My youngest child, Molly, inherited the falling down gene from me. Give us some space and a little time and we will fall down. We've discussed this problem and agree it’s based on a combination of weak ankles, social anxiety and terminal optimism.
Our ankles are so weak our rubber-gammed gaits often look like Cookie’s in the movie Best in Show when something goes wrong with her legs right before she and her dog are to take to the floor for final competition. The good thing for Molly and me is that we never break our ankles. This must be because of how flexible they are. They're so flexible they just give in at the most inopportune moment and then we land on our wrists and battered knees, although never at the same time as we aren't a vaudeville act.
Our social anxiety is such that we never fall when we are alone or when we’ve been to Happy Hour. Our most memorable falls happen when we are sober and somber and distracted by our earthly burdens, and when there are lots of people around to appreciate our special gifts.
And then there is our terminal optimism. We keep thinking that, despite our anxieties, something wonderful is going to greet us around the next corner or perhaps land on our heads. Therefore, instead of watching where we are going as we stumble over poop in the driveway, cracks in the sidewalk, and occasionally, carcasses in the road, we are usually gazing upward, looking for the silver lining in whatever dark cloud happens to be listing by overhead.
If you think I’m exaggerating, here are just a few examples:
Molly fell down in New York City in front of where the World Trade Center had once stood. And no, I have to say it wasn’t from being overwhelmed with great emotion; it was just an uneven sidewalk. However, what could have been an irreconcilable embarrassment turned out okay when she realized the group of devastatingly beautiful men who ran over to help her were gay (of course).
I fell down twice in one week when I first began my job with the Georgia Department of Education. Once was in downtown Atlanta; the other was in downtown Athens (the same week).
Molly fell down not once but twice when she was walking down the aisle as Maid of Honor at her sister’s wedding. Okay, the aisle was an uneven grassy area and it was hot and Molly’s feet were sweaty, and, oh yeah, I'd made her get shoes that were too big because they were on sale. I was pretty impressed that, in spite of her humiliation, my smart child took her shoes off in the middle of the vows and took part in the recessional with the offending clodhoppers slung over her shoulder. She then proceeded to drink her way through the reception barefoot.
Carrying my Art Major drawing board, I fell down in the middle of Baxter Street in front of the Krystal when I was a freshman at UGA. The tiny-square-burger-eating Krystal diners applauded me when I got myself up and limped on in for a large order of fries.
Molly told me she once fell backwards out of a trailer. I don’t even want to know the details of that story, but the no falling while drinking may not apply to social gatherings in mobile homes.
I fell down in front of about one hundred graduate students in an auditorium about ten years ago when I was teaching college. The most significant part of this story is that I immediately jumped up, threw my arms in the air, declaring, “I’m all right! I’m all right!” to what was, no doubt, the group's great disappointment as I was able to continue with class.
My most embarrassing and best documented fall was immortalized for the three people who happened to be listening to Georgia Gazette on Public Radio the day my story, entitled Dinner on the Ground, was aired in 2006. I've further commemorated it here in case you weren’t lucky enough to be one of the three.
One final word on falling down and this is probably true for anyone who's a faller: As it’s happening, it seems to go in slow motion, kind of like being poured from a syrup bottle. The worst part is that you know you’re going down and there isn’t a damned thing you can do to stop it.
When it happens to me, this is what goes through my head:
1. Oh shit.
2. This is going to be embarrassing,
3. and it’s gonna hurt.