One broken toe, two car accidents and three ligament tears after climbing Kilimanjaro; that’s Kayla-speak for sailing through her physical life relatively unscathed. Until one fine day in October – the kind of day where reds, yellows and oranges dye the landscape and you think you could spend the rest of your sunrises-to-sunsets leaf-peeping – when my knee went rogue. This frankly assertive behavior along my leg periphery felt as though someone had thrown a lightening bolt out of the sky and onto my limb (left in case you were wondering) and shocked me to a rigid submission. I waited a few minutes, tried to walk again, and another coursing spiral of electricity immobilized me with even greater force. The G-ds must be really angry, I thought. Ten days later I was having knee surgery and a mere few hours after that, I hobbled out of the hospital on crutches; ain’t modern medicine and spinal epidurals grand.
Now I’ve seen plenty of people on crutches, all over the world, and what they all seemed to have in common to me was an oddly surreal ease of movement. Doing things with perceived fluidity is rhythmic. Recently I have realised that the only definition of things that make any sense to me is rhythm. It is only when you hear, or put, one thing after another, that it becomes an audible or visual sound, something dexterous that feels completely fluent. Me on crutches? Like the sound of 10 or 20 hoovers scratching the marble floors of a hotel lobby at 2am in Vegas. That was the immediate rhythm of my decline. My mother looked on in pity.
Days went by, and then it was nearly two weeks post-op and I was navigating the mean streets of New York, succumbed to my transient fate. And that’s when the most curious thing happened. People transformed from scurrying against me harshly on even the dreariest Manhattan blocks, to gentle, curious passerby’s, and very eager helpers. There was no shortage of wonderful human beings opening doors for me, stopping to ask if I was okay, offering up seats, escorting me down stairs and even arguing over who was going to open the door for me – thank you HSS rehab gentlemen.
I called a girlfriend and pondered this new change in attitude towards me. I called a boyfriend and pondered this new change in attitude towards me. Both big-city wanderers and kindred spirits, they said they thought all this attention was because I seemed vulnerable with my new appendages. Could it really be as simple as appearing as a damsel-in-distress version of my usual self? The classic fairy tale I know is dark, implacable in matters of life and death, and above all politically incorrect, and children (including my childhood self) love them anyway. A fairytale never existed for me in a fixed form; it’s something like a tune – here I go again – that can migrate from a symphony to a tin whistle. Even the language is fluid and shapeshifting: a rose is not a rose, an apple not an apple; a princess or a villain signify far more than what they seem. As do I.
There was something which I was starting to enjoy about being perceived so vulnerably – being six feet tall isn’t always conducive to feeling or appearing like I need to be rescued. I very much do sometimes. This modern fairy story also set me thinking how implausible are most of the myths we live by. Seeing past a tales’ flimsy charm is quite amusing when you’re all grown-up. Seeing people’s innate response to a woman’s vulnerability is frankly wonderful. Why? Because nothing gets my skin tingly and warm like being in the presence of those whom I don’t know simply sharing of themselves. And by share, I mean just be. I guess that’s what vulnerability represents to me and I think that’s why I got so much attention on my crutches: they were just a little window into everyone’s soul. We have been programmed for thousands of years to respond to the power of stories and the enchantment fully came alive these last few weeks. I guess if I really want to perpetuate the myth, I should go on a date with that basketball player who just asked me out.