Saturday, May 23, 2009


I fall often. When I fall, I can’t get up by myself. As a life-long swing-through quadruped, I’ve always relied on the assistance of biped strangers to help me up. Over the years, I’ve been both grateful for and amused by the swift actions of the bipeds around me. I’ve fallen off subway platforms, in the midst of oncoming traffic (scream as loud as you can if this happens to you). I’ve slipped on ice, polished marble, on piss, on banana peels, yes banana peels and on the grease dripping from garbage bags left in front of fast food joints. I’ve been knocked down by passing shopping bags, ploughed down by bipeds who don’t see me and strange people who do. I’ve tripped on leashes, on other people’s canes, lost my balance during standing hugs, tripped up and down the stairs. During a fall, I’ve lost my shoes, countless bags of groceries, several pda’s, my underwear and my shirt. While on the ground I’ve been blessed, in both in English and Spanish, spit on, yelled at, sung to, photographed and kissed. Rarely, and I do mean rarely, I’ve been ignored, stepped over and passed by. From the sidewalk, I’ve admired a blue cloudless sky, nights full of stars, the undersides of birds, faces of dear friends and the gleaming edges of skyscrapers.
To get me to my feet requires two strong, fearless bipeds or one firefighter whoever comes first. Firefighters are premium because they are both experienced in such matters and strong, which makes getting back on my feet a quick and marvelously efficient experience. The optimum firefighter will get me up in one easy heave, only lets go of me when my crutches are properly planted and dusts me off before moving on. He or she usually has more pressing things to do, so they don’t stop to chat.
The inexperienced biped has been known to panic in my horizontal presence. I’ve watched them scream, cry and faint at my feet. I’ve comforted and calmed many a biped from my lower vantage point. “Here’s the rule, I say, “If I fall and I’m talking by the time I hit the ground, I’m fine.”
The nubie will try in vain to grab me by the arm and tug, or worse self-injure in an effort to help. Two inexperienced bipeds will pull me up only to let me teeter between them in some twisted trust exercise. They will flag down too many people for the task and the place where I’ve fallen instantly becomes a mosh pit, as I am passed along many pairs of well-meaning hands.
What works best with the inexperienced bipeds is to offer clear, specific step by step instructions:
“First, you’re going to give my crutches. Then, you’ll get me up to a sitting position. Each of you will grab me from the under the arm and on the count of three…” If I remain calm they become calm and getting back on my feet is a straight-forward experience for everyone involved. On several occasions, bipeds have come running up to me breathlessly, “Hi! I helped you up five years ago on the corner of 8th Street and avenue C.” Do you remember me?”
I’ve fallen with such regularity over the years, that I like to imagine myself to be something of crip stunt woman.I’ve learned to relax my muscles as much as possible during a fall to lessen the impact. Usually before the inevitable sequence begins a warning bell goes off in my head, maybe it’s more like a flash but in that split second I’m able to prepare myself or find ways to break the fall. That instant of preparation is key to keeping my injuries to a minimum.

When my trusty inner-alarm fails to go off, I get hurt. There’s no time to anticipate anything which usually means I won’t be talking by the time I hit the ground, or as was the case recently, I passed out.
While walking with my husband and son in alphabet city, on the way to my favorite Mexican restaurant my crutches jammed into a slightly raised incline in the sidewalk and I fell forward. I didn’t have time to relax or roll or even break the fall. My chin took the impact. In that moment it felt as if the entire front of my body turned to glass and shattered. I remember prompting myself to breathe and when I couldn’t breathe, I fainted.
I was ‘out’ for about 30 seconds if not less. I remember dreaming but I don’t remember the images. I heard many voices and then one voice. A woman repeated, “you’re gonna be okay, you’re gonna be okay.” My eyes opened and I saw a woman kneeling over me. She held my hand, and kept saying, “you’re gonna be okay.”
She was maybe in her mid thirties; her brown hair grazed my face.
“What happened?” I asked. My jaws were aflame.
“You fell,” she said. ‘You passed out.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. I could feel blood dripping on my face and from my mouth.
“You’re gonna be okay,” she said still holding my hand. My husband was sitting on the sidewalk opposite her. My son was standing nearby, up against a wall. Over the shoulder of the woman, I saw a ring of bipeds, about twenty of them, standing around me.
“She’s bleeding,” one of them said.
“Don’t move her,” said another. Another said, “Get something for her head.” I heard the click of half a dozen cell-phones opening.
I caught my son’s eye as he walked toward me. He’s four years old. He said, “Red stuff coming out of your mouth, mommy”
“Yeth,” I said, my face felt as thick as cement thick. The bipeds were talking to 911.
“What’s your name?” I asked the woman who was still holding my hand. She told me her name, but I don’t remember it now.
“I heard you, I said to her.” When I was out, I heard you talking.”
She nodded.
“Thank you for bringing me back, I said.
“Oh,” she said slightly flustered, you’re welcome.”
I had time to take in the gathering of bipeds. I was surprised, considering the urgent energy of New Yorkers that nobody walked away. This posse of protection waited with me. I had no view to the evening sky. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t quickly recruit two innocent bipeds to haul me up and get on my way. Decades of dedicated falling and this was the first time I couldn’t take control. No teacherly directions, no “up on the count of three.” I lay on curled on my side, my crutches strewn somewhere out of my line of vision. A wave of energy, heat meeting thought, rippled and spread over me.
Empathy. Empathy. This is empathy, I thought.
I could feel as these bipeds looked directly down at me, the active, crowded, singular energy it took to imagine this fall. They were feeling the impact, absorbing the pain, trying to pushwish it away.
“Ambulance is coming, one of them said.
“Should we wipe her face?” The question floated.
“No, no, no…no…” the posse echoed.
Thank you, I thought in return. We waited for the ambulance to arrive.


  1. Very moving, as all of your writing. The bipeds feel like they're aliens from Men In Black. This piece is perfect for Lives (NYT Mag back page). To think that I visited the "scene of the crime" and had a pleasant hour sipping Turkish coffee on a beautiful spring afternoon and never envioning the drama you endured several feet away. Carl, biped

  2. Fantastic. Love it. Beautifully written as per usual and true. Pure Katinka.