I took a spill on Saturday. I was in the greenway in my mother’s neighborhood, a couple of blocks from its so-called Town Center, a mixed-use artifice that is not, absolutely not, a mall, so don’t even think about calling it that. I was distracted by cluster of rabbits, surprisingly docile, given their proximity to both a highway and the lunch crowd at PF Chang’s. I stumbled, skidded a bit over the trail and went down like I was sliding into third base, leaving a bit of my left side (palm, elbow and shin) on the asphalt as a souvenir. I popped up quickly, assured the joggers pointed toward me that I was fine, fine and continued on. One man, walking, said, Great fall. Nice Recovery. Then, I’m a doctor, as if I’d demanded credentials.
I thanked him. It’s weird to get complimented on falling down well, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. I’m the sort of person that falls down a lot. Everywhere. Anywhere. It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes I’m wearing, or how fast I’m going, or what I’m doing when it happens. I’ve fallen at all varieties of altitudes, seasons, and events. On two continents and in at least six countries. Among my favorites: down the grand staircase at the Boston MFA (inside), up the staircase at the Met (outside), down the stairs in a suite in Venice, outside Kilmainham Gaol (Dublin), outside Buckingham Palace, crossing the Seine, crossing the Thames, crossing the Arno, in the middle of Grand Central Station, on stage in “Blithe Spirit,” processing, robed, into chapel with the choir (high school), and all the way down the front stairs at my mother’s annual formal Holiday Party when I was about twenty-three years old,
I don’t know why I fall down all the time. I suspect it has something to do with my depth perception (not great) or maybe the fact that I’m the kind of easily preoccupied, inclined toward daydream and regularly accused of “not having the common sense to come up out of the rain.” I know I’ve been falling since I was a very small child (first major spill was through a glass top coffee table. No, I don’t remember it). I was late to both walking and riding a bicycle, a pariah in ballet class, and I never could do a cartwheel, even when I was five years old. I’ve never been a real paragon of either flexibility of coordination, even before I got to be a tall-ish fat person afflicted with lots of non-aerodynamic curves. I was always fine in water. But as I am not a mermaid, I’m forced to make my clumsy, unintentionally slapstick way on dry land.
Regular falls have left my appendages a regular mass of scrapes, bruises, and various unsightly blemishes. A friend once told me I had scars like an athlete, which is almost hilarious, up to an including at least one traumatic brain injury. I’m used to people making all sorts of assumptions about my current and former hobbies. Cycling? Mountain Climbing? Boxing? Rugby? Base jumping? Just Sunday, a teenager at a coffeeshop asked my most recent injury—a large wound on the left shin, shaped a little like Illinois—came from skateboarding. I was hugely flattered. Imagine me on a skateboard! That’s so cool I’m almost intimidated by my imaginary self.
When I took up running (long distances, quite slowly), for real, about ten years ago, I got a perverse thrill out of the injuries derived from actually doing something, and not from the ordinary day-to-day of being a human being locked in a pitched struggle against gravity. I could say, this knee injury comes from training for a half-marathon, instead of, I broke my toe reaching for the shampoo in the shower.
Years ago, one of my best friends wrote a piece about my propensity for spills. She, too, flattered my prowess at falling, and used it to illuminate a greater, metaphorical point about life. She credited me with having a style, some honed talent at the moment of plummet. And I’d like to tell you have I have a strategy for the descent. Relax. Go down easy. Aim for something soft. Car safety specialists advise trying to relax before you crash, because it’s the tension that causes the worst damage. You know, let go. And if we’re being metaphorical about it, enjoy the ride and don’t worry too much about hitting the ground. My spiritual advisor suggests that there’s a nice view of the stars from the gutter. And I can back this up, sort of. I did once fall in a gutter (not a metaphor) in Austin, TX and coincidentally saw Ethan Hawke cross the street.
But as someone that falls often and repeatedly, let me assure you that you rarely have the luxury of choreographing the way you go down. In fact, half the time I try to take my own advice, I end up this avalanche of wind-milling arms, splayed legs and face first on the sidewalk, hoping like hell I haven’t broken an arm or knocked out a tooth. To be clear, I don’t fall gracefully. I fall like Chevy Chase doing Gerald Ford.
On the other hand, I do get up quickly as possible, smile, tell whoever saw me I’m fine. Laugh at my own clumsiness. Thank them for their help if they offer, wipe off the dirty, make sure nothing is broken and keep calm and carry on until I’m out of sight or back at home or in a place where I can check to see what’s bleeding without grossing anyone out and wince and whine and sulk about the fact that of course I have no skin on my shin now hours before I was going to wear my new dress to a fancy party and try to look, like, you know, pretty, which is to say, not visibly scabbed and bruised, but like I’m the sort of woman that can swan—not swan dive–into the room, with real poise. I get over it, because I don’t really have a choice, do I? I put on a face. As good as it’s going to get. I wear my new dress, and wait patiently, graciously until the first time someone comes at me with some clever riff on Good lord, what happened to you?
You want the real story or the good story? I ask and tell them I stumbled on the running trail, or came down hard while saving the world from space pirates, or both, knowing that I’m only minutes, hours, days, from the next fall, the next tumble, the next calamity so there’s no use being afraid when it comes.
 It’s a mall.
 Often by the very same family members that believe in things like astrology and trickle-down economics, but whatever.