Illustration by Peter Arkle
I’m better at breaking arms than legs. Of the four arms I have broken, one belonged to a college boyfriend, who had the misfortune of accepting a ride to class from me one morning. His arm was not the only thing that broke in the ensuing car accident. His head hurtled pretty hard into my windshield too, which cracked like an antique teacup—my windshield, not his head. His head fared fine.
The second arm belonged to a coworker. It broke during an employee Christmas party. Evidently he tried to carry me home safe and sound, and evidently I did not want to go home—or did not want to go to his home anyway, where I doubt I would have been safe and sound. My advice to anyone attempting to carry off someone against her will is this: Let go before your idiot arm breaks.
The other two arms belonged to me. The first broke when I was twelve and crashed a dirt bike after I hit a bump on the trail and catapulted into a squat palm tree. I upset a bunch of small bats sleeping in the tree, and one got stuck in my hair. I remember my left arm was suddenly a lot less effectual at swatting the bat away than my right. The second arm broke when I was twenty and flew over the handlebars of my bicycle after braking too fast in order to avoid getting crushed by a truck. I landed on the concrete—elbow first. Later my mother asked whether I was sure the truck hadn’t grazed me just a little, “because I’d love for you to sue the crap out of that driver.”
So I like to think if I’m going to break a bone, it will be because I’m doing something interesting. Take my mother, who, at forty-seven, broke her foot hang gliding in Mexico. She walked around on it for six days afterward, complaining mildly, then finally went to the emergency room and laughed when the X-ray came back. She wrote a note and kept it taped to her mirror: “The art of falling down is to not stay down,” she reminded herself. Last year my daughter broke her foot too, as we crossed the equator at sea. The ship doctor gave her crutches to use, which she immediately abandoned in favor of just jumping around on one leg. She climbed the Great Wall of China like that. I have pictures.
So when I broke my own foot this fall, I had already failed to live up to their examples by breaking it with a simple slip on the front stoop. Not even real stairs—a stoop. “The chute didn’t deploy,” I told the doctor later that day when she asked what had happened. “I’m lucky to be alive. Believe me.”
“I believe you,” she said, not believing me. I was outfitted with a bulky, gray strap-on cast that looked like a buckle-covered elephant foot made of melted bowling balls. “Don’t walk on it, at all,” the doctor warned. No problem. I planned to be the opposite of the other broken-footed females in my family. I planned to lie around for six weeks mewling for people to fetch me things. Maybe I would even get one of those motorized scooters and embarrass my daughter by following her around, beeping the horn and hollering, “I can’t get up!” and “I can feel my moles changing shape!”
I talked the idea over with my friend Grant, who approved. “And then you can roll along behind me during the Little Five Points parade!” he exclaimed. Grant loves being in parades, and for some reason his lineup always has me relegated to rolling along behind him. My response was the same as always: “I’d rather drive a spike through my eye.”
We were at our first morning coffee after the accident, and I’d tossed my crutches after the first attempt to use them (they were seriously such a hassle), so I had lurched over to Grant’s place on my big, ugly elephant foot totally unaided.
“Milk and sweetener in my coffee, please,” I called to him, all set to lie on his couch and commence mewling. But my ass had hardly hit the cushions when: “Wait, that’s too much milk . . . Okay, now you have to pour some of the . . . Crap! Now there’s not enough . . . Jesus Christ on the cross! You own a bar, right? You pour drinks for a living, right?”
Without a word, Grant plunked down my cup and abandoned it on the counter.
“Fine,” I sighed, hobbling over, “I’ll do it myself.” I swear [hobble, hobble], the second I sit down—oops, forgot the sweetener, gotta turn back—I am staying down [hobble, hobble]. I am not getting up again.
This article originally appeared in our December 2013 issue