A little over a year ago, just after my apartment burned down, I fell while jogging. I tripped on some unleveled cobblestones, and went right down on them, ripping the skin off both of my knees. A few days later, I still couldn't walk. I went to the doctor and found out that I had bursitis.
Nobody understands why I have bursitis. It's called Housemaid's Knee. Usually maids get it from working on their knees too much. You can imagine the reactions I got when I explained to friends why I was limping.
"You're not a housemaid. What the hell have you been doing?" Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.
Since then, it's been a never-ending battle to keep my bursitis down. If it flares up, I can be off my feet for a week. Then I miss working out. It takes longer and longer for me to burn off all the malt liquor that I drank into a giant beer gut in college.
The worst part of it? I keep falling. I keep hurting myself.
Last week, while grading papers in my office, I swiveled from the bookshelf to the desk to the computer and back again. Each time I came around, I smacked my bad knee into the side of the desk. I did this not once, not twice, but FOUR times. That night, I fell into bed, digging my knee into the springs. The next day, while writing at home, I turned around in my chair too fast and it flipped out from underneath me. I went down on my bad knee, and the chair flipped up, its legs knocking a stack of books off the bookshelf.
I drop stuff. I walk into walls. I can't tell you how many mornings my hand has missed the spoon and plunked straight into my cereal bowl, splashing soy milk all over the table.
I am a clumsy ox. I come from a family of clumsy oxen. At dinners together, we swap our clumsy escapades. There's the time that Catherine tripped up the family room step, fell into the basement door, which knocked the cat down the stairs. There's the time that Moira gave herself a concussion by hitting herself in the head with a hairdryer. There's the time Mom brought Matthew a glass of water before bedtime, and then tripped and spilled it all over him. Four-year-old Matthew replied, "Thanks for the water, Mom."
The rest of my family handles our clumsiness with comedy. I continue to feel mortified, mainly because the clumsiness extends into a lack of physicality that I've never been able to overcome. In grade school gym class, team captains always picked me last. In mosh pits, I was picked up and thrown. On two occasions, while dancing at some club, someone has pulled me aside and asked "Are you okay?"
Embarrassment is tough to swallow. It tastes like a dish rag. It makes my nose burn. It hurts. But like Dimetapp or Robitussin, I know I have to get it down, wince and deal with it, in order to make myself better.
Sometimes I ask myself: Am I really that goofy-looking, or is our culture too superficial?
Yes. I am that goofy-looking. Yes. Our culture is too superficial. And I contribute to the latter on a daily basis. I drop everything to watch Josh Beckett pitch for the Red Sox. I fall for bands with lead singers that dance around all cheesy. If the second Lord of the Rings is on TV, I have to stop and wait for the part where Legolas skateboards down the steps of Helms Deep on a shield, shooting arrows at Urk-hai the whole way down.
Athleticism is kinda hot. Clumsiness is not. So be it.
Then I lace up my sneakers and head out the door to go for a run. I hit the sidewalk and turn towards the Charles River, which is lined with smooth grey concrete, and not a cobblestone in sight.