fall – verb | fall | \ˈfȯl\

: to come or go down quickly from a high place or position
: to come or go down suddenly from a standing position
: to let yourself come or go down to a lower position


I felt the thud as I landed face down in a stranger’s driveway.

What just happened, I thought as I tried to catch the breath that had just been knocked out of me. Even as I was evaluating my injuries, deciding whether or not to move, I remembered the catch of my toe on the concrete lip of the driveway. I could again feel my arms flailing back and forth like a giant inflatable at a used car lot. I relived that sense of falling, the space between me and the ground diminishing in slow motion, like a dream. I felt the thud again as I belly-flopped onto the sidewalk and scooted a few inches, skin to concrete.

“Are you okay?” my husband shouted. He had been running next to me and saw the whole thing. “Tell me what you want me to do.”

The second before I landed I had been breathing heavy, pulse high, running for exercise. I knew I was getting tired. The 90-degree air was thick, and my lungs were sucking hard to get oxygen out of the dampness. I could feel my feet beginning to shuffle. I had just looked up. I had just pointed to the For Sale sign in the yard ahead of us. I was just saying to Steve, “When we get to that sign, let’s walk to the next street.”

We didn’t make it to the sign.

“I just need to turn over,” I said. I was the hundred-seventy pound elephant sitting on top of my own lungs. I needed to get the weight of myself under me. As I rolled, I could tell nothing was broken. Relief and oxygen coursed through me.

“I’m okay,” I gasped. “I just need to lay here a minute.” Proper grammar eluded me, shaken from the fall.

With help, I eventually stood, checking out the blood dripping from one elbow and the road rash covering the tops of my thighs and the other elbow. My shirt sported bits of gravel and dirt. Though I had landed with a thud on my chest, my husband speculated that it had saved my wrists and knees which were bruised but not crushed. No breaks, this time.

As I evaluated my injuries, a nicely dressed couple drove up in a large SUV. “Are you okay?” the husband called out from the driver’s side. “I saw you fall.” Though his gray hair betrayed his age, his square shoulders and slim build made him seem like someone who might have run his fair share of laps around our neighborhood. His wife, closer to me on the passenger side, remained quiet, a concerned look on her face. On her, the same gray hair made her look more fragile. Maybe it was her smaller build or her quiet demeanor.

“I’m okay,” I said. “I just got tired and tripped.”

“Can I give you a ride home?” the man asked, looking at me, then my husband, then back at me.

“No, it’s okay,” I told him. “I need to walk it off.” Noticing again the concerned look on his wife’s face, I wondered if she was secretly wondering how she would get blood stains out of the back seat upholstery.

“Are you sure?” the man asked.

“I’m sure,” I said. My husband had left the decision up to me. “Thanks for your kindness and being a good neighbor.”

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As the SUV drove off, I began to cry. I was okay, but I wasn’t. My stiff neck left me wondering about whiplash. My bloodied elbow throbbed. The abrasions on the tops of my thighs stung with each step. “I’m so mad,” I said to Steve. “I’m just getting old.”

Which is true, but not exactly the cause of the fall. The sidewalks in our town are cracked and uneven; tree roots have forced some sections into 45 degree angles above the normal grade. The driveway openings are inconsistent, some taller, some shorter than others. Just the week before, Steve was running alone and fell, looking up from his path like I did.

I stopped crying within a block or so, but not without sitting for a minute on someone’s steps to catch my breath. My body began to calm down; the adrenalin stopped flowing; my breathing slowed to normal. The pain increased as I walked, though I was thankful I had taken two Aleve for a headache before leaving the house.

It’s a big problem in our area: uneven sidewalks and the constant risk of falling. Even in the sections of our neighborhood where freshly poured concrete makes the sidewalk flat, sticks fall and children leave their toys out and the rain washes piles of leaves into our paths. The path forward never seems smooth enough to stop looking down.

Our larger problem, though, is when we become so risk averse, so afraid of falling, that we stop looking up, stop looking ahead, stop setting new goals based on what’s around us and what we see coming up. At its worst, the fear keeps us from venturing out at all.

I still have to put bandaids on my elbow to keep the scab from breaking, and new bruises emerge daily on the tops of my thighs. But otherwise, I’m healing up quite nicely. Last night, we even got back out into the neighborhood again for an evening walk.

“Was it funny?” I asked Steve as we recalled the details of the fall during our stroll. I mimicked the flailing arms and the look I must have had on my face. “I felt like I was in slow motion. Was it funny to watch?”

“No, not at the time,” he said. “I guess it might be funny now, but not at the time.”

“Do you think there’s blood on the sidewalk?” I asked.

“Probably,” he replied. “Like a crime scene.” We both laughed.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll try running again. I’m looking forward to it.


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Photo by mrhayata, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.