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susy derkins
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Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by susy derkins

February 5th, 2009 4:26 AM

INSTRUCTIONS: Do one thing every day that scares you, for (at least) one week.

WARNING: First a nostalgic and wordy intro that gives the context for the task but that impatient readers can certainly skip

When I was little, maybe three or four, my brother and I used to go play at our next door neighbor's home, a second floor apartment that you reached by a flight of railess stairs more or less like the ones pictured above. We went there often and every single time I fell down the stairs on my way back home, after a dialogue like this:
-Give me your hand, I help you.
-No, no, I can do it by myself!
-But, see, just hold my hand a little, just here where the steps turn...
-NO! I can!
And I would rush forward, stubborn and proud, and I'd lose my balance and fell, head first, rolling down the remaining six steps. As I remember it, I used to keep rolling all the hallway to the front door, where I crashed, banging my head and wailing. Maybe it wasn't that bad. But I always came back home crying, and I always went back there, and I kept falling every day.

My brother is convinced that he will die from falling down some stairs. I wonder if I have something to do with that: after all, I never saw myself falling, just felt my awkward foot slipping on the rounded border, then the world moving in circles, then a bang on the head. While my brother, well, it was almost always his hand the one I struggled to let go of mine.

I broke my left ankle when I was four, too, but that had nothing to do with stairs: I was riding on the back of my mother's bike and somehow my foot got trapped in the spokes. The cool part was that the nearest health care workers were the veterinarians at the zoo, and I got first aid on the very same (white tile, enormous) tables/beds used for the lions and tigers and Tohui, the first panda bear born in captivity. I remember that the place smelled funny. And so at 4 I got a cast on my little leg and I moved around the house by sliding on a pillow. And when we went outside my father carried me on his shoulders and the street was glorious to see from so high and my dad was in a good mood and he skipped and I laughed all the way.

I was on crutches for the first time 3 years ago (right ankle messed up, surgery, two screws) and I am on crutches again now, two bones on my right foot broken. And on crutches I discovered a fear that may go back to my old days of childhood: I'm terrified of falling and scared shitless of stairs. When you're in crutches, your hands are your missing foot, so all stairs have no rails, all stairs are pure death traps.

My house has one step in the front door and three steps to go from the rooms to the kitchen/living room. I have to climb those every day, several times. There is also a step to cross to get in the shower. And I have to kind if jump over it to get to the toilet too. We're talking steps that are 15 cm/6 inches high. Scary as hell, you bipeds have no idea.

So, I am reporting here that during the last month (since Dec 23rd) I have been doing every day something that scares me: going up and down either
- the 4 steps in my house
- the 8 step-staircase at the trauma doctor's office
- two steps at the place we eat almost every day
- the big 22 steps U-turn no rail staircase at my in-laws house
- 6 big steps at a fantastic arabian taco joint
- ~15 steps at the theatre side hallway (when you haven't been to the theatre in 6 years and you get theatre tickets as a Christmas present you damn well make sure you get there and stay there after finding out there are stairs and the lights are being turned off).

Now, it wasn't enough just to tell you but I had to document the scary manouver. But while on crutches I can't hold a camera in my hands, can I? I tried holding my cellphone in my mouth but that didn't work too well, I tried the cast-cam, the bra-cam, the crutch-cam, with mixed results (and of course I lost some files). And let me tell you that the documenting part made the whole thing even more scary: I am not only going to fall, break another bone and make a fool of myself but also damage some valuable electronics!
The resulting video is far from a landmark in documentary history but it does feel as it felt. And since I got rid of my cast 5 hours ago, it was edited and it is posted right now, before I start to forget how it was.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Epilogue for hardcore long praxes readers:
But why is this fear of falling so strong, why does it keep me tense and mute for hours some days? After four weeks of climbing up and down steps on crutches I think I have felt it enough to describe it: is not vertigo, is not fear of the actual act of flying through the air, but the certainty of the floor, the pain, things breaking, everything getting even worse, harder to do, and everyone more and more annoyed at me and much more difficult to dissapear, you can't run and hide in a cave when you've fallen. See, the always present possibility of crutches slipping or swinging the wrong way allows me to see my worst fear: that I am living wrong, that I'm helping none and burdening others, that I can't run away. Exposure therapy? HA! Is not any less scary after all these times. Maybe that's the idea.

- smaller

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7 comment(s)

(no subject)
posted by Fiona on February 5th, 2009 4:57 AM

Excellent video effort. The stairs look very hard and maybe slippery and the small innocent dog represents a trip hazard.
What was the music? It sounded familiar.

posted by SPJ on February 5th, 2009 6:52 AM

It's Machine-Gun by Portishead. And the volume level is seriously NSFW :)

glad you like it, guys
posted by susy derkins on February 5th, 2009 8:08 PM

True, haunting Portishead. And sorry about the volume :p

(no subject)
posted by Morte on February 5th, 2009 9:10 AM

Arabian taco joint? ???????? And I feel you pain on the stairs+crutches thing. You never realize how many stairs there are in the world until you have to navigate them all on crutches.

(no subject)
posted by Professor Møbius on June 21st, 2010 1:27 PM

I concur. Arabian taco joint? That seems a bit odd, but oh so necessary to investigate.

Down with stairs!
posted by done on February 7th, 2009 3:03 AM

I totally understand your fear of stairs. I teared my ankle once when I was falling down a step in an ancient temple and after this I started to instinctivly think about falling every time I had to walk on small, steep or slippery stairs and I got very aware of falling. So stairs scare me as well!

(no subject)
posted by rongo rongo on March 3rd, 2009 1:15 PM

It's interesting that falling down the stairs when you were younger wasn't scary then, but now that the whole falling thing has had more time to sink in, it's a different experience.