We spent what I hope to be one of our last weekends working on the house renovation in Dickinson this weekend. And no matter how positive I keep my attitude during this massive project (that has, I think, worked really hard to ruin my life for the last two years) sometimes you just have to sit on the roof and have a little mental breakdown.
Because I saw my life flash before my eyes this weekend.
I have never claimed to be a brave person–I mean when it comes to hazardous situations that have the capabilities to maim or dismember or cause head trauma or possible death, the worst case scenario always flashes in my mind. I play it all out: I am running the table saw and my hand slips, slicing off a much under appreciated (until that moment) left hand appendage. I scream in horror. Blood pools from my hand and the husband comes rushing to my side, wrapping the wound with the bandana from his head as he frantically searches for the missing limb in a garage full of dust and tools and scraps I should have cleaned up yesterday, dammit. We rush to the hospital and the limb cannot be saved, and I walk around the rest of my life having to explain the accident and why I don’t have a left thumb. Knitting is definitely out.
I snap out of the day dream (or nightmare) and realize that the particular situation is probably unlikely, considering all of the safety precautions and the fact that I rarely run the table saw. But I also realize that shit like this does happen sometimes. It happens to some people–you know, the ones that are walking around missing pieces of their bodies. And if I’ve learned anything in my short life it is that if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen to me.
See, I’m accident prone. It has been proven. I have stubbed multiple toes, broken fingers, and have scars from minor, “walking” and “baking” accidents all over my arms and legs. Yes, I have been labeled a bit of a klutz. My cousins called me “tuck and roll” for most of my life for crying out loud. This unique characteristic of my existence is at the top of my mind today because I am nursing an old injury. It “flared up.” (Does using this phrase make me that much closer to becoming the old lady I always knew I was meant to be?) And, as chain of events seem to go, this happy little reminder of a youth spent in several different casts was the culprit of my near demise this weekend.
When I was about thirteen years old I was helping my dad get the horses in from the pasture to the front of the barn. At that time, our horses didn’t come when we whistled, unfortunately for me.
Most of the time when I was growing up we would walk to look for them in the pasture and then lead them in with grain, or take a bridal and ride one of them bareback home, while the others followed. Well this particular time my dad, my little sister and myself took the pickup and some grain out into the pasture to call them in. But we forgot a bridal. No worries. Dad told me to just jump on my old mare and ride her in. He had a piece of twine (or leather, I can’t remember, it’s all a blur now), from which he made a temporary bridal, slipped it over her nose and boosted me up on the old, red mare, stomping and milling around with the other ten horses. My mission was to ride her in while the rest of the herd followed.
Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Except it did.
I pulled frantically on my homemade bridal with no response, because the mare was on a mission and I guess my dad needed to take a class in bridal making. I was now trying to steer and gain control of an oversized animal with a mind of her own with a piece of string connected to NOTHING BUT AIR!!! And all the beautiful horses followed behind, bucking and kicking and snorting and stomping and laughing and teasing me as a tried to remain calm on the back of a 1,200 pound beast in the middle of a damn stampede.
So after weighing all my options and seeing my death played out in my mind, what did I do? I decided to bail.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, you could decide to jump on the hardest, most uneven, piece of hard packed gumbo on the ranch, which just happened to be littered with rocks and boulders and sharp objects ready to pierce your fragile skin. Yes, you could decide to jump off there, all elbows and legs flailing as you reason that hitting the ground on purpose couldn’t possibly be as life altering as hitting it by accident.
Except I am not sure there is a difference really. Hitting the ground is hitting the ground, especially when you abandon all logical falling moves designed to protect one’s limbs and noggin. Like the well known “tuck and roll.”
And I eventually hit the ground. And hit my head on a rock. And broke my wrist in half.
That was a fun one for the little horse gathering crew to explain to mom.
Anyway, after a surgery and pins and a summer in a cast, without really noticing, I have chosen to use that wrist as little as possible into my adult life. And this weekend that little injury came back to bite me… funny how my accidents connect.
