A few years ago, I had a somewhat serious cycling accident. I mean, not super serious; I didn’t die, wind up in a coma, or sustain a massive head injury. Still, it was bad enough that it caused a major disruption in my life.
I had just started the ASL Interpreter program at George Brown College, and, on my fourth day of classes, I was running late. I am normally an insanely wary cyclist, especially when it comes to streetcar tracks, but that day all I could focus on was getting to school on time.
It happened at Church and Adelaide. I was preparing to make a left, and, in the process of moving into the turning lane, was looking back over my shoulder to make sure that there were no cars behind me. Suddenly, I felt the sickening sensation of my front tire leaving the pavement and sliding over the metal of the streetcar tracks.
I tried to correct myself before my wheel went into the groove, but I couldn’t, and I felt a shuddering thunk as my front tire fell into the track. I tried to stop, but I had too much speed and momentum. My back wheel slid out to the right, and I felt my bike jackknife beneath me.
I am going to fall, I realized. In the middle of traffic. I might die.
There was absolutely nothing that I could do.
Weirdly, my memory is a total blank from from the time I realized that I was going to fall until the moment when I was suddenly sitting on the hot, late-summer pavement, watching my bike’s wheels spin impotently in the air. I didn’t lose consciousness or anything like that; I guess my mind just kind of shut down, unable to process what was happening.
By the time I came back to myself, a crowd had started to gather. Two people convinced me to get out of the middle of the road (for some reason I actually needed to be talked into this), and helped me over to the curb, while another called an ambulance. A third wheeled my bike to a side street and locked it there, leaving me with a map of where to find it once I was able to come get it. Two women waited with me until the paramedics came.
At the hospital I found out that I’d fractured my tibial plateau (part of the knee joint), and needed both a bone graft and a metal plate. Because I wasn’t technically emergency surgery, I had to wait until a slot opened up for me, which took three days. During that time I wasn’t allowed food or water from midnight until 8 am, just in case an operating room became available. I had to share a hospital room with three other people; I had to listen to a doctor and a group of interns tell a woman that she was going to die. They closed the curtains around my bed for that, but that did little to shut out the sound.
Recovering from surgery was hell (although I did quickly develop a fondness for strong painkillers). I couldn’t bear weight on my leg for two months, and then when I could, I had to have physiotherapy to re-learn how to walk. I was in constant pain, and so, so tired; everything seemed like such an enormous effort. Getting dressed and leaving the house was too much for me some days. I mostly couldn’t do anything except lie on the couch, read trashy books and pop pills. School was out of the question, so I dropped out. The whole life that I’d mapped out for myself, the one that was supposed to rescue me from the drudgery of working retail, crumbled.
But, somehow, none of that was as bad as that one, single moment on my bike when I’d realized that I was definitely, for sure, not kidding going to fall. The scariest part of that was not the idea that I might die, but the fact that I had no idea what was going to happen.
Often change, especially change that comes about as a result of a decision that I’ve made, brings me back to that same panicky fear. To extend the metaphor, I am that same careful cyclist in my life, always trying to make the best choices – obeying stop signs, signalling when I change lanes, trying to stay aware of the traffic around me. But really, any choice could result in a terrible fall – I could be doing everything right, and still end up lying in the road, unable to walk.
How can I ever be sure of not falling? How can I be sure that going back to work is the right choice for our family? What if I can’t succeed as a yoga teacher? What if daycare ends up being totally wrong for Theo? When I try to answer any of these questions, I come back to that same terrifying response: I have no idea what’s going to happen. Sure, I can make assumptions, based on research that I’ve done or past experiences, based one what I know about myself and other people. But I can’t know for sure, and that is fucking scary.
On bad days, even little decisions can seem overwhelming – whether or not to publish a blog post, what to have for lunch, what to do in the evening after Theo goes to bed. Each one carries with it the potential of regret – what if I hurt or offend someone with my writing? Or what if it’s no good, or not ready to post? What if I take one bite of my food and realize that it’s not what I really wanted? What if I’m spending too much time online, and not enough with Matt?
Some days it seems like everything has the potential for disaster, or at least disappointment.
So what’s the answer? Try to plan out my life to the point where I feel like I have little or no need to make choices? Hide in my house and try to mitigate the likelihood of fear and disappointment? Tell myself to just get over it and stop caring so much already?
I guess that the best that I can do is continue to take measured, studied leaps and do my best not to fall. To try to take risks when necessary, and even sometimes when not necessary. And most of all, to remember that falling is not the end of the world, and that everyone falls sometimes.
At the end of the day, I just have to hope that every fall is as lucky as the one I had that day at the corner of Church and Adelaide. I have to hope that I am always so fortunate as to have a crowd to help me to safety, and then a team of people to put me back together. I also have to realize that even if there is no one there to help me, I am capable of helping myself.
Tonight is a rough night. My mind is all snarled up with fear and uncertainty and self-doubt. These past few weeks have been one, long preparation to leap, and, having now jumped, I’m still not sure if I can see the place where I’m supposed to land.
I promise I’ll let you know if and when I get to the other side.