The Get Up: Part 3
Before she turns on the water and washes her hands in the kitchen sink, Cindy looks at me and says, “You look tired. Did you take a nap?”
“So, what did you do today? “
She turns on the water and reaches for the soap.
“Well, I may have broken the vacuum.”
With a puddle of blue liquid soap in her right hand, she turns toward me. “The new one?”
I bow my head like a guilty child. “Yes.”
Cindy sighs, washes her hands, turns off the water, reaches for a towel, dries her hands, and asks, “How?”
“Don’t fall” is a secret command I order to myself anytime I attempt something heroic. Like stepping up from street-to-curb or stumbling out of bed and staggering to the bathroom at 3 am, or in today’s case carrying the new vacuum up the stairs.
Now, a few hours before I broke the vacuum, I announced on this blog my debut memoir, Bedtime Stories For the Living,will be released on December 3, 2021.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was emotionally high. My book, my lifelong dream, was a step closer to reality. Congratulatory messages filled my inbox. My head buzzed. My heart pumped with pride.
When I was a high school English teacher, I loved teaching tragic plays. Oedipus the King. Macbeth. I enjoyed explaining to teenagers, many who I suspect were ego maniacs themselves, how these enduring plays were warning us about how dangerous pride can be. How, if you’re not careful, your own ego can bring you harm and cause destruction to everything you hold dear, even vacuum cleaners.
Classic Greek tragedy is often characterized by a male protagonist ascending to a high social standing–a military general or king– and then, thinking they’re impervious to literal and figurative falling, they’re deceived, often with deadly consequence, by their own ego. This ego-take-the-wheel is known as hamartia: a fall from heights.
The Get Up: Part 1 & Part 2 are chapters in Bedtime Stories for the Living. The plot of those chapters is similar: I’m standing on level ground, I lose my balance, I fall, someone rushes over to see if I’m okay, I take a deep breath, check for bodily damage, and when no damage is found, I get up.
However, in The Get Up: Part 3, like most 3rd installments, the stakes are raised. No human is home. There is a new vacuum down stairs. There are neglected carpets upstairs. There is a flight of stairs I must climb.
My ascent up the stairs began around 11:30 a.m.. I know this because when I was replying to a former student’s email about BSFL when my stomach rolled and told me that lunch was approaching. And I told myself, and my stomach, that we would stop around 11:30, do some chores for a half hour, before eating lunch at noon.
Like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy, I have a tendency to prove, at least to myself, that I’m still a capable man. I sometimes do things someone with a hole in their brain should avoid doing. Sometimes my ego takes the wheel.
Pride fills my growling stomach. I smile. I’m becoming what I always wanted to be. I close the laptop, retire from being a writer for a while, and humbly assume my role as dutiful husband and father: Champion of Household Chores.
My left hand chokes the stair rails as my right arm lifts the vacuum step-by-step. Maggie May trails behind. Three steps from the top my brain, as it often does, short circuits. Something goes wrong. My right leg won’t lift to the next step. As if the critical message was simply not sent. My left hand tightens on the rail however, the grip shoots pain up my arm and into my shoulder, the shoulder whose rotator cuff I tore last October, when I fell, rather heroically, flipping off the living room lights.
My left hand opens. A hot flame shoots up my chest. The vacuum pulls. I’m on wobbling on the eighth step. Two from top. And I think, “Don’t fall.”
But gravity wins.
Gravity always wins.
My head smacks against the wall. I crash butt first on the tile floor. My back slams against the drywall at the base of the stairs. The new vacuum hits the bottom step and explodes: plastic cylinders and rubber belts bounce across the tile. Maggie May yelps and hides under the kitchen table.
As I wrote in Bedtimes Stories For the Living: I don’t want to live like this. I don’t enjoy falling. In fact, falling hurts. And I’m not here to celebrate my pain. For better or worse, I’m here to tell my story, so that I may better understand my own story, and so that my story may help you better understand your own.
I sat on the tile floor, afraid to move. A gash on the top of my right foot bled. My head pulsed. My back tighten. The body of the vacuum lay to my right. Its parts scattered to my left. The house, save for Maggie’s whimpers, was quiet.
After a few minutes, I got up. But this get up was different.
My fall had collateral damage. The vacuum was broken. The drywall that caught my back was dented and cracked. My right foot bled. And as I stood there, breathing heavily, surveying the damage, I debated not telling anyone. A secret between Maggie and I. When Cindy returned home and asked about the drywall and the vacuum I could play dumb or concoct an elaborate story or blame the kids or blame the dog.
It’s astonishing how much trouble we go through to hide reality. How, like a character cut from the pages of a Greek tragedy, we have always failed to accept our own limitations. That we have always been fragile and flawed ego-maniacs.
The truth is, I’m not proud of The Get Up: Part 3. In fact, I’m ashamed I had to ever write this. Yes, I got up, but this fall could have been much, much worse.
A student once asked me why people start making plays. He wasn’t being a jerk or trying to make me look like a fool in front of the class. His question was genuine. Why did, in the 5th century, did the Greeks begin performing plays? What was the point? And why are we still teaching and watching those plays today?
Maybe because we really haven’t changed. Maybe because we’re still badly betrayed by our egos. Maybe because we’re still ignorant to think that we will never fall.
Before I began my ascent up the stairs, vacuum in hand, I should have recalled all of those Greek tragedies I once taught. I should have respected my limitations. I should have muffled my ego, quelled my pride, skipped chores, and took a nap.
PS: Last week I began giving away PDF versions of my debut book, Bedtime Stories For the Living in exchange for an honest Amazon review before or on December 3rd. My goal is to have 100 Amazon reviews by December 3rd. And I’m happy to say I’m almost there! If you would want to help me out and would like a free copy of BSFL simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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