The bullet entered my lower back just as I bent to braid Addie's hair for school this morning. I felt the sudden parting of muscle and nerve, the liquid heat radiate out and down my legs. I twisted just enough to peer at the damage.
Then I could not move. I know I yowled because Cate shuffled downstairs shouting to know what happened, the beginning notes of a cry already in her voice.
In my small twist, I was both relieved and confused to see no blood. The waterfall of heat sluicing down my legs was internal. I felt it pulse downward as I stood motionless. I could not answer Cate's question. I heard only my own quick sighs, lost in translation from their intention as deep cleansing breaths. I tried to turn to her, but could not take a step. Lightening rods of pain laced my back and legs at just preparing the muscles for a step.
Finally I eeked out "I'm ok, but I can't talk right now. Something happened to my back." Problem solver that she is, she said "You go to the doctor today." Just then, her friend arrived to walk to school. I told her I'd be fine and shooed her out the door with my eyes.
When she left, I started to cry. I was stuck. Addie glanced up at me trying to understand what happened, why hair brushing should make me scream and freeze and then cry. But by now she knows that nothing makes me cry like feeling I've lost control.
I somehow sat. And waited. Addie staring at me intermittently, me trying to puzzle out how I'd use these next 15 minutes before I had to get her to school. I budgeted 5 minutes for sitting and planning, 5 minutes for attempting to get shoes and coats and left only 5 minutes for trying to get Addie into her car seat.
A few ibuprofen made this plan sound feasible, but my budget was blown out of the water upon finding out how slowly I'd have to move, how bending down was not really an option at this point in time. So. We were a bit late for school.
After a slow painful drop off, I hobbled home, hoping it would just subside on its own. Cate ordered me to see the doctor, but I was reluctant to do so. Back a few years when I hurt my back leaning over Addie's bath, a phone call to the doctor was succeeded by a frustrating few days of guessing, prescriptions and referrals. The ultimate "solution" was that I was to see a physical therapist 2x per week. At that point in time, our threshold of therapy appointments was maxed out with Addie's PT, OT, SLP and student speech clinic. So I did nothing but wait for it to go away. It did.
After internal deliberation I decided to continue with my morning plans at least, to go meet my Tuesday morning ladies. We knit. The rec department requires that we register for this "class," but in recent history, I was the only one enrolled that wasn't (and isn't) already an accomplished knitter. The ladies have taught me a lot about a lot, including knitting. Though I have not sought concrete proof of this, I do believe I am the youngest one in there by a few good years.
I really relish being a part of (or just witnessing)the cadence and content of non-competitive conversation between women who are living intentional lives. None of them moan about their lot, though there is plenty of heartache in the room. None of them are waiting for prince charming, the ultimate career, a cure, the therapist with the answers, the winning lottery ticket... They are all taking what they have and making something of it: whether it's yarn scraps and dropped stitches, or sick husbands and children with addictions. They come to share who they are, to give what they've become to the rest of us, to offer, to bridge a gap, to listen, to inform, to help.
And so I went to see the ladies. I had a knitting question to ask - I'd finished a project I was not particularly thrilled about. I knew they'd help me figure out what went wrong and have ideas for correction. But of course, before I could ask my real question, I was handed the card of a chiropractor that I was to call immediately and "tell him Pat sent you, he'll get you in right away." Along with the card, came the story of how Pat first started seeing him many years ago for a similar issue and how she would not miss a month now. The story was told in calm quiet tones, certain that I would also get the happily ever after ending if I just called the number.
And the ladies solved my knitting issue with the unanimous suggestion that I must "block" the project (wet it and reshape, possibly pin it until it dries) to get rid of the extra stretch and rolling. I can count on the ladies.
I heaved myself on to my next endeavor. My husband had the brilliant idea that I go hit the whirlpool at the gym after knitting to see if that would help. I never would have thought of that. Partially because I was not real clear on how I'd manage to get my suit on, but I did. Eventually.
