One of the dogs got under my feet. I don’t know which one, as we were walking at a nice pace through the mobile home park, and I was thinking about god knows what, a million miles away, andTHUDI was on my face—no bracing fall, no elbows or hands to let me crumble in a graceful way … no! … THUD! Flat on my face, like a toppled tree, the left side of my cheek welded to the pavement and my unattached body, like some old useless vessel I picked up at Goodwill and carried around with me, was spread flat on the pavement, skinned, bruised, too shocked to move.
Tom, the only neighbor I knew on that street, didn’t see me fall. I was right across from his house where all the serious park drunks congregated at about 3 p.m. in their golf carts every afternoon. They’d sit outside on Tom’s patio, drinking until the neighbors complained, or it was time to go home.
Tom had dogs, and he had befriended me one day because I had dogs, too. We discussed dog allergies and flea medications and we flirted just a little, but he was younger and didn’t know my age. It was a possibility in a world I didn’t trust and would never test. But I still recognized chemistry when I saw it. Later I learned he had deserted five children and a wife in Maryland.
As I lay on the street, noticing that one of the drunks had spotted me and just kept drinking, I wondered if I actually belonged in this world. That was my exact thought, and my little poodles were pulling at the leashes that were still wrapped around my wrist, and I had the thought that maybe I should let them go free. Where they would go, I don’t know, but it would have to be better than this. Their leash was mine.
Someone finally told Tom that his friend was on her face in front of his house and he came running out. He picked me up, took the leashes, walked us home. I told him I was OK. He was concerned, and somehow worked in a question of my age. I told him. He was shocked. I look so much younger. But he was also repulsed. There was no mistaking it. Right in front of my eyes, he turned into a neighbor-caregiver for an elderly person. Condescending, overly subservient, and talking too loud.
It took weeks to recover from that fall. Nothing was broken, but the bruising and aches in my muscles and bones were formidable. I stopped walking the dogs that great a distance, staying closer to home. My mother had fallen in the bathroom, broken a hip, and died soon after. I remembered how fragile we really are. I had been untouchable in my youth, and now my vulnerability was in a body I never embraced, didn’t know or understand, and had no idea how to protect.
A neighbor said Tom asked about me. I never passed his house anymore.
Today he was on his golf cart and spotted me walking the dogs near my house. He turned and drove up to me. “I’ve been worried about you. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I murmured. He was a bad shadow, a wraith who mistook me for a number.
“Take care of yourself,” he said, his face open and sincere. “You’re no spring chicken, you know. Watch those dogs.”