Drawing of white roller skates with purple laces

First Person

Wheeling Into My Mid-Life Crisis

After more than a year of the COVID shutdown and a separation from a 20-plus-year marriage, the writer harbored Xanadu fantasies that wheelie-shoes would provide much-needed joy. If only she was really ready to roll.

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I was laying spread-eagled on the grassy embankment, my ankle dangled in a disturbing way off to one side. My shoulder hung at an awkward angle, and I could see the back of the bone from my spot on the grass. Only 100 yards from my back door, I looked up at the sun shining down on me. The day had started beautifully. The first nice day in a year of being shut inside, sun-starved people and pets playfully ventured out for a peek at what life was like in the before times. I had about 20 minutes until I had to start dinner. Why not? I thought. I’ll just try them out for a few minutes! The pain, while excruciating, was detached, as though I could feel it happening in someone else’s body—felt but not felt.

The paramedic—all six-foot-two, jacked flesh, and 28 years of casual, sporty attractiveness of him—stood over me as he pulled the roller shoe off what used to be a perfectly good left foot. 

When I was shut in for all those months with my children, our puppy and a zombie goldfish won at a carnival years earlier that refused to die, life seemed suspended in a gelatinous goo where movement was impossible. Physical movement, not the mental demons that now had free reign to set up shop permanently in my brain. Each day bled into the next despite the uncomfortable routine we all tried to adopt and pretend was normal. No respite from parenting, my ex, or my life in general, the situation was a recipe for bitter soup that we ate daily, pretending it was prime rib.

My soon-to-be ex-husband walking in and out of the marital home we had once shared, screwed, parented, fought, cried, and dreamed in together as though it was still his personal space, had chipped away at my sanity. I finally came to the conclusion that we all had to start over, so I sold my house and moved 1.3 miles away, from the beach side of my little barrier island next door to Brooklyn to the Bay side where I imagined a whole new life. Amazon further degraded my mental state when I, a life-long Luddite, realized that with a simple press of a button, I could have fancy silk underwear that I’d never display for another man (or so I believed), my beloved Bucatini and designer shoes delivered to my doorstep within 48 hours. It was intoxicating. In the entirety of my life, nobody had ever catered to my every need, or even any need. Yet the interweb ads seemed to call to me like a murderous siren cleverly disguised as a thing of great beauty. 

Suddenly, wheelie shoes were all I could think about. I NEEDED them. In the fantasy of my addled mind, I was Olivia Newton-John in the trainwreck disguised as the film Xanadu (as dreadful a thing as it is, I have watched it a dozen times since its 1980 release, and will likely watch it a dozen more) skating the streets effortlessly as all the envious townsfolk watched and wondered, Who is that elegant woman gliding through our fair city? I want to know her!  The shoes, these wonder wheels, would usher in my new life once the nightmare was over. They would be my salvation, symbolizing the new and freewheeling me (literally and figuratively) who was not ruined by her father’s death, his whore girlfriend’s theft of all of his personal possessions, my stalled career and my clear failure as a wife and a mother. The simple act of buying and using roller shoes would show me and anyone who saw me that life had not beaten me down. I was busting out of this COVID jail on my roller shoes, to kick the world’s ass and take back all that had been taken from me. 

I called my children into the room to share this epiphany, and to ask them if they too wanted a pair for themselves so that when the weather broke, and the virus was a thing of the past, we could emerge as a triumphant triumvirate and skate merrily through the brave new world together. My enthusiasm knew no bounds.

Instead, they looked distressed. Almost afraid. They each refused the offer of the wheelies, and not politely. My 15-year-old daughter asked me if I was feeling alright. My 12-year-old son pronounced the idea “ridiculous” and told me I would only be hurting myself if I actually ordered them. 

Never has a 12-year-old’s snarky comment been so prescient. 

Oh, yeah, this thing is broke. Doesn’t it hurt? Why are you so calm? 

It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was sinking, virtually on the same plane as my eye line, and I squinted at the Adonis loading me into the back of his ambulance. Finally the pain became mine and I asked for something to take the edge off.   

