Along with being an expert faller, I’m fairly adept at floating.
Oh, not the kind of floating that we did as little kids, in the above-ground pool on the shopping center parking lot where bored teenagers demonstrated the dog paddle. I don’t know what came after Pollywog because in the three summers that the Y taught swimming in my neighborhood, I never made it past level one.
I couldn’t float in water.
But I could float through the air in the few seconds between fall and impact. Though the ground rose with alarming speed, I had plenty of time to imagine death, disfigurement, and disaster. Later, I took tumbling classes at my mother’s bidding. I learned protective motions which ultimately limited the broken bones to three or four, mostly in adulthood. I became skilled at the kind of rapid-fire thought necessary to survival. Time slowed while I twisted my torso and raised my hands to protect my head. I stopped time. I floated, just for a nano-second but nonetheless exhilarating.
On that memorable day when I got hit by a VW Cirocco driven by a crazy man from Persia, I soared upwards, to the angels, then drifted to the ground in slow motion while the grandest guardian of them all reached her hand to guide me.
Floating. I floated downward, thudded on the hood of the VW, and crashed into its windshield. All the while, the same thought reverberated in my mind: Well, I’m not going to die of a head injury, anyway. My arms had wrapped themselves tightly around my mass of curls, just as I’d been taught so many years ago on a mat in a dance studio in Jennings, Missouri.
The most glorious floating that I ever did occurred at 5:00 a.m. outside my home in Brookside, My neighbor Marcella found me dazed and bloody in the evergreen bush. What happened, she asked in a stunned voice. I came out to get the newspaper, I answered, taking her offered arm and wiggling to the steps. She nodded. I didn’t tell her that I had been there since before dawn. I shook the needles from my robe and thought about the instant between slip and crash, the split-second of total release as I floated head-first towards the driveway.
I float in other ways, too.
My long strange odyssey from the cardiologists at St. Luke’s to Stanford Medical Center began with an urgent need to know what caused my dizzy spells. We never found out. Their frequency has slowed, but they still happen from time to time. I float, but only in my head. My body stays still. Sometimes this happens before I open my eyes in the morning. My mind becomes aware. I know I am awake. But in that brief spate of time between waking and blinking, my mind floats.
I cannot lie: The sensation feels exquisite, even if I’m sure it means that I’ve got something wrong with me that no one understands.
My heart has been floating for the last three years. My life turned right and I stood still. Some terrible lurch started which has not yet brought me to the ground. I’m prepared for the worst. But until it comes, I glide through the air in slow motion with something close to grace.
It’s the twenty-third day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.