I think my life turned a corner when I was sitting in bed one evening, looking at my leg. I wasn’t looking at the leg in the cast, but at the other one, the one that was—for that moment in time—my “good” leg.
I know some women who are really proud of their legs and other women who are constantly embarrassed by their legs. I don’t believe I have ever been one or the other. I never thought I had the prettiest legs around (or the most athletic, or most shapely), but I never thought they were the worst, either. Physically, I have good qualities and things I’m not thrilled with, but my legs? If asked—and I don’t think anyone ever has—I would probably have just said, “They’re OK.”
I was never quick enough with a glib comment, but if I were, maybe I would have paraphrased Honest Abe and said something like, “They’re long enough to touch the ground.” Or maybe I would have declared, “They get me where I’m going.”
Sitting there in my bed, pillows propping me up from behind and more pillows under what up until so recently had been my “good leg” in that it hadn’t been broken in a long time, my mind began to change. Not just about whether my legs were nice, hot, fat, skinny or ugly, but whether much of what I had held and believed was true.
It started with myself, though. And while I would like to think that I wasn’t so shallow as to be driven entirely by self image, I know my self image was a part of what was wrong with how I thought.
At that moment in time, I had one leg that was in great shape, but broken. The other leg was unbroken, but still a little atrophied from when it had been broken. As I sat there looking at my legs, I realized that the one that appeared to be worse off at the moment might be better off and the one that looked OK actually needed the most work.
As the days went by and I was able to rehabilitate—to force myself to rehabilitate—my focus went entirely to my legs. I was determined that both legs look good—not in a vain, supermodel way I told myself, but in a healthy, in-shape way—and in the process I lost focus on pretty much all else in my life. Still, the idea had crept into my psyche that evening that what appeared right wasn’t necessarily so and, as much effort as I put in to telling myself that truth only applied to my legs, the seed was planted that maybe it described the sum total of me.
To avoid that thought, I threw myself into my work and every workout, every exercise, even what I ate. I read articles on line and in print about the best nutrition for healing a bone break and for building back the muscles after a period of inactivity. I learned exercises I could do at my desk while at work, and more I could do in the evenings while watching TV or whatever. I devoured all the information I could find about the human body and how it heals after trauma …
And ignored pretty much everything I ran across about how the human mind heals after tragedy. I wasn’t interested in the mind. The mind, I told myself, was taking care of itself. It was taking care of itself by looking after the body, by exercising itself with reading and study (about the body, granted), and by putting the trauma of the past behind me.
I told myself I was dealing with the mental and emotional aspect of the tragedy by moving on. “Moving on” meant to me that I never thought of it and quickly changed the subject if anyone else brought it up. It was behind me and wasn’t worth worrying about. The now was what counted, and the future!
The amazing thing about seeds is also the problem with them. As a little girl I used to be fascinated with the way a tree could tear up a sidewalk. Here was this wooden thing that you could damage with an axe (or a bike, if you ran into it, while showing off in front of your sister … or boys), that you could cut up with a saw or burn with fire. And over here you had concrete which didn’t show the least little mark when you crashed your bike into it, that you couldn’t cut with a saw or set fire to. Yet, over time, that tree which had sprung from a tiny little seed—like an acorn—could destroy the sidewalk.
Once the seed got planted in my mind that everything was not as it seemed, it never stopped growing, expanding, working on me. And like the tree whose battle with the sidewalk may take a long time before it can be seen, it was a while until the seed in me grew big enough to no longer be ignored.
In the midst of looking at my legs as if I could will them into better shape or perform some sort of psychic surgery on them, the phone rang. I had a unit right beside my bed, but I didn’t answer it, preferring to let my family be my buffer zone.
A couple moments later, my father stuck his head in the door and said, “It’s him.” His hand was over the mouthpiece, of course.
When I didn’t respond immediately, just gave him a firm countenance that probably looked like I was constipated, he asked, “Shall I tell him you’re busy or to stop calling here or what? How ‘bout I tell him to go jump in the lake?”
I didn’t think of any smart remarks at that moment, saying at the time, “Just tell him I don’t want to talk to him.”
“Think you’ll ever want to talk to him?”
I avoided the subject by looking away and saying, “I’m kind of tired.” I hated lying to my father—or anyone, for that matter—but the seed hadn’t taken root, yet.
As he walked away, I heard my father saying, “She doesn’t feel like talking on the phone just now.” I marveled that my father was more truthful with someone he didn’t like than I was with someone I loved.