I had asked one of the kids who had witnessed my epic fall to run through the back door of my house to grab my phone, and when he returned, I called my husband, whom I was in the process of divorcing, and asked him if he would meet me at the hospital with our insurance card. He met me in the ambulance bay of our local emergency room with the insurance card, a toothbrush, and a pair of pajamas, for which I was truly grateful. 

Hey, he said casually as I was wheeled into X-ray, maybe this is your midlife crisis? 

He could have been right. After almost a quarter-century of togetherness, his midlife crisis, begun after our separation, included dating three women at once, unapologetically taking alimony, and smoking toad dust with a disreputable therapist in a room at the Chelsea Hotel. Comparatively speaking, a 47-year-old woman who orders roller shoes made in China from a Facebook ad for $49.99 seems a lame form of rebellion, but here was the stark reality crookedly hanging from my leg. 

My ex’s question tumbled through the pain-wracked corridors of my mind while I listened to Sexy McHottie explain to the doctor what I was doing in the ER, and how I arrived at this moment. I was quickly wheeled into the X-ray room, and placed in a variety of agonizing positions. While done quickly and expertly, it was nevertheless a most unpleasant experience. While I did my best impression of a Brit in the throes of a stiff-upper-lip moment, throwing up on the floor seemed to be the only and best response, and so I did.

Having photographed my broken bits from every available angle (and some much less available angles), I was then put into a tiny room in the ER, waiting for the results from whichever doctor had the misfortune of putting me back together. Whatever they had given me to take the edge off had completely disappeared and just as I started to wonder if anyone actually ever died of pain and discomfort, a gaggle of people with disturbingly large smiles magically appeared in my own little curtained area of hell. 

Hi! How are you??

How was I? There is no response to that question when you are half-naked, covered in your own vomit and have at least two major parts on your body that are splintered. There were also a lot of people in the room. It seemed an excessive amount of manpower to provide me with X-ray results. As I was trying to articulate this thought, the doctor smiled and asked me to tell the class how I had come to be there with his crew in the ER on such a lovely day. I was still wearing one roller shoe on my non-damaged foot, and it did not go unnoticed. 

Don’t worry ma’am 

He ma’am-ed me. My withering stare was misinterpreted as pain.

It hurts, right?  We’ll try to give you something for that soon. Anyhoo, so here’s the situation. Your ankle is pretty badly broken in three places and your shoulder is pretty badly dislocated, so what we’re going to do right now is relocate them. 

And just like that, I was surrounded by grinning white coats with steel vise grips for hands and enormous needles, which I was hoping were just for show. They were not. 

If you have never had a body part relocated, let me be clear: I do not recommend this procedure, though it did clarify the meaning of the phrase “I saw stars.” Because literally, I saw stars.   Great big shooting stars with blinding lights shooting out from their pointy tips as he plunged a needle filled with lidocaine the size of a Major League pitcher reliever’s arm into my shoulder before it was “popped” back into place with a series of nauseating crunches.  

Because it was determined that I could not bear weight on the left side of my body, and because they weren’t sure that I had not damaged myself further, I was admitted to the hospital for a few days which gave me time to think and assess the current state of my life and choices. Each awful decision I’d ever made paraded through my brain in technicolor; from the time I sliced my finger to the bone cutting a fork split English Muffin with an enormous bread knife to all the things I never got to say to my father before he died. The slow-motion montage was there every time I closed my eyes, always ending with me splayed on the grass. I vowed then and there to make smarter, better decisions that would leave my family proud as opposed to those that left my daughter exasperated and mortified when she returned home one day telling me that my new nickname at her high school was “Roller Mom.” 

A week later, nine pins and a plate both put me back together and laid me low. Ultimately, there was no exciting breakout from pandemic prison. Rather, like when the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, I had six more weeks of rest, elevating, and icing while watching from my bed as the rest of the world slowly ventured back out. Life shifts and changes and the ground moves unexpectedly under you as it goes all the time. If a silver lining exists from this experience, it is the lesson that I can move gently with each shift in kindness and patience. Rather than skating off into the sunset to conquer the universe, perhaps just a toe in the water, followed by a foot and a leg is just fine until I’m ready to fully submerge back into the warm and wonderful world that awaits.

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