Albert Einstein says at some point you will have to answer a most important question about the nature of the universe: Do we live in a friendly or hostile place?
It’s nearly been a year since I woke up at the top of a staircase with my face busted open. A familiar yet foreign taste lingered in my mouth. Something akin to metal.
It was New Year’s morning about 8:30a. I was house/dog sitting for a friend. Nearly everyone was out of town. I had not one drop of alcohol. The day before, I had shot a wedding by myself for 6 hours and beyond the usual tired, I was still recovering from the flu. A few days before that I had gone hiking at Mt. Cheaha in some extreme cold and gotten really sick. To be honest, I had no idea how much I strained my body until I woke up to these insane full body cramps.
Have you ever had the kind of cramp where one of your toe dips backward like it’s doing some sort of salsa move on it’s own? It was like that feeling but down my entire side. All I knew is that I needed to get water but I truly wasn’t thinking clearly. I walked down stairs and apparently fainted in the kitchen and immediately thought I needed to make my way back to bed. Walking up the stairs was enough strain to push my blood pressure so low that I full face planted forward on the floor.
As I strained to open my eyes, everything was blurry. I caught a glimpse of a red streak across the floor. I laid there a minute collecting myself. Mainly feeling numb and like I could sleep for years. I brought my hand instinctively to my face and pulling it back it was covered in blood. It was then I knew I had to get up.
I stumbled toward the vintage vanity. Seeing my face sent electric shock waves of panic down my spine. Yep, that’s my chin bone there in the reflection. My flesh gaped 0pen wide, was limp, flabby and hanging there like skin you take off a chicken. I grabbed the yellow damasked towel and pressed it tight to my face and took a seat on the edge of the bed taking a few very deep breaths. 10 to be exact.
As I sat there feeling my sore body and cheek begin to swell, I watched the soft light dance across the hard wood floors and wiggled my toes in it. Something about how the light entered the curtains created these streaks of color like lasers. I lost myself in the blue and orange rays for a moment.
Break down or man-up.
The sobiety I felt was one of the most clear moments I have had in my life. I continued cramping so badly down my side and into my legs I could barely move. I could not find my phone, which had slide under a mat when I fell, and suddenly the space from me to the front door felt like gauntlet I wasn’t sure I could navigate. There was no land line. We have cell phones.
My eyes brimmed with tears but I never shed one which is odd because I am a total cryer. Not one tear. Maybe it was the shock. Or really probably the dehydration. I had on a thin T-shirt and green boyshorts. Time slowed and I heard the train clicking by across Dekalb Avenue.
They say that inside yourself is really where you find everything you need. “They” being the religious gurus, the enlightened woo woo teachers, everyone who really knows anything about spiritual truths purport this fact.
I don’t know why the lesson didn’t come neatly without pain or without this scar or why I couldn’t learn it in some other way when I was in a good mood in Barnes and Noble reading a book on self-actualization with an iced coffee in my hand.
No, this happened by being broken open to the tune of 14 stitches wide. 7 external, 7 internal.
I didn’t sit there long when I heard an internal voice. ”Get dressed and go to the hospital. You can do it.”
Getting ready with one hand proved to be a challenge. I laughed even as I tried to slide on leggings and was for once grateful that I had such small boobs I could wear a bulky sweat shirt and it not matter. I pulled my hair back and started making my way carefully the downstairs and out the front door.
Thresholds usually require momentum to cross. It’s in interia of just starting and taking the step and willingness to not stop and contemplate too long that helped me. Just go and keep going.
I knocked on the neighbor’s door and she went pale very quickly as she took one look at me. I had dried blood up my face when I removed the towel, she made that gutteral gasping noise that really means holy shit, this is serious as she called back to her husband for backup. We went back inside my friend’s place and she asked me who I could call. I didn’t have anyone off hand and my parents live an hour plus away and at this point, I couldn’t not even recall their numbers.
Fate or not, I lean with friendly help of the universe here, an ex-boyfriend had texted me that am that he was at a coffee shop around the corner. He had seen my car as he drove earlier and had extended an invite to meet up. This recent exchange sprang to mind and we called the coffee shop and he came by. He had my dad’s number in his phone along with all my other contact info and that was a life saver. He took me to the emergency room and waited until my dad was close by.
Laying on the table in the ER, all the vulnerability I had been wanting to avoid came crashing in. I was alone, really alone waiting on my dad to park and make his way back. As I waited for the doctor to come in my legs trembled and I thought is this what unmarried single life is going to look like. No emergency contact. Because despite how great your friends are, or how well connected you are, there are unguarded moments where there will be hard shit that happens and it would be nice to have that person to count on being there for you. It was in this moment that I felt the space of emptiness for the closet relationship that I had ended earlier that year. For sickness and in health, right. What have I done.
Laying there , I also thought about how I would look starting a new job with black nylon stitches protruding from under my chin. Like a chia-pet – that’s exactly what I looked like as I starred in the little round mirror the doctor was holding like a happy hair stylist who was proud of the bangs she just gave you. She complimented my healthy chin fat and asked if I ate a lot of salmon. Some how it was completely uncomforting. I think the word she used was ”robust.” I have robust face fat. Great, at least, I’ve got that going for me. I’ll update my online dating profile with that fact.
I forgot what it was like to heal from the inside out. It took months for the legarthy to go away. After 3 weeks I was released to exercise and to my deep dismay as an avid exerciser, I could not even run half a mile without overhwhelming exhaustion completely overtaking me. I would come home from work at 6:30p and go to bed. I started my new job 3 days after this happened. Even 2 months after the fall, I was moving a box and accidentally hit my chin. It bled. It was a deep wound.
Healing isn’t instantaneous and this process I was going through spurred more theological thoughts and reflections about forgiveness. We act as if it’s an easy thing to do to just forgive. To topically look good to those around us we often say we have forgiven a deep offense. And despite how unpopular this is I want to give you the freedom I found in just letting things heal organically. That being with a wound actually creates just the space you need to heal. There is a real process and learning to let it be as it takes guts and a lot of heart and in my case, some single malt whiskey on occasion. Trust me, forgiveness is more an inside-out job.
Emotional wounds are very akin to physical ones. They take time to heal and I believe they do leave scars, even faint ones. Even with the best, most expensive vitamin E oil and routine slathering, I still have a scar. Even though there is a lot that you can overcome, you don’t forget. And, I’m not sure I want to. These things that break us are the very things that make us stronger. Make us more empathic, more capable and more adaptable to change.
To be human is to be lost in the woods. None of us arrives here with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B without stumbling into the forest of confusion or catastrophe or wrongdoing. Although they are dark and dangerous, it is in the woods that we discover our strengths. - Elizabeth Lesser in her book, Broken Open (which is a phenomenal complication of short stories on how adversity propelled people forward.)
I’ve always had a sense I could handle anything. Although my fainting situation could have been worse, especially if I had fallen backwards down the stairs, it was a pivotal turning point for me. I have this bad habit of doing the opposite of upward limiting. I minimize imagine that this event wasn’t so bad. Downward social comparison. It wasn’t Rwanda. I didn’t see anyone get hacked up by machetes or spend months in the bush. Other people have been through worse. Through mediation, I’ve stopped doing that as much. I’ve come to let my story be mine and to be able to sit with it. At some point, you have to come to live your unique story as it is. There is maturity in that. And I’m not sure you have authentic vulnerability until you do.
I can count on myself in a time of trauma. I am strong and capable from the ground of vulnerability not through the hardness and fake strength that I had been posturing. And, I can have a sense of humor in it all.
I fully do believe we live in a friendly universe.
I made up my mind on those two things that day.