“What happened to your head-” The secretary at my son’s school asked.
“I ran into a brick wall,” I said casually.
“No really. I ran into a brick wall,” I repeated.
Suddenly I wanted to cry. I’d already laughed. I’d already looked at the bright side and the, well it could have been worse side. Now I wanted to cry.
Earlier that morning, I was running late for my physical therapy appointment. I was never late; I prided myself on that. But today I was. So I parked my car and hurried across the parking lot. I was on the sidewalk, just a few yards from the door of the building when it happened.
One minute I was rushing to my appointment and the next I was laying on the sidewalk, bleeding. I tripped, I guess. I mean, the sidewalk was clear. There wasn’t anything there to trip over. But never-the-less I tripped.
I found myself doing that oh-so-graceful slow motion, swimming through air thing. But somehow mid-fall I had a millisecond of clarity; my misfortune didn’t have to end in a sprawling face-plant on the sidewalk. I could catch myself on the side of the building, which was coming at me quickly. So in that moment I made a decision; I put my hands out in a bracing position and waited for the impact. But apparently I’d built up more momentum than I knew.
My hands hit the wall. Did I mention it was a brick wall- Yes. My hands hit the wall, and then, in one quick jerk, so did my head. In fact I hit that wall so hard that I was thrown backward, landing on my side a few feet away.
I lay there for a few seconds, afraid to move. This wasn’t the first time I’d fallen, but it was the first time that I hoped and prayed someone had seen me. Then I heard a voice.
“Oh, my gosh! Are you OK-” she yelled across the parking lot.
I could hear her shoes clicking toward me.
“Are you OK-” she asked again kneeling beside me.
As I sat up, she looked me over, quickly surveying the damage. Both of my palms were cut, and my fingertips were cut too, nails sawed off jaggedly. My elbow had a huge gash in it.
“Oh,” she said knowingly. “It was the shoes.”
Several feet behind me were the cutest sandals you’ve ever seen. They were dark brown with turquoise beads sewn into a design of flowers and swirls. Cute, I’m telling you. They were so cute.
“You tripped over your shoes,” she said.
I said nothing.
She opened the door for me and the usually serene place came alive. Nurses and receptionists surrounded me, doing what they could to comfort and care for me.
I sat in a chair while they looked for Band-Aids for the tips of my fingers and gauze for the deep cuts on my hands. It was all pretty bad, but the worst was my elbow, which was dripping blood onto my jeans.
I’ve got to get out of here, I thought. I didn’t want to be rude, but my son was expecting me to be at his school in less than 45 minutes.
“That elbow’s going to need stitches,” one nurse said to the other.
Then I remembered something else.
“I think I hit my head,” I said.
It was starting to throb.
One of the nurses pulled my bangs back and her eyes got big.
“You sure did,” She said. “You’ve got quite a goose egg here, and some scratches. What did you say you hit your head on-”
As she gently applied an ice pack, I tried to explain.
“I really have to go,” I said as they were finishing up.
“Is there someone we can call to pick you up-” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m fine.”
“I don’t know,” She said. “That’s quite a bump on your head.”
“Really. I’m fine,” I lied
My head was pounding but all I could think about was my son’s 5th grade graduation. I couldn’t miss this. Not this.
Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in the gymnasium with all the other parents. I propped my camera between the scrapes on my hands and snapped pictures of my son singing, acting goofy with friends, and throwing his graduation cap.
I was on my way out when the secretary caught me, asking about my head. I had no answer for her. No good answer anyway. And with tears threatening to explode I didn’t want to stay and have some kind of public breakdown. I preferred to have my breakdowns in private.
After opening the car door with my uninjured thumb, I slid carefully into the driver’s seat, and drove home with my elbow held precariously in the air. Tears started to well. The adrenalin that had pumped through me after the fall had dissipated as the bandages were applied. Focusing on getting to my son’s graduation had enabled me to not only get there, but to even enjoy it.
My brain told me I should just go home and relax. But then there were the tears.
I stood barefoot, studying myself in the bathroom mirror. I used my thumb to pull my bangs back and laughed aloud when I saw my head. A huge bump protruded from my forehead. Around it were scratches that looked suspiciously like the edges of bricks. Laughter gave way to tears as I replayed the five years since I’d been diagnosed.
Multiple Sclerosis had moved in without my permission. It brought sinister housewarming gifts; muscles that tightened into painful spasms, mind-blurring fatigue and weakness, and memory problems. It had stolen from me, mocked me and taunted me. And now this.
Attending my son’s graduation wasn’t just about that one event. It was about all of the milestones I’d missed; his first basketball game and the Easter egg hunt when he was six. It was about all of the changes I’d made to accommodate this disease.
“It was the shoes,” The nurse had said.
“No it wasn’t!” I wanted to scream. “It was this damn disease. I trip and fall all the time. I lose my balance and try not to lose my dignity along with it.”
I know I should be wearing more practical shoes. The doctor said it. My family said it. My friends said it. If it were a real choice, that would be one thing. But it wasn’t.
“Haven’t I lost enough-” I asked myself, looking in the mirror. “Can’t I keep just this- Can’t I keep my cute, color coordinated and completely impractical shoes-”
Suddenly anger took over. I saw it in the mirror. The tears stopped and now I was fighting mad. I wanted to take M.S. and beat it to a pulp. I wanted to chuck it against a wall. I wanted to throw it to the ground and stomp on it.
A few days passed and then a few weeks. My wounds healed as the super-cute flip-flops were shuffled to the back of the closet. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. I knew I could never wear them again, but crazy as it sounds, the thought of conceding and buying practical, nurse-looking shoes meant failure. It meant that M.S. had finally won. So the shoes stayed… until I happened to spot something from my past.
I was shopping when I noticed rows and rows of Converse sneakers, the kind I wore when I was much younger; when my body and I were still friends. There were low-tops and high-tops, in solids and patterns. The canvas shoes were displayed on pedestals, and I thought I heard a heavenly,
But then I cringed as I realized how practical they were; they covered the whole foot, had non-skid soles and tied snuggly around the ankle.
“Converse are really coming back.” The peppy little salesgirl said. “Are you shopping for your daughter-”
Her question was barely heard.
“But there are so many colors and designs. I’d have to get a pair to match each of my different outfits,” I said. “And that’s completely impractical.”
A smile crept across my face.
That day I purchased a brand new pair of the shoes. The young salesgirl looked bewildered as I put them on before leaving the store.
“I’ll be back.” I said with confidence. “I will be back!”