Like I said, it flared up. I pride myself on being able to tell when the weather is going to change, because the old wrist stiffens up (yeah, I am definitely an old lady) but this was a bit more severe than an ache, and the weather wasn’t changing. But I didn’t let it stop me from getting my work done. No, not this tough girl. I complained enough about it, but I went about my business, which on this particular day happened to involve painting the outside of the house. Which requires a really tall ladder and getting on the roof.
Did I mention I hate heights? Like I pray to God when I am above ground level a few feet to save me from my immanent death.
But anyway, I also happen to hate asking for help. Because I should be able to handle moving a 20 ft. antique, adjustable fiberglass ladder around to all sides of the house with only one, measly, Olive Oyl arm.
What could possibly go wrong.
Well, after a couple successful, but agonizing moves, exhausted and sweating to beat hell, I tried, one last time to move the 100 pound apparatus by positioning myself directly underneath it, balancing it on my shoulder as I attempted to dig the base into the ground and hoist it to lean it in its proper location. That was the plan. Until my good arm gave out and the ladder wobbled back and forth as my shoulders acted as the base in a teeter totter, positioning my head directly between two rungs. Two adjustable rungs. And in my efforts to stay standing to avoid being flattened by this fiberglass ladder that was ripping all exposed flesh to shreds, I maneuvered the ladder just right to get my good arm in position to fling the thing off of myself, which also happened to be the same maneuver that signals the ladder to adjust. Adjust down. Which trapped my head between the two rungs.
I pulled back.
I pushed forward.
I wondered if the neighbors were watching.
The pressure began to constrict my airway.
I laughed a little at the thought. I began to sweat. I thought about calling to my husband, but didn’t want the neighbors to hear. I started to cry…just for a second.
In one more breath of courage and adrenaline in the face of humiliation, I decided to see if my bad hand may be able to finally pull its weight around here and I reached for both sides of the ladder and with gusto managed to signal the ladder to adjust up, freeing my skull and rocketing the ladder to the ground.
I ran in to tell the story to my husband, who promptly came out to move the ladder for me so I could get on the roof and finish the job.
Yes. That is exactly what could go wrong. And exactly what I did. I got back on the horse. I got back on the roof. I dangled over the edge, scraping the siding, praying to the Saint of gravity or falling or not falling or landing softly (I’m not Catholic, and am not familiar with the Saints, but figured there must be one for these situations). I negotiated all worst case scenarios. I shook. I swore. I cried…just a little.
And then I called my husband up for help. And he, like Superman, or Spiderman or something, jumped from the pickup, to the garage roof, to the house roof in three noble leaps to sit with me high above Dickinson, on top of the life we’re about to sell, as I wished away my fear.
I wished to be more like him, my husband, who conquers tasks, high above or down below ground (or in his most dreaded situations, like cocktail parties) with precision and confidence. I wished to be more like my pug, who on the way home leaped from the window of my moving pickup and bounced and rolled like a beach ball into the ditch, only to get up and run toward the house, because he just couldn’t wait to be back at the ranch and he thought he could get there faster.
But would life be easier without the fear–without our mind and our reasoning and our logic getting in the way of all of the things we are capable of? If we could just jump, head first like the pug as the ground goes whizzing out from under us without thought of how this could end? Would we be better If we could make the decision, in a split second, and have faith that it will turn out, or at least get us somewhere–somewhere more than a broken arm, a head stuck in a ladder or a life without bravery?
I don’t think so. Bravery defined is “feeling no fear.” But to live a life of bravery, to me, does not mean to live a life with no fear. We need fear–it makes us human and separates us from the pugs. It saves us from head trauma, hurt feelings and broken ams. Fear is always in there, somewhere. I mean, even noble husband is afraid of something (which happens to be spiders). Fear gives us pause to reflect and really feel, to think and reason and then, hopefully do it anyway. Because it is the conquering that is the most difficult, which makes it the most important really. It is the conquering that makes us brave.
I am working on it. The bravery thing. The conquering thing.
Because the project needs to get done, my husband’s not a great painter and I at least have one good hand.
And another for emergencies.