“O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!  Then I, and you, and all of us fell down…” ~William Shakespeare (Julius Ceasar, III, ii)

What about yourself would you change, if you could?  There’s quite a few things that I would improve or change if possible (were they not genetically predisposed), but one near the top of my list for sure would be my innate clumsiness.  You see, I’m a full-fledged, top-of-the-class, self-admitted klutz.

There should be a special secret society for clumsy people.  One where we could commiserate about our latest awkward exploits and compete for prizes in multiple categories revolving around bruises (ie: most bruises on one shin, or the best combination of black, blue and yellow in one bruise).  Everything at the meetings would be non-breakable, with sharp corners wrapped in padding, and there would be ramps instead of steps.

I’m not sure where my clumsiness came from, but it’s been around for quite a while.  Neither of my parents seem exceeding awkward, at least as long as I’ve known them.  Is clumsiness inherited or learned?  Most of the time when it happens it just feels like it’s cast upon me by mischievous leprechauns.  I can remember from a young age being called “Grace” in friendly jest on a fairly frequent basis, usually right after I’d tripped and fallen or failed to correctly navigate a perfectly-normal doorway.

My mom’s father used to call me “Miss Long Legs” when I was younger, before he passed away.  Those long legs tripped me up plenty of times over the years, like Bambi on ice only not at all in a cute funny way.  A meandering of some of my more spectacular moments of clumsy:

  • When I was about 12 I stepped up on the toilet lid to look out the bathroom window at a noise outside.  Normal people would be able to then just step down normally to the floor.  But I lost my balance and slipped off, landing on an open suitcase latch (no I don’t know why it was that close to the toilet) and cutting the bottom of my foot open quite nicely, necessitating 10 stitches and a few weeks of crutches.
  • In high school I was heading out after school with the rest of the track team out on a neighborhood practice run.  As we ran out of the parking lot, there was a low-slung wire between two poles; literally, it was about six inches off the ground.  I was at the back of the pack, and I watched as all the other girls ahead of be skipped over it without a problem.  But sure enough, when it was my turn, I did this weird hurdle kind of maneuver over it and caught my back foot under it.  I fell crashing to the ground, landing on my knees and immediately feeling dozens of jagged small rocks embedding themselves in my skin.  My mom had to pick me up from the nurse’s office and I still have the scars on my knees.
  • In one of my worst-ever when-will-you-learn moments, I accidentally dropped not one but two pairs of expensive prescription eyeglasses into the medical officer’s latrine during the first week of my service in the Peace Corps.  Both times I clipped the glasses onto my shirtfront after I took them off; both times they unclipped and went tumbling into the latrine hole as I bent over to squat down.  And both times I watched in horror as they disappeared into the diarrheal darkness – especially the second time, which felt like my own personal Groundhog Day movie.  PLOP times two.  No, I never told anyone, and no, I didn’t try to get them out.  I was so embarrassed that I was more than willing to just squint through the next two years.
  • For one of the first holiday dinners back in America after returning from Africa, I decided to cook a New Mexican feast.  As I was taking the huge casserole dish of homemade enchiladas out of the oven, the oven mitts slipped and I dropped the entire thing on the floor.  The dish broke and the enchiladas oozed all over the floor, including under the oven and the refrigerator.  I’m pretty sure my curses could be heard all over the neighborhood.
  • On my first full day in London during my last trip to England, my first stop was to be the Tower of London.  As I exited the Tower Hill tube stop, I could see the Tower across the street from a lookout point, and as I hurried to take a picture, I bit the dust. There was this dented gutter dip thing on the ground that I didn’t see and I clumsily stepped into it in just the wrong way; right in front of that was a curb leading to the lookout point.  Oh and there were about a hundred people standing around.  First I fell forward and both shins crashed down hard into the curb; then I fell backwards, completely all the way onto my back with my feet up in the air like a turtle on it’s backpack shell. And thank goodness I had that backpack on, because it really pretty much completely cushioned the physical blow if not the embarrassment one.  The curb ate the skin off most of the front of my shins, and I bruised the right heel of my foot, so I limped and bled in appropriate stoic British fashion through the Bloody Tower gate on the Beefeater tour for the next hour.  (I still have those shin scars too.)

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My clumsy quota is seemingly never-ending.  Just in the past few weeks I have:

  • Accidentally dropped a large glass measuring cup while transporting it the two feet from the sink to the microwave, whereupon it shattered into a million tiny little shards that I’m still finding weeks later in about a 10-foot radius;
  • Broken both a plate and a saucer in the normal course of carrying them and/or putting them in the dishwasher;
  • Watched helplessly as my peanut buttered toast flew superhero-style off my paper plate onto the carpet as I performed the strenuous task of just sitting down. It landed peanut-butter side down, of course;
  • Burned a few layers of skin off the roof of my mouth by clumsily inhaling a freakishly-hot bite of bean burrito and then not being able to pry it off in time.

I used to get very upset when my clumsiness would strike.  It was a constant reminder of how imperfect I was, and it was even more frustrating that it happened so often.  When that holiday dish of enchiladas broke all over the floor, I flipped out; I cried and just stared at the mess, thinking of what a failure I was.  But it’s not like you can really practice not being clumsy…and I’ve now come to accept that it’s just part of who I am.  It’s still frustrating when I walk into a door frame or wall in my own house (that I know like the back of my hand), and I’m surprised that I even have any bruise-able areas left on my body after years of repeated capillary destruction, but it no longer makes me feel like less of a person.

I am a little worried about the prospect of working with fragile glass flower vases on a frequent basis going forward, but so far I’ve managed to break only one out of the hundreds I’ve washed and shelved for my new inventory.  I’m also a little concerned about signing up to play with my office softball team; I was always really bad with grounders when I played as a young girl, and I have horrible visions of one of them leaping up from my clumsily placed glove and popping me right in the teeth.  Which is why I kept jumping to the side of all the grounders last week and letting them whiz by, much to the annoyed chagrin of my teammates.  I don’t mind bruises but I’m still pretty fond of my front teeth.

Lastly: I don’t play soccer, but if I did, this would be me:

elephant soccer

Click picture to see what I mean…

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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