"Sometimes she sleeps with her eyes open." There was a worried tenderness in my Dad's voice.
"Yeah, I know." My best friend said, her voice close to my dad's. They were looking at me from the left. I could feel them, though I couldn't will my swollen eyes to see them. At twelve, I was already legally blind without my glasses and had been for half of my life. My glasses were...MIA.
"I'm not asleep," I said through lips that moved like distended tectonic plates. Looking back, I think I had been asleep. I also think my eyes had neglected to close properly, as per usual. My dad laughed. His honest surprise at my consciousness hinted at the sad state of affairs my face found itself in.
Things began to come into focus, cognitively, if not visually. The room was unnecessarily bright. The silhouettes of my dad and friend stayed to my left while others lumbered in and out of view like dark circus animals in a poorly choreographed routine. I was definitely lying down, a fact I confirmed when someone with particularly foul breath leaned over me, pried my eyelids open and asked when my birthday was.
My dad's callous thumb ran nervously back and forth over the top of my hand. I could imagine him in miniature pacing there in his dirty boots. I felt his concern. And I felt guilty for causing it.
My father used to wrap his fingers around my upper arm so that his thumb rested on the top knuckle of his middle finger and then he would point out that I was, "puny." I hated that word. It made me feel like I smelled like a tuna sandwich.
I had fallen. I held on as long as I could, but in the end, I fell. My friend in the room with me had been there when it happened. I remembered her scream and hurried footfalls...and I remembered ordering her to find my glasses, (they had fallen off--rather, they had been crushed between my face and the barn as I hurtled into it, but I wouldn't find that out until later.)
We "borrowed" her neighbors' horses for a quick swim in the pond and then a saunter around the pasture. Since my father was an equine veterinarian, I suppose my friend and her neighbor's daughter assumed that lent me a measure of expertise when it came to horses. I probably should have disclosed the fine print: My father feels that I am small and breakable and has forbidden me to come within arm's length of large farm animals, tall climbing trees, or especially precarious playground equipment. Therefore, my experience with horses is limited at best. His extensive knowledge is not hereditary. Any equine encounters should be considered potentially reckless and approached with caution, if not avoided like the Black Plague. In my defense, my cotton shorts and Keds were fairly screaming all of this on their own.
The horse's coat pricked my legs like cactus needles. Her muscles jarred my body as we trotted through the field. Her mane flapped against my arms, stinging with a filament burn on my skin, my slight frame pulled the horse one way and then the other; all of this reinforcing what I had always suspected: I was not feeble. I was the opposite of puny. I was a gladiator; an equestrian...for a moment, until I tumbled from my noble steed and did an elegant face plant into the barn at top speed.
There is maybe no other sensation in the world like riding bare-back as a horse strides into a body of water, strong and confident while the water climbs up and over her back and the jarring senation of steps is replaced with the fluid movement of power through liquid resistence. She pulled us through to the other side of the pond and found her feet again. A seasoned rider would be ready for the horse to shake after being submerged in water. I was not seasoned and was nearly upended as she shook and ruffled her skin and then flicked her wet tail over my calves like a hundred slender whips. I grasped her mane and managed to stay upright.
I decided to run her back to the other side of the pasture, inspired by her power and my control of it. We trotted and then galloped and then 50 yards or so away from the barn, I pulled in the reins to prepare for landing. This is where she decided to remind me how truly powerless I was and how in the grand scheme, I was actually puny, afterall. Instead of slowing, my horse tucked her ears and picked up speed. I pulled harder on the reins, and then she pulled harder and ran faster. My heart hammered in time with her hooves. I was calculating all of the potential scenarios. If I held on, she would likely continue running through the barn door and out the back side, but I would almost certainly hit my head on the low clearance of the barn door as we passed through. I needed to get off of her before we got to the barn. I grasped her mane again and blacked out. When I came to, I was still holding onto her mane and she was still running. Hard. Toward the barn. The potential scenarios were thin on the ground, now that I found myself next to the speeding horse. And then, inside my head I heard my own voice, calm and rational. "Emily, let go."
I awoke sometime later in a dark room to a noise not unlike a feral cat half-heartedly pursuing a mate. My dad was not with me. I seemed to be alone. Embarrassment crept over me when I realized that noise was coming from me. But Embarrassment was quickly eclipsed by Pain. I was sitting on a hard table. Blood dripped from my nose in a continental drift over my lips and into my lap. A Radiology Technician peeked his head from inside his iron clad closet and asked why I was crying. What hurt?
I convinced myself to stop moaning while I formulated an answer. ... Pain. Everything hurt. And nothing hurt. I was enveloped in low hanging clouds of Pain that permeated my skin like rain through a T shirt and spread out from there indiscriminate, indiscernible. Unable to pinpoint the source, I renewed my moaning in fresh peels of agony. This annoyed the Radiology Technician.
I awoke again, sometime later in the overly lit room with my Dad at my side. My sister burst through the curtains like she was on fire, or I was. She laid her head across my knees and cried into the waffle knit blanket. It was sweet, but maybe a little more "day time drama" than was entirely necessary. (She would tell me later how friends of ours and of our parents would find her in the hallways at church and tell her that her sister had just been killed and she should go to the hospital to be with her family.)
The dragon-breathed doctor returned, announcing that my x-rays were clear, my spine was intact, I didn't have so much as a broken nose. What I did have was a bear of a concussion. He was admitting me to the hospital overnight for observation. He broadcast all of this while loosing me from a large, obtuse neck brace that I hadn't noticed until that moment. I was thrilled to be able to swallow again, and more thrilled later that the discomfort in my neck and throat had been temporary and removable.
The rest of that evening and most of the next day are lost to me. The only thing I can remember is sitting up in my hospital bed, peering into the mirror that popped up out of the rolling table I ate meals on. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't. Morbid curiosity. I was hideous. I was Quasimodo.
I picked at a piece of gravel that was embedded in my forehead and it fell onto the table. I wondered why no one had thought to do that. It left a small Crescent Moon shaped gash over my right eyebrow. That smooth, light moon is the only reminiscence of my equestrian glory-day that I carry with me. (Me and Harry Potter)
As I was giggling about that day with my husband and daughters, recently, he pointed out that I must have fallen at just the right moment, in just the right position...it could have been a very different story. Why didn't the barn snap my neck?
I don't know.
It must be in the art of falling and in all of the grace you find on your way down.