This week has probably not been one of the finest of my entire existence. I promise this won’t be one of those whiny “everything’s gone to shit” posts, but I fell down the stairs at work yesterday. FELL DOWN THE STAIRS. Just saying.
I was reading the paper. I should have known not to do this, as once, when I was about six, I was reading a book whilst walking down the street with my Dad, when all the sudden a parking meter sprung from the earth and hit me in the face and I fell down, but it’s not an excuse anyway. I tripped over my own feet with about three stairs to go, and stopped my fall by hitting my head on the wall in front of me. I was so surprised by this that I couldn’t decide if I should cry or laugh or what, so I just gathered myself up and pressed a palm to the painful part of my head. After a little while it occurred to me that I was just standing on the landing with one hand clapped to my head, looking loony, and that maybe I should move, so I took my hand away from the bump and saw blood. Well, head wounds do that, I thought calmly, and I went upstairs to the staff toilet and splashed water on my face.
All well and good, but by the time I had got back down to the office again, it was bleeding again. I should mention that it wasn’t bleeding profusely, not by any means. More just…seeping. So when a co-worker asked idly if I’d hit my head, I said, yeah, I fell down the stairs, and giggled, and she said Oh my gosh, you mean right now? Because your head is bleeding.
Well, that was it. I could no longer pretend that my clumsiness was casual. Instead, I had to go across the road and get ice from the kitchen. Only they had no ice, so the chef brought me a plastic bag full of frozen corn. My boss wanted to bandage it to my head so that my arm wouldn’t get sore holding it there, but I drew the line at being an English patient lookalike. After a half hour of idleness I put a plaster over the cut and threw myself (metaphorically, not literally) back at my work.
I felt fine, and I wasn’t prepared to linger for long on the incident, especially not as it highlighted an example of stupendous ineptitude. But after ten thousand questions, expressions of sympathy, Natasha Richardson comparisons, and suggestions that I drink a little less at work (I don’t drink at all at work, in case you’re tempted to take that literally), I began to fret. It doesn’t take much to make me fret (I suffer, after all, from varying degrees of generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and hypochondria, which is a common but very unfortunate combination of ailments), and the internet, let me tell you, is the jackpot of fret-fuel.
So if you ever wanted to know what could possibly happen to you if you hit your head, causing your brain to strike your skull and begin bleeding, look it up online and then PANIC. By the time I got home to the Man, I was a proper wreck. “I don’t want to die because I fell down the stairs,” I sobbed at him, in his arms. He (and everyone else) had already asked me if I felt dizzy, nauseous, if I’d blacked out, if I had any symptoms whatsoever of a series injury, and the answer was no, I don’t think so, but the problem was of course that by that time I’d worked myself up so much that I did feel a bit dizzy just from the worry.
“Don’t worry,” he said to me, after I’d convinced him to help me look up head injuries online, after we’d ruled out together the possibility of concussion, “You’re going to be fine.” I decided to start blaming everyone else for my panic. “I wasn’t worried until everyone else started saying things,” I said, which was true, to an extent.
Having dramatized the event as much as possible, I decided it was finally time to settle down, take some Paracetemol, have some dinner, relax, and practice how I was going to tell this story to people in the days to come. I decided to acknowledge the fact that actually, I hadn’t hit my head that hard; that by now, the only sore part of me (besides my ego) was the bit of broken skin at my temple. I decided all this was easier, in fact, than working myself up into an epic panic.
My relaxation was aided by a solid hour spent reading passages from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, which sounds dull until you realize that they’re riddled with gems like this one: “‘That queer-looking man seems to like Dick,’ said Anne.”
And then I awoke the next day and in spite of a distinct tenderness near the wound, felt good, until my spirits were dampened by the din of the bills in the study, clamoring to be paid. I would pay you, I told them sternly as I tried to find an unoccupied slice of desk on which to put my tea and branflakes, if I could pay you, but you insist on being so large as to be unmanageable. In response, they just moaned some more, and huffed, and one or two even did a little angry jig atop my computer.
To ease my guilt and shut them up, I paid my half of the rent and my portion of the gas bill, which made me feel momentarily better, until I realized that I’m just about at the end of my coping-tether. The catalyst for this realization was the knowledge that I’d been wrongly charged £20 by a broken cashpoint in Fulham. For an instant I blamed Fulham (maybe the big smoke, knowing I’ve rejected it as a place to live, is somehow out to get me), but I couldn’t hide for long from the fact that I’m a postgraduate student living in a graduate’s world. I’m ignoring the credit crunch, the recession, the big scary black monster in the corner, whatever you want to call it, because my problems are deeper than that.
Here’s how it is: I reached a point today where I no longer understood how I could go on like this. It baffled me, this realization. I actually sat down on the couch and pondered it. Because I’ve never been happier, emotionally, fundamentally. I have someone to love, and who loves me, and we live in a beautiful city and do beautiful (if not very lucrative) things, and our life is both exciting to me and soothing, gentle. But here I was on a glorious March morning wondering how we were going to pay those loud bills in the study after all, how, indeed, I was going to pay for groceries and to have the heel stuck back onto my boot and to get my coat, now impossibly soiled, dry-cleaned, how I was going to buy laundry detergent, do all of the little things that require money.
It’s not that I don’t work, it’s that I don’t work enough–but I can’t work more, without sacrificing my masters degree (and, also, the legality of my visa–not to mention my sanity). In that bleak moment I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if my fall down the stairs was not symbolic in some way, if perhaps I am not only falling but also hitting a wall in my work, my career (my career? What career?), my financial well-being.
But then, this evening at university, a successful and well-respected novelist began his chat with us by recounting how just yesterday, he’d been walking down his street, head turned, distracted by the for-sale signs on a pair of houses, when suddenly he smacked into the side of a metal pole, and look at the mark on the side of my head, he said.
So real writers have those moments too. And anyway, the really annoying thing about not having any money isn’t not being able to pay the bills; it’s not being able to buy the Man a really super birthday present.
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