Our gym is the Jewish Community Center. We have been members since before we were married. Cate went to daycare there as a baby and toddler. Both girls took swim lessons there. The outdoor pool is where we still spend many, many summer hours. Michael does any necessary indoor training for his marathons there, and during an energized week, I can be spotted in the fitness center at 6am two or three mornings (energized weeks are few and far between these days). While we are not Jewish, the JCC has been integral to all 4 of us for many years.
The weekday chasm was evident upon walking into the pool area. To my left was the kiddie pool, filled with toddlers and preschoolers, splashing and shouting. At the rim sat the young mothers. I imagined them discussing natural and organic lunch options for the kids, which schools they will attend in fall or the fall after, who is taking ballet class together. And then to my right was the lap pool, a few older men, but mostly women in their 60's, 70's and beyond. A water aerobics class just let out, so there were small clumps of women chatting at the edge of the pool.
I turned to my right and had the whirlpool to myself for a few minutes. Then a water aerobics pair sauntered in. One got in swiftly while the other just dangled her feet in from the side. She explained to the first that her high blood pressure prevented her from hopping all the way in, but that her plantar fasciitis compelled her to indulge her feet for a short spell.
The ladies discussed ailments for a few exchanges when the one with high blood pressure cheerily summed up "If it weren't for all these aches and pains, it would be a beautiful world."
To which the other equally cheerfully retorted "Oh, it is a beautiful world. But boy, you just don't realize what's coming when you're young."
For the 2nd time in a few hours, I felt another bullet. Shot with the understanding that at age 42, having just hobbled from knitting class with a bad back, I was no longer the clueless young. I do realize what's coming. Despite still changing diapers and watching Nick Jr, I had more in common with this older set of pool visitors than with the young moms on the other side. I cannot take the movement of my body for granted anymore. I am not young.
But I am not yet really old. Where am I on the continuum, where do I fit? It's clear I do not fit at the pool in the middle of the day as I believe I represented those in their 40's and 50's all with my own solitary early middle aged self.
As I mulled this over in the whirlpool, shifting to keep the strong jets on my lower back, the beautiful world ladies discussed lunch plans upon their exit. To my surprise, I saw there had been another woman in the hot tub all along. I did not see her enter after the water aerobics class ended. I glanced in her corner of the whirlpool to find her unabashedly watching me.
"You moof not comfortable." She speaks with sustained eye contact and small spaces between each word, the spaces and Russian accent setting the declarations up as poignant and sage. Not to be questioned. Not to be brushed off.
I explain that I am moving gingerly because I hurt my back and was in the whirlpool to find relief. She politely inquires how I hurt it. I tell her that while I'm not entirely certain, lifting a 50lb child into and out of her car seat multiple times per day probably doesn't help. Bending over to help her with certain tasks, bearing her weight on the stairs, manhandling her during defiant moments all probably contribute. Light in tone to ward off the pity that sometimes comes with the revelation that I am the mother of a child with a disability, I glibly summarize with "She is heavy. I am old."
My hot tub mate maintains eye contact, but cracks no smile. She waits a moment - I am not certain if she gathers thoughts during this pause or the words to express them.
"She vill get more heffy. You vill get more oldt."
I laugh, but quickly realize she was not trying to amuse me.
"You find someone young. Someone help you."
She waits for my confirmation that I will take that simple step, just find someone younger than me to help care for my daughter on a daily basis. I want to laugh again, but I realize she intends to give, to help. She did not have to speak to me, to inquire. She, like my knitting ladies, wants to bridge a gap for me. My gift back can be to respectfully accept it. I tell her I will find someone, I will try, but she does not look convinced.
"You haff no ozzer choice. You break yourself."
I don't want to laugh but cry. Yes. I did break myself. It's true. I can't expect to always be able to do it all myself. The painful dawning shows and the lines between my eyebrows can be read like the Cyrillic alphabet: how.
She slowly uncoils her longest strand of words yet.
"You ask. De peepul say yes, alvays sayingk yes. You vill see."