by Livinia Anne
The beginning of an every day girl's story of recover after a life-altering accident.
The reluctant applause hurt. Each individual clap was a deadly dagger digging deeper into me. No longer does the performance matter; no longer do I care whether these people even bother to pay any attention to me whatsoever. I’m focused on one person who isn’t here. I can’t believe they’re not here.
Tonight, I am singing at an open mic night in some run-down joint in the middle of nothing in Reno, Nevada. I’m doing this because they told me to. I’ve only ever performed at school events, and rarely by myself, let alone with my own songs. Every once in a while, I’ll be practicing in the back room of my friends’ coffee shop and the occasional customer will hear me, so Jen and Al will drag me out into the shop to sing and invite them to sing with me. But Alex heard me singing one afternoon, and then another. Pretty soon, Alex was always coming to the shop to listen to me play. I didn’t find out for a long time. When I did, I was embarrassed. I ran away. I was afraid. My music is something I’ve never shared with anyone, regardless of how much I desire for it to change the world.
Still, Alex continued to try to listen to me. Eventually, I stopped singing in the shop altogether, but he was determined. After a while, he got me to open up and sing for him. He was kind and encouraging, and I gained enough courage to come tonight. Now, here I am, staring at a crowd that could not be less interested in my internal moment of despair, and Alex isn’t here to sooth my seething nerves with smooth and sweet words.
I can’t do this. I can’t go out there and perform. I’ll only make a fool of myself. Who cares if this particular shack isn’t populated by anyone even remotely important or anyone I know? I’m still going to be stuck with the shame of forcing a perfectly okay audience to endure my breakdown onstage. The drunk guy with the mic announced my name and that’s when the menacing applause started. The applause meant it was time. The applause meant that Alex wasn’t going to be here for me in this moment when he knows I need him. The applause meant that I don’t have anyone here to watch me overcome the thing that holds me back from what I love.
I take a step. My ankle wobbles and I curse it silently, hoping that it doesn’t decide that now is a great time to give out on me. I take a step. My heart shudders and I curse him silently, knowing that I’m all alone right now and I’m afraid. I take a step. My vision blurs and I curse them silently, those people who are now laughing as I cry. I take a step. My ears ring and I curse everything loudly, wishing I wasn’t afraid. I take a step.
I’m running now, but I don’t know where I’m going or why I’m still running or how I’m even running at all. The air is heavy and painful in my chest, and my breathing is raspy and loud. My ankle throbs and my hip feels fine for the first time in months. Everything about this is bittersweet. I’m running, but I’m running away. I wish I were running towards something.
I stop, suddenly and stare at my surroundings. I recognize the scenery and my heart thumps. Those rocks look familiar; that tree, the creek, the sticks, everything is familiar. My heart is no longer thumping, it’s ferociously attacking my ribcage in an attempt to escape. I can’t breathe, I can’t move, and I fall. I fall again, and this time I remember falling. I hit the concrete of the sidewalk I glimpse before the vision overtakes me again and I am tumbling, plummeting, spiraling down into an abyss of fear and memories. I close my eyes and the nightmares start.
The Month I Ruled the World
Silence engulfed the entire world as I stood in a pool of darkness. The lights behind me created an effect of mystery, and the first chords rang out into the auditorium, full of suspense. I waited. As the second chords streamed out through well-hidden speakers, I pivoted and my arms swirled gracefully as if they were their own creatures of beauty. I admired my arms for a moment as they continued the well-learned routine, before my legs joined in. A single light dimly illuminated me as I moved, growing brighter and brighter each moment. The pulse of the music thrummed and my body responded enthusiastically. The beat quickened and my pulse raced. The suspense rose and my steps became more frantic. Catharsis at last, and I resumed moving with all of the serenity of water pushing through my veins.
The music was not just music. I wasn’t just listening to it, I did not simply move to the beats and pulses and notes and dynamics of the piece, I didn’t merely dance. I was one with the universe. In that moment, that single, glorious moment, everything made sense. The eternity of preparation for that moment was all behind me, and I could no longer remember why I complained or stressed or wished for more time. Everything was perfect, and I was at peace.
Before my mind could catch up with the movements of my body, the dance came to a finale, and I swept into a deep and flourishing bow. I didn’t hear the crowd, I was still entranced with the performance of my life. It was all I could do to walk off of the stage before I started dancing all over again, but my dance was done, and it was time to wait.
I sat with Alison, who was always there for me at all of my important performances. She told me I looked less like a dying animal hyped up on steroids. I laughed and grabbed her hand. She tried to escape, but I just stubbornly held on tighter. She squeaked and I laughed harder and start squeaking back at her. (Al squeaks when she laughs, and when she squeaks, I feel like I’ve accomplished some amazing feat.) We sat there laughing and holding hands for a few minutes. Then, the announcer went onstage and the laughter stopped, the performance coming back to the forefront of my mind.
