In a moment, I was floating on my back in the air between the ladder and the ground. I a blink, I tried to figure out if Gary had pushed me, brushed me or if he had tried to grab me. I was off balance and the gravel around the gradall was still frozen. ” Crap, how am I going to explain this to mom?” She was clear that we weren’t supposed to be hanging around the construction yard and there was no explanation for the cigarettes on my breath and the locked gate. I was going to hit the ground hard but that wouldn’t hurt as much as the look of disappointment on her face.
From weightless to weighty. Floating one second and thudding the next. I hit the ground flat and as the wind rushed out by mouth in a strange belch and yelp I could feel the bed of rocks dig hundreds of notches across my butt and back. A familiar metal taste rose up from the back of my mouth and as my skinny neck flopped the back of my noggin cracked ground. The darkness and stars were confusing and exciting. I was on a ship sailing across the sea staring up at the sky trying to navigate through the storm.
It might have been two seconds or 2 hours when I felt Gary standing above me giggling nervously. A twelve-year old’s defense against the worst was uneasy laughter. He didn’t, I didn’t have the tools to process the implications so he tittered – I would have done the same. ” What the hell did you do?” didn’t navigate its way from my head to my mouth but he understood anyway. ” I tried to grab your arm when your foot slipped but it happened too fast. Sorry”. Sorry was something new, especially when there wasn’t an adult around. Sorry was something new when you hadn’t hurt someone out of anger. Sorry was something new when it was because you just understood someone else’s pain without feeling it yourself.
There was something scary and safe about hopping the fence of Grauer Construction and sitting high above the world in the cab of a great digger. Above the world and in the manly seat of a basement digging monster. Every headlight signaled a possible alarm and every taillight another few moments of glory. This wasn’t the first evening we had gone on this adventure – not even the first time this week. Gary could always scoff a duMaurier from his mom’s pack and we would pass it back and forth imagining that we had risen to the lofty position of the equipment operator. I had never seen the gradall outside of the yard and never seen the man who ran her but in my imagination, they were both big, powerful and crude. The spit on the cab floor and the smell of sweat on the seat attested the truth for the latter and the rusting yellow hulk with an eight-step ladder proved the former. For twenty to thirty minutes, we were men.
And now I was a boy. Laying flat and still with the smell of blood in my throat I was small and powerless. Tears had welled but hadn’t spilled yet but I was afraid to try to move. Slowly with Gary’s urging I began to come back from the sailing ship. ” Can you move your hands? They look funny, sort of like the crippled guy at the hardware store.” I focused my energy and attention down to the fingers. I couldn’t see them but it felt like they were wiggling. ” Phew, good, you’re not crippled.” ” What about your legs? The left one is twisted and gibbled.” Again I mustered attention and energy and was rewarded with a searing pain like the time I touched the roaster trying to sneak some chicken skin. It registered but slowly and then numbed quickly. ” The right one is moving. Can you bend the other one? I couldn’t without screaming a stream of words that I wasn’t allowed to say. Everything else seemed stunned but working – elbows, knees, shoulder, neck but the shin on my left leg wasn’t good. A greenstick fracture was what the emergency doctor called it. “Good thing he is so young or the break would have been way more serious” Mom replied, ” I hope that if he wasn’t so young, he wouldn’t have done something so stupid.”
That was the end of it. Except for six weeks of celebrity for my stupidity and a bit of a scare when the technician took to the cast with the plaster saw which looked just like mini version of the real thing.
Apparently, in moments of crisis our brain compacts memories very tightly and when we look back on them we feel that they are replayed in slow motion. It is the density of memories that makes the replay richer and our logic posits that it must have taken longer for that much to have occurred. This fall wasn’t slowed but more than 50 years later, the telling is full of detail and sensory stimulation. Weird how memory works and how we think it works.