Saturday, May 3, 2014

Skin and Bone: A Farewell of Sorts

It was a September day so balmy that it carried regret on its back, the sense that summer had come and gone without enough respect paid to the great outdoors. The children were in school. The little one had not cried at drop-off, and I was feeling relieved, and daring to be hopeful about drop-offs to come. Across from the preschool was an abandoned train station and its tracks, covered over now by nature's restorative efforts. The parents of children attending the Montessori school typically scrambled down and then up the other side of the trackbed, a shortcut enabling them to reach their cars faster, and start their days sooner. 

Somehow I skidded down into the base of the channel. My thong sandals were flimsy. There must have been morning dew. I don't really know. I didn't pay attention to the chain of events that would seem important only in retrospect. My right leg made contact with the bottom of the U-shaped ditch, and I heard the snap of bone. And then, incredibly, a second snap.

I sat stunned for a minute. I assessed my predicament through a sudden fog. I stared at my right foot, which was angled in a grotesque and improbable way. I looked to both sides of me. Where were all the parents? On the road to my right I saw the short school bus that had disgorged, minutes earlier, a small group of kindergartners. The bus driver sat lounging in her seat; the bus' accordion door was folded back to welcome the warm air.

This story is not about my broken leg, although the leg was in fact broken. Both tibia and fibula. Accidents happen. Even freak accidents happen. They happen to healthy 37-year-old women on sun-kissed days when all one's ducks seem to be in a row (no tears at drop-off!).

However, this story is about my broken leg, in one sense: during my six-month convalescence (a period including three surgeries, two plates, eleven screws, near-total bedrest, and excruciating sessions of physical therapy), I began to write.

Why, then, did I make a point of telling you about the bus driver? Because when I was sitting frozen in that ditch, having recognized that I was unable to move, I could scarce muster the courage to raise my voice, shout, "I need help." My first reaction - not horror at my twisted leg, not pain-fueled hysteria - was embarrassment. Shame. I did finally yell for help, directing my volume toward the bus driver, but I found doing so as agonizing as my injury. As for the bus driver, good soul, she went into the preschool to fetch the director, and call for an ambulance.

Soon teachers were at my side, and parents too. I remember wondering how they could have appeared so quickly, when a moment or a lifetime ago they were nowhere. A clutch of women made a circle about me, clucking sympathetically, chatting about their own history of broken bones, ailments, and accidents. As women do. Never in my life before or since have I wished so fervently to spit out ugly, venomous words and scatter them like seeds, to stop these women from speaking about nothing when there was so goddamn much pain, which had flown up and off the scale, finally, and was now sending streaks of lightning across my visual field and causing my stomach to knot so fiercely that vomiting felt a foregone conclusion. Instead I smiled and nodded and felt for all the world as if I were hosting a coffee klatsch right there on the weedy, pebbled trackbed. There would be no speaking my truth, not on that day.

When a month later I began to write - encouraged by a blogger friend - it all came tumbling out, the mess I'd kept closeted for years, so thoroughly closeted that I'd completely forgotten about the existence of the closet. I wrote and wrote and wrote, publishing every day and sometimes twice in a day. You thought I was prolific, readers of my blog, and I was, but only because there was so much pressure behind what had been stopped up for too long.

I 'found myself' (as much as I detest that expression) in my forties, and I couldn't have done that without blogging. I had articulated a divide: between my thirties, when I dared not speak my truth, and my forties, when I wasn't so much speaking my truth as shouting it. But this divide was artifice - a literary device. The real divide came before I reached forty years old. It came on September 14, 2005, when I broke my leg and realized that even in duress I was apologizing for drawing attention, for causing trouble, for creating a fuss, for being me.

I am grateful, so very grateful, for blogging, for you, the people I've grown to love through blogging - you who never turned away from me during my metamorphosis but instead embraced me. At least one of you will surely laugh and accuse me of crying wolf, claiming to be done with blogging when in a few months I will prove otherwise. At that accusation, which we all know to be well-founded, I shrug. I can write only what I believe to be true at the time I'm writing it.

But hey, that shrug? Means that I am finally comfortable in my own skin. It's taken forty-six years and a lot of experiences I'd rather not have had. And yet: God! I am so thankful to be here, now.

My leg has healed. The two plates and eleven screws, they will remain inside me for the entirety of my life.

I like to think that some of us just need a few screws and plates - and a blog - to help us become ourselves. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vote For Our Future

I live in a small town. The main business of the town is education, whether it is the education of small people or relatively larger, college-aged people. Education: its Latin root means to draw out from within, or to lead forth. Given that so many of us here a) are in the process of being educated; b) have children who are in the process of being educated; c) have returned as retirees to a place where we or our loved ones were once educated; and/or d) work in the field of educating others, we ought to be especially sensitive to the laudable goal of 'leading forth' our community's children. At a time when society's burdens and challenges are acute (global warming; overpopulation; drug-resistant bacteria, among others), it would seem especially important for us to raise creative thinkers who will meet these burdens and challenges with aplomb.

In order to do that, we must have learning environments that facilitate, not hinder, a twenty-first century education. We need spaces that encourage collaboration and "out of the box" problem-solving, interdisciplinary instruction, and technological innovation. At present we have a high school that enables none of these things. The high school is far outdated. Its condition has so deteriorated that students must prepare for extreme heat in a classroom, extreme cold, and/or the possibility - very real, sadly - of flooding. Classrooms are small, isolated, and not technologically 'smart.' High schoolers must walk back and forth across a busy street multiple times in one day to attend their classes, some of which are in one building, the rest in another. What a waste of precious learning time!

On May 20th the referendum to build a new high school will come up for a vote. I honestly can't see why anyone would vote against this referendum. One visit to the aging high school should convince even stalwart opponents of the dire need for action. I have listened to naysayers' complaints: these are predominantly about increased property taxes to finance the construction of a new high school. I wish I could help such people see bigger, broader, further, help them see the need for a new high school not as a choice but as a moral imperative. It is not about the adults among us, or it shouldn't be. It is about the legacy we leave our children, our friends' children, our grandchilden, our friends' grandchildren.

For it is these children who shall inherit the earth.

Vote yes on May 20th. Vote for our future.