important phrase there: after we got married.  

Up until that point, Heather was a perfectly healthy coordinated person.  She still basically is.  Our sons inherited my profound klutziness, not her grace and balance.  She did marching band.  She did gymnastics.  She was executing difficult complex routines before me.  Soon after we get married, we are heading to the airport to fly to Fort Worth to check out the seminary, she walks out the front door, steps awkwardly off the porch, and sprains her ankle.  I sprain my ankle once or twice a year.  For her, this was a shock.  We had to rush through the St Louis airport with her barely limping along.  I had to take her to an urgent care center in Ft Worth because her ankle was swelling up so badly.  Honestly, the whole time I'm sitting there thinking, "Man, what did I do to her?"

Fortunately, she hasn't continued too badly in the way of the fallen.  One time she wiped out on the tile when she was pregnant with Natalie.  That was scary.  She has tripped tons of times on Legos or toys.  If it wasn't for me, she would probably be dancing through our sons' Lego minefield like the Night Fox in Oceans Twelve.  But now she is victimized by my falling curse.

I, on the other hand, have fallen many many many times.  I always find it humorous to think through my injury report.  Some things that have happened to me that would be the worst injury other people have ever had; they don't make my top ten.  One time, I dropped an ice cube on my toe when I was a teenager.  It was from one of those ice trays that you had to crack to open.  The corner landed right on my big toe and cut it wide open.  How?  Putting ice into a glass around the same time frame caused it to shatter and slice my finger open.  I hit a speaker with my finger and it grated the skin like a ... well ... grater.  I still have scars from all of these things.  I have a spot on my right hand where you can see a piece of pencil lead.  I got my pinky pinched in a collapsable table in college.  I burned my hand when I mistakenly grabbed a motorcycle exhaust pipe.  The list goes on and on.  For the sake of time, I wanted to list my five best falls since we have been married (not including the fainting spell from last entry).  Yes, it is necessary to limit it to that time frame.  Trust me.

1. The Bookcase
Six month after we got married, we moved back in with Heather's parents for over a year.  We lived there while Heather was pregnant with Josiah and right after he was born before we moved back to Orlando.  Our stuff was piled up in their garage this whole time.  One day, Heather was commenting on how much she wished she knew where he science books were from school so she could review some things.  She was missing it (nerd).  I was trying to be a helpful husband, so I went out there to find the books.  I knew where they were, sort of.  I just needed to move some things around.  Being a guy, I didn't want to move everything around.  So I moved some stuff and climbed over other stuff.  I had positioned myself in the midst of these boxes and such.  I could almost get to the books.  There was a small bookshelf next to me.  If I could get up on it, I could probably get to the box.  Keep in mind, this was a newlywed bookshelf (translation: cheap and flimsy) and I am not a small man (translation: hefty idiot).  I climbed up on the bookshelf.   It wasn't even like in the cartoons or movies, where the things slowly bend and break.  It was like, up on it, down on the ground.  The top collapsed and I ended up in the pile.  My in-laws come running out with Heather.  I am trapped.  It wasn't just the boxes that trapped me, though.  It also was the nail that has carved a huge slice into my ankle and the screw in my back.  BONUS FUN STORY: I was subbing and had to call in sick because the scratches were so painful.  "I'm sorry. I fell and ripped my legs up."  No lie. One week later, I was leaving an ice cream store with my brother-in-law, Mike, and my friend, Greg.  There was a lighter on the ground and I went to kick it at Greg.  I misstepped and fell off the sidewalk into the street.  I actually ripped my legs up worse that time.  But I couldn't call in sick again for ripping my legs up.  So I went and subbed in agony that day.

2. The Street
Not soon after this, I was working at Rhodes Furniture.  I was rushing to get to work and was hustling to my car.  I misstepped in the road.  Somehow, my foot landed at the edge of the street and the gutter area.  My ankle snapped and twisted.  It was probably the worst sprain I've had - maybe second worse.  I wiped out right in the street.  And my ankle swelled up like a grapefruit.  It wasn't broken - X-rays confirmed that.  But it has never been the same since then.  It was already bad before.  But this really finished it off.  What made it extra fun was that I had to walk around the furniture store for my job.  I know this isn't as exciting as the first story, but it is a palette cleanser before the next two. And it is foreshadowing. 

