One day after school I invited myself (because sometimes you gotta put yourself out there) to ride horses with a fellow teacher.
At the time, I was fresh out of college and working for Americorps in Asheville, NC. I taught SMILE (small group-multi-sensory-interactive-learning-experiences) in an elementary school to each grade, alternating between students who were struggling to "gifted" (still hate that term). I loved my job and I loved this time of my life. I spent the summers working at music festivals and the rest of my time dreaming about traveling and reading poetry.
Horeseback riding was a brilliant idea that day. I had ridden on a couple trail rides as a kid but this time there was no trail, no slowly plodding line of hooves. Instead there were wide spacious meadows of wildflowers and fresh grass, one field called the “Hallelujah field.”
Of course I said yes to the Hallelujah field, because Hallelujah! Spring! Blue skies! I rode a black horse named “Guy” and as instructed, I looked curiously into his deep dark eyes before I mounted. We spent some time in the corral learning to canter.
As we crossed a stream into the Hallelujah field, my horse was startled. Suddenly, we were galloping. Guy was encouraged further by the sudden grip of fear in my legs. I pulled on the reins and he sped up. Without rationalizing my release of the reins, I let go.
I called my boyfriend, Ian, from a borrowed cell phone as the small group of horseback riders surrounded me on the very firm, unyielding ground, “I think I broke both my legs.”
Since I adamantly refused a ride in an ambulance because I lacked insurance, I was carefully lifted into the back of a pick up truck and driven to the hospital. (In hindsight, I recognize that this was foolish.)
I was calm for the entire ride to the hospital-- the shock kept pain at bay. I wasn’t aware of the severity of my situation until we arrived at the ER and I was strapped to a stretcher with a neck brace.
“Can you move your legs?” “No”
“Can you feel my touch?” “No.”
Fear and pain seeped in as the shock wore off, around the time they were cutting my favorite jeans off. My x-rays showed a broken pelvis, the sacrum fractured in three places and a broken tailbone.
But so much relief! I could feel my toes, I could move my legs. I wasn’t paralyzed!
With my relief came puking. Well, the morphine coupled with relief. Vomiting with a broken pelvis is awful-- so is coughing, sneezing, laughing, and breathing.
I was so high on morphine when they gave me the x-ray results that I kept telling everyone who asked that my sternum was broken instead of my sacrum. Granted, this was years before my anatomy trainings, but still...
Back at home that night, I was surrounded by friends. They propped me up on pillows and cuddle-puddled me while trying to avoid touching my legs.
In the next few weeks I learned that opiates make me feel like I'm suffocating, what it’s like to watch muscles atrophy, how to be absolutely still, as still as possible and wait, pray, hope for healing while the world keeps rushing by, and how people avoid looking at you in public if you're in a wheelchair.
I relied heavily on my friends: Rose coming by to wash my hair when I was still bed ridden, Matt pushing me up Charlotte Street in my wheelchair to the coffee shop, Ben bringing me movies on his lunch break.
One day, my doctor said nonchalantly, “Okay, you can walk now.” I was alone for that visit and stared down at my legs dubiously. My first step was wobbly, like that of a newborn colt, the pressure in my hip strangle and unfamiliar.
A few days after being able to walk again, I begged Ian to take me for a ride on his motorcycle. I had been so depressed, so gray. I've mostly been fiercely independent in my life. The months after this accident I was pitiful and debilitated, needy. I wanted the sense of freedom and wildness we always sought on bike rides.
We rode to a favorite spot, up a long windy road to where you can see the sun setting behind the Blue Ridge. When we reached the spot, Ian had to help me off the bike and pull off my helmet, my tears were streaming beneath. The ride had been an emotional ride as well. I had experienced a new fear beneath my surface--yet a new appreciation. Deeply aware of my mortality and a striking fear of suffering, yet I was aware also of how much more lustrous the sunset seemed than ever before.