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Free Fallin'

It was one of those perfect fall days, with a crisp blue sky and a slight breeze in the air. I had a couple hours before I needed to leave for a fundraising event. The tickets were hard to come by and highly-coveted. I’d been trying to get on the list for years. I decided to go on a run before showering and putting on my pretty new dress, purchased just for the occasion.

With my ipod blaring Tom Petty, I took off down the street, dodging Sycamore balls and Magnolia seedpods and catching occasional whiffs of fireplace smoke. I was heading down the slope on Orchard Drive when a gust of wind blew through the maple trees lining the parkway. Leaves were raining down as Tom sang “Free Fallin’”! Oh the joy of autumn! I ran down the hill with leaves falling freely into my outstretched hands, the delight of a beautiful fall day filling my heart....until I missed the pothole buried somewhere under said leaves, out of the radar of eyes turned upward in ecstasy. And the agony came fiercely as my ankle turned and I crashed chest first down to the yellow-speckled asphalt.

I could barely stand up. Though I was glad no one witnessed my flare for the dramatic, there was also no one around to help me out. I didn’t have my cell phone so I couldn’t call for assistance. I hobbled home on an ankle that was already the size of a soft ball when I hopped through the front door.

You’re home early!” My husband called from the kitchen.

Not intentionally,” I mumbled.

I hopped to the couch, “Ice pack please!”

Oh no, what happened THIS time?” he asked as he arrived by my side with a towel and a package of frozen corn. I have a history of klutzy maneuvers. Just after having my engagement ring re-set in platinum for my 10-year anniversary, we were hiking in Zion National Parks and I attempted to “save” my four year-old son who was about to fall into a river as our family hiked across it, balancing on rocks. I ended up falling off my rock and knocking him into the water, breaking said ring finger. My new ring had to be cut off. Turns out, I could have just stepped off my rock into the barely ankle deep water and guided my toddler to the next rock. After ten years of marriage, my husband had learned basic triage.

So I kept the bulging ankle elevated and iced for half-an-hour before I hopped to the shower to get ready for my shindig. But by the time I got out, the swelling had progressed to my knee.

You can’t go like that,” my husband said doubtfully as he brought the oft-used crutches into the bedroom and handed me some Motrin.

You’re only going to make it worse,” he advised as I sat on the bed, the throbbing getting increasingly pronounced. He piled pillows leg-length from where I was sitting and passed me my ipad and mobile phone, and left to deal with sound effects from the kids. After fifteen years of marriage, my husband had also learned that I don’t like to sit still.

I looked up the event on their website. There was a warning in bolded font: There are a lot of stairs and cobblestones in the courtyard with no accommodations for wheelchairs….or presumably crutches. I called my friend to see if she could find a last minute date. Damn Tom Petty!

Time passes. I’m healed. It’s been three years now and no incidents. I’ve gotten back to running when time permits. But I am like an earthquake. Eventually my klutziness must cause a seismic shift. Let off some squelched energy. Force my whirling dervish momentum to stop. Make me pause and reset for a bit. We're in San Francisco in October for our first gar wedding. We took the kids out of school for this special occasion. My daughter even opted to miss her homecoming dance for the chance to celebrate the momentous event. We had marched together against Prop 8 and she wanted to see these two close family friends say their vows overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

We danced the night away and as I was twirling on the dance floor with my daughter to Donna Summers’ “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” my foot found the one lone ice cube in a small puddle of a spilled cocktail and in a flash, I was on the floor, my knee twisted to the side. A friend who is a Fire Chief in Stockton came to my rescue with an icepack, as the knee rapidly swelled to the size of a cantaloupe. After a six-hour drive home the next day, I couldn’t even stand on it. Thoughts of surgery plagued my mind. Turned out to be a severely bruised MCL. Stay off it for a month or so, they said. Yeah. Right. And damn Donna Summers!

So I delved into acupuncture, I eased back into yoga, I eventually began to hike again and just before Christmas, I tried to run. It didn’t hurt. I was hopeful. I could get back into my exercise routine at the start of the year.

But then came Pinnacles. My family has been on a quest to see all of America’s National Parks. We’ve visited 31 so far, from Maine and Virginia to Washington, Oregon, Montana and throughout the Southwest. When we heard that the newest addition to the list is in California, up near Monterey, we decided on a post-Christmas getaway. President Obama elevated Pinnacles from a National Monument to a National Park in 2013. It’s only five hours from Los Angeles, so we were determined to check it out. The breathtaking spires and talus caves make for some spectacular views and challenging climbs, and we were constantly on the lookout for one of the rarest birds in North America, the California Condor who make their home in Pinnacles.

A group of thuggy teens hike down the mountain passing us with their high top laces open, black t’s and sagger pants revealing plaid boxers. One of them carries a boom box of all things, blarring Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos.” It disturbs the peace of the quiet craggy mountain trail, but at least the song is catchy, though I am sure it is not inviting any Condor sightings. I see my teenage daughter looking at them with what might be a little envy. She’d probably rather be with friends than with her family, especially since she and her dad have been bickering much of the day.

As the music becomes increasingly distant, save for the incessant replay in my head, we come upon a stunning viewpoint. The lighting is dramatic against the red of the rocks and the lush green pines, and my son stands in a picture perfect spot near a tree in the foreground. I call to my family to join him in a pose and I look for a rock on which to set up my Nikon with the self-timer.

It’s flashing!” says my husband, and I nimbly hop over a rock rushing to get into the shot, but just as I turn toward the camera, my knee gives out. The pain shoots through my leg and I fall to the ground. I feel my husband grabbing for my arm. After twenty years of marriage, my husband has developed quick reflexes.

I am down, rocking in agony, wondering how – a full two hours from where we parked – how am I going to get down from the mountain. When I finally stand, it hurts, but I can put some pressure on it. As long as we move slowly, I think I can walk. Damn Enrique Iglesias.

My husband asks, “You must have had a crazy shot of adrenaline when you looked over that cliff!”

All I noticed was the pain.” I said, completely unaware of what he was talking about.

But then he points out where we were standing. Literally on the edge of a very steep drop into a ravine, jagged with rocks. Near certain death for anyone who might fall down there, and I came very close to pushing him off the edge as he attempted to save me.

My gosh kids! I nearly killed your father!

And my daughter, still annoyed with her dad says, “Yeah, that would have sucked if he fell down the cliff. After all, the keys to the truck were in his pocket. How would we have gotten home?

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As shared at Story Salon on September 9, 2015.

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