My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.
The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.
Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.
We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.
We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.
I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.
It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.
My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.
In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.
I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.
My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.
They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.
Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.
The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.
Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.
I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.
I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.
Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.
Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.
I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.
But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.
They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.
It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.
But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.
I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.
I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.
So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”
He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.
“I know,” he said.
And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.
My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.
“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”
I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.
I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”
I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.
My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.