by Christie King Boyd ’05
Before that sunny afternoon in July, I trusted my body to carry me. It was a strong body, a confident body. It had pedaled a bicycle across the country. It had hiked through the Himalayas. It had birthed a baby. The healing is more about regaining that trust than it is about physically mending tissue and bone.
A tree fell on me one clear, windless afternoon in July. The top of a tree fell from the sky, some forty feet, to rake skin, to crush bone. Ten inches in diameter, the paramedics noted, as I lay on the rocks, grasping for painful breath after painful breath. My husband had taken my baby girl down the creek, as if, by keeping her out of my fear radius, it might calm her down. I remember searching his eyes from afar, hoping for steady, and finding only desperation.
Before the accident, I was a new mother. I was a middle school teacher. I was an artist and a wife. I was a backpacker and a runner. I was a dancer, a baker, a writer, an aerialist. I depended on my body and loved what it could do for me. After my back was broken, I felt betrayed. Maybe that’s a strong word. But I don’t know what else to call the frustration that came with not being able to hold my girl, not being able to get out of bed without help, not having control over the mutinous muscles in my legs.
Learning to walk again is a project. My baby and I were learning to use our bodies at the same time — bum-bling limbs that don’t follow commands. I watched with respect as she would crawl across the house, roll around on the bed, stand up from the ground with ease. I was child again. Forced to depend on my own mama for everything — bathing, dressing, helping me roll over in the middle of the night. From autonomous adult to helpless infant, like the last thirty years had never happened, like the life I had been living was pounded out of me. Squeeze and pulp.
The frustration I felt at having my motherhood taken from me proved the most devastating. Clamshell brace. Rods and screws in vertebrae. A leg that doesn’t work. Pain that brings hot tears and gulping breath. These things I could do. Just let me hold my baby chest to chest. Let me put her to bed and go with her to get her shots. Let me rush over and scoop her up when she falls on her face. Let me grab her out of the bath and wrap her in a warm towel. Let me scurry around on the floor with her and make her crack up. I had four broken vertebrae, three broken ribs, a punctured lung, and nerve damage in my legs. These physical predicaments heal much quicker than the achy knowledge that accompanies them. My body knows how fragile it is now. It remembers. There is a specialness in this knowing, but there is also a fear. I am alive. I am a delicate human life in a delicate human body. This knowledge com-mands respect. It forces those of us who have been through this kind of trauma to slap ourselves (gently) across the face and shout whoa! from the top of the nearest metaphorical mountaintop (or treetop, as the case may be). Because
I am grateful. I am. I am grateful in this particular order: I’m still here. I still have my brain intact. I can still walk, albeit slowly and awkwardly. I have a beautiful family that took care of me with love and humor and respect and grit. Can’t I be thankful and hate this at the same time? Can’t I be thankful in the very same moment that I am shaking and shrieking with rage?
After you pass through something like this and you’re standing on the other side, looking back over the vast landscape you have just crossed, there is a knowledge that comes into the heart that says, Of course. I see. It couldn’t have been any other way but this way. As if everything in my life had always been hurling towards that singular moment. Now, I see fragility everywhere — in the birds that collide with our living room windows, in the curve of my daughter’s spine, in the homeless man’s frozen breath. Sometimes it feels terrifying, this fragility, but mostly it just feels like a miracle. A full, achy-hearted, rich-beyond-measure, so frustrated, so grateful, MIRACLE.