3. Natalie
I have always had a fear of falling with my kids, especially down the stairs.  I can't imagine why I would have this fear.  Fortunately, I never have fallen with my kids down the stairs.  But I have fallen with them in a parking lot.  After Natalie was born, Heather was going to go back to school at UCF.  She wanted to scout out the location of her classes.  So one evening before classes started, we drove up to the school to look around.  Josiah was toddling along with Heather and I was carrying Nat.  We were about to cross the street when that stupid ankle reared its ugly head - or foot.  It buckled and I was going down, holding my daughter.  I've heard parents can do amazing things when their children are in danger and I can can attest to that.  I am as clumsy and unathletic as they come.  But as I was falling forward, somehow I spun myself around in mid air and landed on my back.  I didn't land in the street or on the curb.  Somehow I also had managed to maneuver my body into the grass on the side of the road.  This actually happened and can be corroborated by my honest wife.  For one brief moment, I was doing kung fu.  Then I went back to being a panda.  I still don't know how I was able to twist that way.  Natalie was fine.  My back was a disaster.  And a new Fall story was born.

4. Gabe
Oh yeah, the nightmare continues.  Heather had just started Med School at FSU.  We were at Walmart in Tallahassee.  I was carrying our little Gabey and walking with the other two kids in from the parking lot.  It was slick from rain.  And I was wearing Crocs sandals - the last time I ever wore them, mind you. One of the things I hate about Crocs is that the tread is pathetic. There really isn't any tread, actually. I mean, you're basically walking around on the same material as a slip n slide. I was slipping in the shoes, but hadn't made a switch yet. As we are walking in through the wet parking lot, I slipped. (Shocker)  I fell while holding Gabe. My brain began to frantically run through how to keep from hurting Gabe. My aforementioned ninja skills didn't kick in this time. I realized I was falling face first and the only thing between me and the asphalt was Gabe. I clutched him tight, slid one hand behind his head, pushed my elbows towards the ground, and bent my knees. I landed hard on my elbows and knees. Somehow Gabe never hit the ground. I swear an angel turned into a balloon and squeezed in between him and the ground. I was wet all over from the rain; Gabe wasn't wet at all. He started crying, naturally. I would cry too if a shaved bear had landed on me. But he was safe. I hurt. A lot. 

5. The Ditch/Ravine
This one takes elements from all the other falls and mixes them together.  To begin, allow me to submit some photographic evidence. 
This is right next to my house. The hole you see is a drainage pipe that runs down into a ... well not quite sure what it is called. It isn't a ravine, but it isn't really a ditch. It is about ten feet deep with a nasty little stagnant creek at the bottom. On the other side is the front half of our neighborhood. The pipe is a little bit bigger than a soccer ball. I know this dimension because this all started with a soccer ball. Gabe was starting soccer last year. We had just gone to the store and got him his cleats, shinguards, and a lime green kids sized soccer ball. He went out in the front yard to play with Natalie. 

Five minutes later, they come back in and Gabe is crying. The ball had gone down that pipe. I was pretty sure it came out down in the ditchy ravine. I went out and looked down. The sides are very steep and not very stable. I know myself too well and knew I would slip. So I walked down to where the sides were not so steep, closer to our back yard. I went around the end of edge and started to walk down the slant to the bottom of the raviney ditch. While this route was much safer footing, it also was filled with thorny bramble vines. They were slashing up my legs and ticking me off. I finally got down to the bottom. The sides of the whatever it is were up over my head. I saw no ball. I looked all over and I didn't even see where it could have come out. I started to wonder if the pipe actually drained into the lake/pond behind our house. 

I walked the length of the ditchevine. No ball, no pipe. I found some other stuff: a mini football, a plate, a cup. I didn't want to crawl out and admit defeat. So I pushed further into the swampy area. I noticed that a couple of fallen trees led back to the waterfront, parallel to the creek. I climbed up on those and walked as far towards the water as I could. More thorns ripped at me. Finally I couldn't go any further. I still don't see an exit point for the pipe. 

I started to head back to the drier flat area. I didn't want to lose the ball. Gabe would be crushed. And I would have to spend $14 on another ball. I kept telling myself, "Be a man. This is what men do. Real men don't give up." I'm walking along the second log and thinking about what to do next. Suddenly there wasn't anything beneath me. The log just disintegrated. I tried to catch myself, grabbing onto trees or whatever. I ended up laying on what was left of the log, skewed into the trees around me. I managed to pull myself up and stand. 

