This was the first fall that rattled my brain that anyone in my family remembers. My mother still talks about it to this day. She was in the next room when it happened. The possible anoxic brain injury I sustained as an infant is another frequent topic of conversation, but she wasn’t there when that happened, so this is the one she brings up the most often.
The house where my family lived, till I was 10 years old, was small. Realtors would call it “cozy”. There were three bedrooms upstairs, and three rooms downstairs – living room, dining room, kitchen. Upstairs and downstairs were connected by a short flight of stairs – about 10 carpeted steps and not very steep – that had a landing near the bottom and a few more steps angling into the far corner of the dining room.
I remember standing at the top of the stairs one afternoon… and then I found I was at the bottom of the stairs, lying in a dazed heap. I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten there. I was dazed and rattled, and I didn’t feel right. I got up and went to stand in the middle of the dining room, to “check in” with myself and see if I was alright.
I knew I wasn’t badly hurt. I could move my arms and legs and fingers and toes. I wasn’t in pain at all, that I could tell. So, I knew I was basically okay. Still, everything felt weird and far away, like I was at one end of a long, narrow, dark tunnel, and the rest of the world was at the other end…. Or like I was encased in a thick translucent bubble in the middle of a fog. Everything outside my “bubble” seemed foggy and distant, including my mother’s concerned calls from the kitchen. It was the strangest feeling — I was there, but I was not there. I could move my arms and legs, but I felt completely disconnected from my body, like I was moving it by remote control. I wanted to respond to the distant calls, but I was so confused, so dazed, and so wrapped up in figuring out if there was anything wrong with me, I wanted the voice in the distance to go away.
My mother had heard the racket and was alarmed. After calling out to me and hearing no response, she rain into the dining room to see how I was. She tried to touch me, to see if I was alright, but I pulled away and wouldn’t let her near me. She frightened me, coming that close to me so quickly, and I couldn’t stand the feel of her touch. Her touch felt like a slap — like a sudden flash of lightning and a thunderclap on an otherwise clear summer’s day.
She kept saying, “Are you alright? Are you alright?!” But I couldn’t answer her. Her voice echoed in my head and hurt my ears almost as much as her touch hurt my arm. It sounded like I was deep underwater, and she was calling to me from far above.
All I could say was, “It was me.”
She kept trying to check if I was hurt, and everytime she made contact with me, it hurt. I pulled away – away – away – and remained silent. I just wanted her to leave me alone.
She did leave me alone after a few minutes, and I remember standing still for a while longer, until my body felt like it could move on its own, without me commanding it. Then I walked away. After that, my memory fades to nothing.
I think this was the first of the really significant hits I took, when I was a kid. It’s certainly the one that can be testified to by someone other than myself. My mother has an excellent memory for these kinds of things — possibly because of guilt she feels at why it happened, or how she handled it afterwards.
There was nothing she did that caused it. We kids were always racing up and down those stairs, sliding down them, and generally treating them like our “jungle gym”. We weren’t allowed to slide down the banister, which was for the best. If I had been, I likely would have fallen off it – and hurt myself badly in the process.
To say that my sense of balance was “poor” would be an understatement.
Not that it slowed me down, all that much. I just kept pushing through.