Silence. My body was numb and moved of its own accord. As I stepped back onto the stage, a wave of ecstasy crashed over me and I jerked back into the reality of the moment. Not only had I managed to win the prized scholarship that will pay for the rest of the year of college, I had won. I had triumphed over all others in the fall dance recital/final. The solo I’d poured my entire life force into had proved to be worth it.
The words are hard to find for the things I felt that night. It was as if I had been released of all my previous stresses and worries and was simply existing as a free-floating entity. I was separated from my body, like a phantom viewing a scene through the dimensions, and yet, I was wholly and completely right there in that moment. I was, for lack of a better phrase, queen of the world.
Al dragged me out to celebrate and we met up with anyone who was available at short notice, and I woke up the next morning in a daze. I honestly couldn’t really remember a lot of the previous night, and not because of drugs or alcohol (I’m a dancer and I live with new-age hipsters. The only thing they’ve ever done is weed and, well, I’m not planning on putting anything into my body that isn’t going to benefit me in the long run). I’m still riding the high from the joy of last night. I’m on cloud nine, and, to be cliché, I’m never going to come down.
The Month I Relished the Glory
Yeah, that’s, like, all that happened. I got a few awards and recognitions for my success, and I felt so confident and comfortable as myself. I was happy.
The Month it Happened
I was out for a run and I slipped and my hip blew out. I knew I needed to get home so I could assess the damage and decide if a visit to the doctor was necessary, or if I just needed a few weeks rest and intense stretching. So, I pulled myself up with a nearby rock and used the trees to support me until I found a sturdy stick to lean on. I found a suitable stick, and began the three-mile trek back to my car. As I did this, I called my best friend, Jensen, to tell him what had happened. It wasn’t the first time my hip had decided to die on me, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I still can’t remember what happened, I just remember hanging up and then waking up in an ambulance. Jen says he came searching for me when I didn’t manage to get home by noon (I’d gone running at seven). He says he found me next to the creek at the bottom of one of the sketchier rocky hills the trail runs along. All I know is not only was my hip kaput, but my ankle was in a million pieces going a million different ways, with my foot twisted at an unholy angle. Also, my body was covered in road rash. Everything hurt and everything stung and everything made me cry.
The Months of Recovery
So, I spent a week in the hospital after the doctors got my ankle relatively put back together, and was allowed home on New Year’s Day. I was charged with a year of intense physical therapy, with possibility of walking in six months and a chance of getting the cast off of my ankle in ten. I spent the month on the couch eating coffee/chocolate ice cream mixed with cookie dough from Cold Stone and watching TV. I made really really really good use of Jen’s and my Hulu and Netflix accounts. I felt sorry for myself and my ouchies.
I spent the month optimistically working my petunia off with a dim possibility of dancing in the future, and I even started going back to classes. I remember my physical therapist remarked that I was “extremely driven, considering” when she thought I wasn’t listening. I remember thinking how odd that was, I mean it’s not like my life is over. It’s just another injury, albeit a serious one, but I can overcome it regardless. The irony burns.
At the end of March, I was doing really well and my doctors and physical therapist got together to give me a “performance review” of sorts, and let me know what the future would look like and my estimated recovery schedule. I was excited. The appointment was set for April 15th and ten o’clock in the morning. I marked it in red on the communal calendar my roommates and I share.
April 15th, 2014
Jen and Al both sat in the waiting room with me and continued sitting until I came out of the little office to celebrate with me or be there to support me depending on the news I received. We held hands while we waited and I walked out to see that they had joined hands as well once I’d left. Given the news I received, this small act of unity was beautiful.
The doctors told me they were optimistic about my progress and my future capabilities, but that they weren’t sure I would make a full recovery, considering the rods in my ankle. I was told I’d never be able to dance again. I managed to conceal my emotions and didn’t cry. I told them I understood and that I’d try my hardest to prove this prognosis wrong. Then I rolled.
Jen and Al looked at me with love and concern the moment I came out, as if they could feel the pain I was suppressing. When I saw my two best friends clasping hands in the antechamber, I lost it. I cried and I cried and I cried. They both ran to me and I somehow collapsed into Al’s arms, even with the wheelchair the nurse had forced me in when she saw my crutches. Together, they managed to get me out to the car and back inside our apartment, without asking any questions or probing, even though Jen was buzzing with the energy of containing his interrogation.
Once we’d finally managed to plop ourselves onto our respective places in the family room, I sobbed them the news. Alison cried. She always cries.
