I used to hate walking in public. The junior high I went to has these stairs that are spaced just off for gangly adolescents, and I swear that at least once a month I would trip UP them rushing between classes. You remember junior high, right? Everyone stayed outside of the classroom as long as possible because, for the first time in their lives, they could, so the hallways didn’t empty out until just before classes. Inevitably, when I took my humiliating spills, I was surrounded by a mob of other kids.
The first reaction of junior high kids is not, “Oh my gosh, are you okay?” There may not have been anything deliberate or malevolent about their cruelty, but the knee-jerk reaction of most of the junior high kids when someone took a spill was to laugh first, then belatedly offer help (if it occurred to them). As a well-adjusted adult, I’m fairly sure that the mockery of my epic clumsiness did not continue for a long time behind my back. Junior high kids have plenty of targets for their laughter and not much of an attention span, you know? But it took an eternity for my embarrassment to die down all the same, and I clung fervently to the hope that someday I would grow into my feet.
I’m still waiting for that to happen. On Tuesday I was feeling something like an attractive, graceful adult. I was wearing a skirt, which always makes me feel good, and I was riding the bus back from my job where I sit at a desk for a few hours being helpful to the imaginary people who use the LRC in the summer and working on my book. The best part was that the bus was fairly empty on the ride back, so I was savoring the air conditioning unmolested by the stale beer and urine stench that manages to permeate a full bus even when all the occupants are stone-cold sober and freshly showered. When I got off at my stop, I was feeling cheerful enough to have a little spring in my step which, in retrospect, may have been the problem.
Getting of the bus and onto the sidewalk can be a little hazardous. There’s the step down from the bus to consider, and then the step back up onto the curb. You also have to account for the distance between bus and curb. Sometimes the bus is just far enough away to make it extremely treacherous whether you want to touch down on the street first or hop straight to the curve. So you can see that it would be perfectly understandable for a person of average grace to trip a bit when getting off the bus.
The sad part is that I navigated all that with ease. When I fell flat on my face, I had two feet on pretty even ground. My sandal just happened to experience the tiniest extra bit of friction with the sidewalk for whatever reason and down I went…ankle, knee, hands, splat: Hi, I’m Melissa Walshe. Don’t mind me sprawling all over the sidewalk, really.
What I discovered about faceplanting as an adult is that people are nice about it. A complete stranger came running over to make sure I was okay and offer me a hand up. Strangely, I think I would have preferred to be laughed at. At least then I can retreat into annoyance over the shallow cruelty of other people to shield my dignity from too much bruising. When people are nice to you, you want them to think well of you, making the whole deadly clumsy thing a little harder to bear.
The funny part of this story is that I had hopped off one stop earlier to duck into the liquor store. Tuesday marked three years since John and I first went on a date, so I thought I’d pick up a bottle of wine to celebrate. But here’s the thing: when people are nice to you, making you care about their opinion in even the most passing manner, it takes more guts than I have to walk straight into a liquor store immediately after falling flat on your face. Know what I mean?
So I discovered that, sometimes, being an adult means limping an extra block only to discover when you get home that the swish of your skirt has painted your knee with your own blood to the point that it looks like your knee exploded and then having to clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide (yourself) without even so much as the consoling thought that at least the injury was earned in pursuit of a nice bottle of wine for dinner.
For the record, I occasionally miss junior high.