I knew my pants were torn because I felt air in places I didn't feel air before. I also knew I was hurt because I saw the blood coming from multiple places. I also had pulled a portion of a stick out of my leg when I got up. I saw that one of the broken branches had narrowly missed some precious bodily properties. Like very narrowly missed. I limped out into the flatter zone. My kids were outside and had heard me scream when I fell. I'm sure it was a manly scream. They were starting to climb down the edges of the ditchyvine. I didn't want them stranded down there with me, and I didn't want them freaking out in case things were worse than I thought. I told them to stay put and called Heather. 

I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get out. I didn't want to go through the thorns again. But the sides didn't really look stable. "Hey. So I fell down in the ravine and don't know if I can get out."  That went over well. She started moving into doctor mode, trying to figure out if another resident's husband could go help me or if I needed to call an ambulance. I had no clue how badly I was hurt. I knew I was bleeding more than a little and that I was hurting a lot. And I still never found the stupid ball. 

I told her I would try to get out and call her back. I walked around trying to find an easier exit point. Then I caught a glimpse of something lime green from inside the embankment. The exit port of the pipe was right in front of me, but it had been covered with dirt and black netting. I pulled all of that away and retrieved the ball. I threw it up over the bank. Then I decided to just brave the steep edges and climb out. It ended up being much easier than I thought. My kids saw me come out, covered in muck and blood. Great picture. They stayed shockingly calm - for my kids. I limped into the bathroom to assess injuries. 

I had three huge slashes on my right thigh. There were bloody scratches all over my shins. And there were several gouges and cuts high up on my left leg. My pants were destroyed, as well as my undershorts. Whatever branch that had impaled my leg had missed some important real estate by a couple inches. All of it has healed, but it was very painful to do much for a couple of weeks. I still have a piece of something in my right leg - you can feel a bump about the size of a pea near the scars. But I got the ball!

Months later, I was sitting with my in-laws' at their house along with Heather's brother, Andy, and his wife, Michelle. The scars on my leg were pretty obvious. I noticed someone looking at them. "Oh you like that? Those are from when I fell in the ravine."  They all looked at me funny and I realized they never had heard what happened. I told all of them the story. At the end, Andy goes, "Wait a minute. So after you impaled yourself and were bleeding all over and didn't know how hurt you were or how to get out, you still were looking for the ball? And then stuck your hand into some hole that you had no idea what was in it?  I would have just gotten a new ball."

What was interesting to me is that I often have a very negative view of myself, especially when it comes to typical manly things. I'm not athletic. I'm not handy with tools. I'm a klutz. I'm not mechanically inclined. I don't know how to fix a lot of things. All of those times falling and hurting myself, I joke about them. But I also hate being known as the guy who does that. I wish I was the guy my kids could count on to fix things and not the guy they warn about using knives. I always assume that I fail at being a dad, a husband because I'm not manly enough. To hear Andy, who I consider a very capable masculine guy, incredulously say that he would have left the ball made me feel good. I had done something good as a dad in that moment, even though I did it in the worst way possible. 

Every one of the falls I mentioned embarrassed me. But then I looked at them. The first one I was trying to get my wife something she needed. The second, I was racing to get to a job I hated to provide for my family. The third, I was going with my wife to check out her school so she could pursue her dreams of being a doctor. And I sacrificed myself for the safety of my daughter. The fourth, I had taken over the stay-at-home parent role when Heather started med school. And again I sacrificed myself for my child. The fifth, I was doing something for my son outside of my comfort zone. Just because I don't always do things in a coordinated graceful impressive fashion, it doesn't mean they are evidence of failure as a man. The fact I was even in those positions to get injured was because I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do. 

The thing about falling since I've been married is that I always have had someone to help me up. Heather sometimes will laugh at the sheer quantity of injuries. But she always is there to make sure I'm okay. She knows when I need treatment - be it physical or emotional. She has never tried to change me or wished that she got someone better at not falling. She just is there after it happens to help me back up. For each of those five falling memories, I have very clear memories of Heather being there afterward to bandage me up, get me to a doctor, and then to mock me and laugh with me when the time is right. It makes falling not so painful. 

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