I fell off the swings. I don’t know what happened. I was pumping my legs – pushing them straight out in front of me to go higher, then tucking them under me to come back down – and I must have let go of the chains on the side of the swing, because I went flying, face first, across the sandbox. I landed on my chin, and scraped off most of the skin on it. It hurt. I cried.
I was three years old, and ended up on a bench outside my pre-school classroom with my teacher. She helped me hold a cup of ice to my chin as I waited for my dad to come pick me up. I still remember that cup. It was just a blue and white Dixie Cup filled with water and frozen. They must have had tons of those in the refrigerator. Toddlers are always falling down and hurting themselves. Just like me.
It’s been twenty-four years, and nothing has changed. I fell a few weeks ago, on Market Street in San Francisco, with cars and buses and trains whizzing by and bystanders looking at me like, “Girl, how drunk ARE you?”
We had gone to the Giants game, and then out for drinks. On our way back to the BART station, Dan and I were playing a game of chicken with one another – smacking each other and pinching each other and generally being annoying to everyone around us. I smacked him one last time, and tried to run before he could hit me back, just like I would have when I was three years old. And, just like I would have when I was three years old, I tripped, and fell, and skinned my hand, and my elbow, and my knee.
My knee took the worst of it. It’s healed up nicely, but at the time, on my side, on the street, in searing pain, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry SO badly. But I’m not three anymore. In fact, I’m almost thirty. And it’s not socially acceptable for an almost-thirty-year-old woman to cry just because she fell down and has a boo boo.
My last real spill was five years ago. I was at my Aunt Gloria’s house in upstate New York, visiting her husband, Arnie, in the hospital. Our whole family was there. The phone rang. And suddenly, no one else was around. So I went to answer the extension in the sunroom, forgetting there was a step down into the addition.
I fell, and though I didn’t hurt myself, I was startled. I started to cry. Even though I was fine, even though I wasn’t hurt, I let myself cry, because it felt like the right thing to do at that moment. I was surrounded by my family members in seconds, and not one of them judged me for crying. They all told me they understood, and then they helped me up.
I didn’t mean to cry when I fell down in the sunroom. It just kind of happened. And I let myself do it because to be honest, I didn’t have any control over my body at that moment. It was just a physiological reaction, and it felt wonderful – a complete release from the uncertainty I had just experienced in my lost footing.
But five years later, on a brick sidewalk, I held it in. Because it didn’t feel like a release as much as it felt like a beg for pity. I retained control and told myself that the situation wasn’t going to get any more pathetic than it already was. I might be a girl on the ground, but I was not about to be a crying girl on the ground.
But why? What difference would it make? I was surrounded by my husband and my friends – people who love and care about me. Who was there to embarrass myself in front of? Strangers? They’re walking around in downtown San Francisco. Trust me, they’ve seen far weirder things.
There’s something about becoming an adult – and specifically, about being an adult woman – that turns crying into a non-option. Even if it’s all you want to do. Even if it feels right. Even if no one would judge you, you would judge yourself.