Sunday, October 04, 2015

The First Time I Fell

Of course I don't remember the first. Nobody remembers the first. Little kids fall all the time. They're still babies, really, the first time they fall, and the second, and the third, and the umpteenth. Falling is part of learning to stand, learning to move. We call them toddlers because they toddle, and falling comes with the territory.

No, the first time I remember falling was the first time it made an impact. The first time I fell and it mattered, the first time it hurt, the first time it made me feel like a failure.

That time I was, I believe, five years old. I was at my neighbor's house, and he had recently gotten a skateboard. Not those twenty-first-century fatties but the dangerously narrow board of the 1970s, the kind of board your feet hang off at both heel and toe. I saw that board and I saw my future. It was glorious; I was triumphant.

I climbed onto that board in a crouch, and of course it began to roll — slowly, wobbly, but I was determined. I kept my center of gravity low because standing up, I could walk away at any time, and I was committed. I kept my crouch, wedded to the board. Its fate would be my fate.

We rolled down the driveway, my borrowed board and I. Never had the world passed beneath me so fluidly. Even on my tricycle I had to work, and I would feel the friction of my forward motion. Not here. Not now. Never had I moved so quickly. I felt like I was flying. It was my first taste of the world ahead of me, my first taste of freedom.

And then I hit a bump.

A crack, really. The kind of thing that would break your mother's back if you stepped on it, but to a five-year-old kid on a skateboard from the 1900s, it was an immovable object. My board and I were abruptly divorced; it stopped, and I fell forward.

On to my knees, my hands, my face. The way I remember it, I broke a tooth.

I cried. I'm sure of it. But not because of the pain. I cried at the betrayal of it — the board that let me fall, the universe that refused to protect one of its vulnerable citizens. I cried at the shame of it, that I would not be able to hide my failure from my family or friends, or even total strangers. My failure would be part of my smile forever.

(Don't worry, it was a baby tooth; it would still be a few years before I broke teeth fully grown. But I didn't know that then.)

So I fell, and I felt the full force of my failure. But I was only five - still a toddler, really. Forty years later I still remember it, and I'm sure in some ways my life has been shaped by it. But my life wasn't ended by it. I fell. I cried. I got up. And life went on.

We fall. We cry. We get up. And life goes on. And we are shaped by the falling and the crying and even the getting up. But we are never stopped by it. And in fact we are shaped by the going on of it.