I’ve always been clumsy. My father thought it was funny to call me “Grace” because I had none. He also often referred to me as “a bull in a china shop.” My dad wasn’t nearly as funny as he thought he was.
Once in my early 20s I discussed by clumsiness with a friend. She asked if I’d ever considered doing something to counter my clumsiness. I was perplexed. I thought clumsy was my destiny. I wondered what could I possibly do about it. She suggested I take up some sort of martial art. The thought made me shudder.
Not only am I clumsy, but I suffer from left-right confusion. In the BuzzFeed article “Why Do Some People Struggle To Tell Left From Right?” Professor John Clarke from Drexel University has the following to say about left-right confusion:
Twenty percent of the population has right and left confusion, meaning that they can’t immediately tell their right from their left without having to think about it first.
In my early days of driving as a 30-something, trying to distinguish left from right while also trying to juggle all the new skills I had to manage was often problematic. Even in daily, non-driving life, if I have to distinguish between left and right, I have to think about the fact that I am right-handed and then remember in what hand I hold a pen or pencil if I am going to write. That’s how I distinguish right from left.
I remember doing aerobics in junior high PE class and marching with the pep squad in high school. When the person leading the exercise gave verbal instruction to “stretch to the left” or “step to the right” I invariably used the wrong arm or foot. I was always the person turning in clockwise circles when everyone else was turning counter-clockwise. If the instructor stood facing the class, and I was supposed to raise the hand or take a step opposite of what she was doing, forget it. I can only mirror-image someone. My brain is simply too slow to process “I’m facing her so her left is my right, so if she stretches out the arm on my left, I need to stretch out my right arm.” Nope. My brain looks at the instructor and can only manage to mirror her motion at least for the first several times (or maybe the first several hundred times) we practice the movements. The comedy of errors I know will ensue if I try to learn a new physical sequence (be it dance, yoga, or taekwondo) has kept me out of the studio and the dojo.
(I did try a Zumba class about six years ago. I had all the same problems, so I know I didn’t outgrow any of this.)
My physical dexterity improved a bit after nearly 3,000 AmeriCorps hours working construction, but not before I fell in the mud in front of God and everybody while helping to move a heavy board. The coolest gal on the crew laughed right out loud at me, but I refused to quit, so I returned to work the next day despite my humiliation.
I blame my feet for my falls. I drag them when I walk instead of picking each one up in a distinct step. My walking style was particularly dangerous in Midwestern winters when ice and snow covered the ground. When I had to move across icy sidewalks, I’d actually give myself little pick up your feet pep talks in my head. I suspect most people instinctively pick up their feet when they walk, but I have to remind myself every (literal) step of the way.
The other problem with my feet is that instead of pointing straight ahead, they turn in towards each other. Someone noticed my younger sibling’s “crooked foot” (as our parents call it), which led to the dreaded nighttime brace, a metal bar stretching from one shoed foot to the other and holding them in proper position during sleep. My sibling understandably hated the brace, but at least now my sibling’s feet point where they’re supposed to. No one notice my feet were turned in, so they received no correction. I think sometimes I fall because my feet get tangled in one another.
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t fall every day or every week or every month, but I don’t think most adults ever fall. Even my infrequent falls are unusual and too often. Especially now that I’m getting older, any fall is scary and dangerous.
Last August, I’d gone down the mountain and into civilization to do laundry, buy groceries, and run other errands. A combination of ridiculous heat and caffeine coursing through my veins had limited my sleep to about four hours. I was tired, but I’d gotten the laundry done.
I’d washed and dried The Man’s clothes and my own, as well as all of my bedding. Instead of making three trips to haul everything to the van (as I should have), I decided to use one of the laundromat’s wheeled carts. I put the three packed laundry bags in the cart, then piled my sheets, comforter, and comforter cover on top. I was moving a lot of laundry.
All went well until I encountered a dip in the pavement of the parking lot. Whether it was put there for drainage or speed control, I don’t know, but I had to cross this dip to get to my van.
I don’t think my sleepy brain registered the dip when I approached it. Suddenly I realized the cart wasn’t moving, but I don’t think I realized why. I started pushing, pulling, tugging on the cart before I adequately accessed the situation.
The cart started going down. Of course, I didn’t want my nice clean things to land on the dirty pavement. I tried to keep the cart upright, but instead of keeping it up, the falling cart pulled me down.
My torso hit the soft laundry, but my knees hit the pavement and my lower thighs hit the rigid metal of the cart. Ouch!
Finding myself lying on the ground is always surprising and disconcerting. I’m never quite sure how I got there.
It’s scary. Am I hurt? Can I walk? Is there blood?
It’s embarrassing. Did anybody see me? Do people think I’m drunk? Do people think I’m stupid?
This time I was sort of beached on the mound of laundry, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to lift myself up. I think I kicked and floundered a bit before I was able to pick myself up from the ground.
Mixed in with the hope that no one has seen me fall is always the indignation that no one has come to my aid. I hope no one has seen me, and I hope no one who has seen me will laugh and point, but I would like someone to check on my well-being. However, seeing a grown woman fall is awkward for bystanders too, and most people would like to pretend it never happened.
(Once while walking in a city when I was about 30, I stubbed my toe on a bolt left in the sidewalk when a streetlight was removed. I fell down and really jacked up my knee. A woman standing on the corner where I fell crossed in the street against the light to get away from me. Perhaps she feared my clumsiness was contagious.)
This time in the laundromat parking lot a good Samaritan did come to my aid. After I’d picked myself up, while I was wrestling the cart back to an upright position, a sweet older lady came up to me and asked if I was ok.
I saw you fall, she said.
I assured us both that I was ok, although I wasn’t 100% sure of that yet. I thanked the woman, dusted off a bit of grime from my comforter, and pushed the cart to my van. Thankfully there were no more dips in my path.
After I loaded the laundry into the van, I lifted my skirt and checked my throbbing legs. I wasn’t bleeding. A few spots were red, but no skin was broken. My knees were sensitive for weeks, and it hurt to kneel. I ended up with a pale purple bruise above and to the left of my right knee. It continued to grow for days, and at its largest was bigger than my fist.
Overall, I got off easy. I know I need to be more careful and pay better attention to how I’m moving through the world. At my age and income bracket, a broken bone or even a sprained ankle would be a huge setback.