My bag was damned heavy. Auntie Donna had given me the bag for Christmas, and it was not only fashionable (black, patterned with subtle flowers, reversible for coolness), but it also fit everything I needed for my work day. I could store everything I needed in once place without feeling like a third grader with my L.L. Bean backpack (which I may have actually gotten in third grade).
On this particular day, I was carrying my laptop, my laptop charger, The Kite Runner, a pack of gum, my phone, my wallet, four pens, a water-damaged journal, the thick chain for my bike lock, and close to one million tampons in my black leather bag.
This was objectively too many things to be carrying in one bag.
Part of me knew this. As I walked my bike from my office in downtown Portsmouth to the free parking lot on the outskirts of town (where I park with the other town plebes), the straps were already starting to dig into my shoulder. My bike wheels click-click-click’d as I slowly guided it along the Market St. crosswalk.
I was on my way to the car so I could meet Annabelle for our very first ride of the season. I was so excited to get on our bikes so we could sweat a little bit and then get off our bikes and eat. My car was parked further away than I wanted it to be, and as we’ve already established, I was carrying too many things. I thought of the words of a sassy crossing guard I’d met that very same morning. You know, it’s usually a lot faster if you ride it. Damn straight it is, you municipal hero.
I hiked my bag up my shoulder, threw my leg over the bike saddle, and pushed down on the pedal with my right foot. (I was wearing the ultimate in cycling footwear – beige flats.) I could see my car through the trees to my right. My plan was just to glide down towards the parking lot and keep my right arm in tight so that my Mary Poppins bag wouldn’t slip. Totally quick, efficient, and easy.
It would be cliché to say that time slowed down as I was unceremoniously hurled over my own handlebars.
Except in my case, time didn’t need to slow down. I already was moving in slow motion. My bike was barely going fast enough to stay upright. My mega-bag had slipped off my shoulder, jammed itself into the spokes of my front wheel, and catapulted me over the handlebars before I even had time to react. (Except I was going so slowly that the whole thing seemed extremely low-stakes. I felt myself going up, then I felt myself going over, then I thought something like WELP, then I hit the pavement. Picture the Monty Python cow-tapault, at ½ speed and on a bike.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I’d seen a woman on the sidewalk watch me go up and over. We formed the kind of immediate bond that two people can only share if one of them has seen the other being a complete dumbass. My first instinct was to scramble to my feet and crack a joke so she’d know that, against all odds, I was super cool. But as I moved to do this, she was already kneeling at my side and pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head.
“Honey, I’m a nurse,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine!” I said from the ground. Cool. Collected. Maybe she and I could be friends. She reminded me of one of my aunties, and pushed me gently towards the ground when I tried to sit up.
“I saw the whole thing. I think your arm is broken.” I turned to my left, and saw that my elbow… wasn’t really looking like my elbow. It looked like the bones in my arm were playing musical chairs.
“Oh no,” I said, as any poet would in this situation. “Oh… oh, no.” A small crowd started to gather to see why the girl with the curly hair and the crooked elbow was splayed across the street. I laid my head down on the pavement and looked up at the sky, feeling an intense tingle begin to crawl from my elbow to my fingers.
What did I just do?
Above all, I am incredibly lucky. My elbow will heal. It was my left elbow, and I’m a rightie. It was only my elbow. That much I will always be thankful for.
I could tell you how my arm almost immediately swelled to the size of a decorative pillow, or how I started talking about Harry Potter the second they gave me the pre-surgery drugs. (“I could really use some Skelegro right now.”) I could tell you how I almost puked in my driveway on the way back from my first OT session, how my mom and sister patiently washed and dressed me for a week, or how goddamn grateful I am for Big Little Lies on HBO.
I could tell you a million little stories about my elbow and me. But I won’t. (Not in this post, anyway.)
I’ll only tell you one.
Six days after I’d re-entered the world of (semi) independent living, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror with a hair elastic on my left wrist. I pulled my hair back with my right hand and clumsily tried to assist with my left, shrugging and bobbing until every curl fit under my fist. I pulled the elastic across my knuckles, twisted it once with my right hand, and winced as I reached towards the elastic with my left index finger.
My finger found the elastic. Pulled it back over the hair in my fist, felt it snap into place to hold my hair in an absolutely passable bun. I looked at myself in the mirror. Blinked.
“YES!” I actually shouted, so loud that I could hear my roommates pause what they were doing downstairs. And then I one-arm danced.
Sometimes the little victories move you further than the big ones. Sometimes slowing down feels like missing out, when it’s really more like opening up. And sometimes you should probably just wear a backpack when you bring your bike to work.