Thursday, April 08, 2010

view from the floor

Some days the ease of my former life is almost impossible to remember, from my place on the living room floor. Once I hiked 200 miles in a summer, when I lived in the Rockies. I’ve never truly been an outdoorswoman, not like some people, but I hiked twice a week after work that summer, and I kept a log—it was easy. I curled up in bus seats in Colorado, in Indiana. I stretched out on airport floors and slept the sleep of the innocent, my head propped on my bag. I slept in the back seats of cars hurtling across the continent, happy with the funny curves and indentations and a bundled up sweatshirt as a pillow.

Another summer I climbed in caves with children and swung from ropes in the trees. I grew lithe that summer, unburdened by a desk life. Even when I nursed babies in my late-thirties, I preferred to sit cross-legged on the floor, because I loved the floor, loved being near the floor. I could settle anywhere. I propped my knees to one side in a cushioned chair at Starbucks, then shifted my knees to the other side, later, or dangled my feet over the arm of the chair, close to the fireplace.

Three years ago I broke a bone in my foot, a stress fracture, while walking. When I was working to recover, I damaged a tendon in the other foot, causing a nasty bump called a ganglion. I climbed trees, still, with my children. I played Frisbee at the beach, using the waves for resistance training. Then a year ago I slipped on a ledge of granite while hiking, slamming my hip against the stone and my face against a tree. I’m afraid as I write this that you will see me as an old woman—I am not. I have never been an athlete, but I’ve been the kind of person who could rise to an occasion. I’m learning to throw a football, for my son. I’d hoped to coach a softball team, someday.

In the morning, each morning, it seems I’ve grown into a hard pickle of a woman, or perhaps a turtle with a knotted shell on my back. I lumber to the living room and carefully lower myself to the floor with a book behind my head, like the therapist showed me. Then I loosen each clenched muscle group, starting with my neck, lowering vertebra by vertebra to my one hip, then the other. Sometimes I feel a vertebra untwist, loosening all the muscles with it, and it reminds me of pregnancy, of the occasional movement of a baby heel or elbow across the expanse of my abdomen—not only is the movement amazing, but the muscle release feels profound and I find myself once again at ease for a moment. When I rise to walk again, I wiggle my neck and shoulders, relieved. Sometimes the tension has returned by the time I sit down for my cup of coffee. Sometimes the bones of my spinal column continue to shift pleasantly throughout the day, letting go in ripples as I’m driving the car down the highway.

I am trying to take long walks again. What feels like a good walk may require days of recovery. All of me feels heavy, slack, bittersweet. I am learning again how to sit, how to walk, how to stand without stiffness. I will never again sleep in the backseat, it seems, or fold myself up into a chair with a book. I will need to pay attention. It is not much—some people suffer so much more than this. Still I want to listen to the cravings of my youth: I wish I could sit on the floor. I wish I could sleep on the ground. I wish I could move without worry.

When I am resting my back on the floor, I concentrate on breathing, and I pray, sometimes for an hour, sometimes more, the strangest and most urgent prayers. My eyes water when a muscle lets go, and tears fall into my ears, or tickle down my neck. I unpickle, unturtle, and pray to be more yielding from head to toe. Beloved floor, I wish I could sit here, cross-legged in the sun. Maybe someday.