The gardener and I went to California for a couple of days last week. That was our first time out and about in six months. The only interesting thing I saw on the trip was a fire in the mountains near Palm Springs. A huge red helicopter was sucking up water out of a pond that had been created for the purpose of firefighting. Then it flew up toward the smoke pouring out of the side of the mountain.
This photo was taken through the car window as we zipped along the freeway. Notice the pond under the helicopter.
The day after we got back from California my neck went BONKERS. It was so painful that I couldn’t even lie down as the pressure was excruciating. It reminded me of when I injured my neck in sixth grade.
That incident belongs in the category of what were my parents thinking?
I was eleven, and we had been tumbling in gym class. I’d always been so-so to lousy in PE. My best events were sprinting and square dancing. Definitely not gymnastics.
The kids from both sixth grade classes were in a line, rushing through barrel rolls on a padded-top vaulting “horse.” As I eased myself over the vinyl for the third time, almost folding my over-long neck in two, I felt something crack. By the time I completed the mile-long walk home after school, the pain demanded attention. It gored me anew as if with an awl with every slight movement of my body.
At the emergency room, my parents gathered round the doctor as he pointed to the damaged vertebrae on an X-ray. “This is why she has to brace her neck. It will also help keep down the inflammation.” Mom’s shoulders were hunched. She had pulled into herself. Dad bounced on the balls of his feet.
At home, Dad wrapped my neck with a faded beach towel and pinned it with one of my brother’s diaper pins. The towel still held the out-of-context smell of sand and Coppertone.
After a night spent awake more often than asleep because of the lump under my neck, I finally fell into a deep sleep sometime after the glow-in-the-dark hands on my alarm clock displayed 5:30. But at 6:30, I awoke to find my arms wrapped around my limp ragdoll, my mother gently shaking my arm. “Wake up. You’ve got to get ready for school.”
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. “School? I can’t go to school.” I wrapped the covers tightly around my shoulders.
Mom pulled the cover down to the foot of the bed. “Rise and shine, Lulu. Your friends will be here for you pretty soon. I made eggs and sausage.” Every morning, the neighbor kids stopped by my house so I could join the group walking to school.
“What about the towel?” It had gotten twisted while I slept, and I tugged on it, trying to straighten it.
As Mom unpinned the towel, I could smell fried pork patties on her hands. “You have to wear it,” she said, as she re-wrapped the towel around my neck.
I didn’t think I had understood her correctly. “I can’t wear a towel to school!”
“You heard the doctor. It’s not negotiable.” I knew that voice, and I knew Dad’s iron hand lurked somewhere behind Mom’s no-nonsense tone.
Reluctantly, and perhaps in shock, I got dressed, ate a few bites of breakfast, and when the doorbell rang, I was ready to go, beach towel and all. When I opened the door, my friends all spoke at once.
“Gaaah, what’s that around your neck?!”
“What’s the deal?”
“Wha . . . .” Karen collapsed into a sputtering laugh.
That day I suffered. Kids pointed their fingers and mimed explosive laughter attacks as they walked past me in the hall. In class, they whispered behind their hands, staring openly at me.
I stood alone at my locker and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the windows across the hall. A girl with a giant donut around her neck.
A neck brace would have drawn attention to me in a negative, pitiful way. But a beach towel and diaper pin? That launched the pitiful on a swift path to the ridiculous.
Underneath the towel, the swelling increased, the pain intensified, and my voice began to diminish. By lunchtime, I could only rasp. Pain closed off all but the sensory part of my mind.
I sheepishly approached my teacher’s desk and croaked unintelligibly.
“Let’s go to the office.” Her suggestion seemed a relief. The office was far from the laughing eyes of the kids.
To the secretary seated behind the counter who stared with an open mouth at my beach towel, my teacher said, “I don’t think school is the place for her. Can you please call her mother to pick her up?”
In the car on the way home, my mother said, “Why didn’t you tell me it hurt?”
I thought I’d made clear that I was in no condition to go to school and that a towel did not make a neck brace that I could wear in public. But my mother seemed to think it was my fault that I didn’t communicate better.
“I did tell you! And it got worse today at school!” I gulped in some air. “It was horrible!” Sobs burst from my mouth before I could control them and that began a shuddery crying jag. Every time my mother would try to pat my arm with a jerky, awkward movement, I cried louder.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you disliked it so.” My mother frowned as if she were confused.
The doctor must have set my mother straight when she called him about the swelling and pain because she kept me home from school for a month after that.
Now that I’ve been a mother long enough to see my kids reach adulthood, I can see the scene through Mother’s Eyes. The reactions of my parents perplex me more than they ever did. I never doubted that they loved me, but they didn’t listen to me or imagine things from my perspective.
Having lived through that experience gave me the idea the other night to wrap a pair of yoga pants around my neck. Perfect! I was able to sleep through the night wearing that “brace” around my neck. My neck got much better because the brace took weight off my neck. So now I am sleeping with the pants around my neck every night!
Do you have a childhood memory where you wondered what in the world your parent or parents were thinking?