For as long as I can remember, activities involving any level of eye-hand-stick-ball coordination have eluded me. And while I’ve often heard flirty women at cocktail parties gush, “Oh, I’m such a klutz!” I wonder how many of them have broken their noses falling off a pair of platform sandals or have tripped on their own gowns and fallen off the stage after winning the Tippecanoe County Junior Miss pageant. (Some people like to combine these stories into one incident of me falling off the stage and breaking my nose, but these are two distinct episodes, one of which ended in a tetanus shot and the other in publicly televised humiliation.)
I say “I am clumsy” not with the phony self-deprecation of those women at cocktail parties but rather with the solemn acceptance of anyone with a condition that can be easily aggravated–like a peanut allergy or diabetes. And it doesn’t take much to set me off: a subtle rise in the sidewalk, a chair moved two inches to the left, the rubber of my shoe catching the linoleum. I even dislocated my knee once while standing completely still.
My junior year of college, I was fired from a job at Joan’s Sweet Shoppe for being too clumsy–though in my defense, I had two factors working against me. First, it was the late-90s, and I was a big fan of the grunge era clunky-shoes trend. My shoes of choice were majestic: black, thick-soled, men’s size 8 shoes, which required me to shuffle along without picking up my feet because (a) they were quite heavy, and (b) they didn’t fit.
And then there were the boxes…so many boxes. See, Joan, cramped for storage space, had taken to stacking boxes of supplies behind the counter, which left her employees only a foot and a half of space to “scootch” through–and scootch quickly, as Joan advised us to, “Move fast and swing your arms so customers think you’re busy!” The tip of my shoe would catch the corner of a box, and down I’d go in a mighty explosion–from all the momentum I’d built up quickly scootching–leaving expensive truffles crushed in my wake and snooty customers appalled. Eventually someone complained.
After my dismissal from Joan’s Sweet Shoppe, I took a job selling jewelry at the mall. All you had to do was stand behind a counter in a carpeted showroom and model jewelry–a cushy job for some, a high-risk assignment for me: High heels are woefully unstable on carpet; the sharp edges of wooden display cases jut out right at hip-level. I bumped my way from one end of the store to the other like a pinball in an arcade game. I guess I hit the “jackpot” the day I fell down a ladder in the supply room and hit every rung on the way down: Ca-ching! Ca-ching! Ca-ching! Ca-ching!
“A fortune in ballet lessons, down the drain!” My father joked. And we laughed; of course we laughed. We had never wasted a fortune in ballet lessons–the teacher had asked me not to come back.
Yet behind our laughter was the mounting concern I would never grow out of being “accident prone.” That’s what they call it when you’re a kid. “Accident prone” is what my parents said when I got a corneal abrasion from pencil shavings (don’t ask) and broke my collar bone tripping over a tree root. My father nicknamed me “Grace,” and we all knew that one day I’d grow out of my clumsiness. I turn 32 this year, and we’re still waiting.
But the last thing I want is sympathy. To borrow the phrase from my arthritic grandmother, “I’m learning to live with it.” And it doesn’t keep me down–well it does, but never for too long, as I bounce right back up.
So what if even when I decided to take a job sitting all day, I was still “outed” as a klutz the day I fell down a flight of stairs and landed with my skirt over my head. So what if I can’t account for all of the bruises on my hips and shoulders from knocking into walls in my own home. So what if the reason I no longer ride a bicycle is that I have further to fall now than I did as a kid. I have a good family, good friends…and most importantly, good insurance.