The Rest of April, 2015
After the fifteenth, April went by in a flurry of frustrations and pain and tears and hurt and depression. When I wasn’t in class, I was very stubborn in my official decision to become a vegetable and spent most of the days attempting to complete my transformation into a potato (which, I know, is not a vegetable, but if you don’t understand what I’m saying, I’m sorry and refuse to clarify; Ask someone who has more patience than me). Perhaps my roommates wanted me to get up and get out, but both of them had been just as lazy as I was being at plenty of times in their lives, and they probably knew I was all too willing to remind them of it if they pushed the subject. I wasn’t really harsh towards them, but I wasn’t my normal self, either. They were supportive, but not suffocating. I was selfish, but not quite angry yet. I was still in mule-like denial of the news I’d been served with.
Nothing of any interest whatsoever happened in the entire month of May. In fact, I can’t remember doing anything but going to school, sitting around feeling sorry for myself and closing myself off from the rest of the world. Even Jen; even Al. No one escaped my furious seclusion.
I woke up one morning to Al staring at me from the doorway and Jen throwing his cat on me. This wasn’t necessarily unusual before the accident, but they had not entered my room in two months. Jen is the most impatient person I know, and he had gotten sick of me moping around all day, every day and intoxicating them with my disgusting mood. He told me he was sorry, but he just couldn’t sit my and watch me deteriorate and ruin all of our friendships.
I’d become bitter and angry, and had taken to snapping at them like a teenager snaps at her parents. This seething energy was contagious, and bickering erupted not only between me and them, but between them as well. They couldn’t agree on the best way to handle the situation, but they did agree that, whatever happened, I needed to stop being a shadow of doom.
Al thought I needed space and time to deal with things, but needed to be more positive about the whole thing and talk about it. Jen thought I just needed to get over it all already because sitting around isn’t going to solve the fact that my ankle is wrecked. If I wanted to hold on to any aspect of the life I had just begun to build, I needed to push through the pain and force myself to overcome the loss of my passion.
I hated them for that, and I made my feelings very clear. I, very calmly, told Al that talking about my stupid feelings is not going to help any of my problems or bring back the full use of my ankle, so why even bother? Especially when these “feelings” she so desperately wanted me to express were the exact thing they wanted me to stop feeling. Then, I turned my composed argument to Jen and seethed words deliberately intended to sting him. I reminded him that, just a year ago, this had been him, except he didn’t even have an excuse to be upset. Yeah, his family kinda sucked, but c’mon, get your crap together and suck it up. I also kindly recapped how I left him alone to mope because that was what he needed to do and gave him plenty of time to recover from the funk he was in, while still being there to support him on his trek.
In the end, Al was crying, I was angrily spewing geysers from my eyes, and Jen had given up and left to go cool down. Once I calmed down enough to see that I’d hurt the two people in this world I cared the most about, a censor over my vision lifted and my window through which I viewed everything widened once again to include people that aren’t me. Jen didn’t come home by dinner, and didn’t even bother to check in with either of us. He wasn’t answering our texts or calls, so Al and I packed ourselves into our beat-up car and spent the next half hour searching for him.
We took a half hour because we first thought he’d gone to hang out with Melbourne, his best guy friend. Mel told us he hadn’t seen him, though, so we realized that the only place he’d go all day other than to play video games with Mel was the coffee shop he and Al co-own with a man named Bob who liked to pretend he didn’t exist, with me as a financial advisor. Lo and behold, we found him in the backroom, on his laptop, and playing Minecraft.
We sat around and had about as serious of a conversation we could have as three best friends who’d just gotten into a colossal fight and all regretted it but didn’t want to be the first to apologize. Al was the first to proclaim her sorrow, followed by a long rant from me about how I was sorry and that they were right and how I’d work on being more positive but it’d be really hard and I couldn’t always be happy and they’d just have to deal with that because everyone has their bad days. Then Jen buckled and said he was sorry, too, and basically just said that he’d been impatient and insensitive, as per usual, but he shouldn’t have and would try to give me more time to get back to being me. I wanted to point out that I couldn’t be me again, because I am a dancer but I can’t dance anymore, but I didn’t want to break the fragile layer of mended ice we were walking on. We all went home and watched Netflix and stuffed our faces with junk food.
It had become abundantly clear that my ankle truly was screwed up beyond a point I can recover from in physical therapy. I was merely a few weeks away from the six month mark and wasn’t anywhere near being able to walk. The next morning, I began my own journey to finding the person I could be, if I couldn’t be a dancer anymore.
The Last Month
The flood stops and my mind clears. My fingers begin grasping the tendrils of reality once again, and the first thing I notice is that I am crying. I haven’t cried like this in months. Next, I recognize my disappointment. I’m upset that I’m upset. I’m sad that I’m still so sad. Most of all, I’m angry that I still let the pain get to me. It seems as if all of the work and therapy I’ve thrust into becoming new and whole again is all worthless. I’ve lost hope. Again.
I shake my head and force myself to shift my focus from self-loathing and pity to my actual self. I take inventory of my body and make sure all of my pieces are where they’re supposed to be and in working condition. Everything seems to be functioning alright, although my ankle hurts like no other. I’m not surprised, I’m barely able to walk on it without limping.