Not an Odalisque

Breaking Bones

with 3 comments

Two weeks ago, I fell. Face down on the bathroom floor, I tried to push myself up, raised my torso an inch from the linoleum, and then crashed back down in a wave of pain. I rocked to my other side and the world blurred around me. An alarm kept shrieking, I couldn’t think for the noise, I had to get up to make it stop, but I lay on the grimy floor with the shower spitting water over the edge of the bath, turning the dust on my legs to gritty paste, and wondering, “Why am I alone?”

In December last year, in another, cleaner, bathroom, I tried to wash myself with bandaged hands, sheathed with rubber gloves sellotaped at the wrists.* I cried into the rain of the shower, asking the same question, “Why am I alone?” I’d been alone when I cut my hands. I’d driven alone to A&E, never changing out of second gear because the sight of the flesh opening and closing on my left hand made my stomach surge. And I’d sat there with men who shouted and hit the walls of the waiting room, until a nurse glued me back together. At home, alone, I avoided the bloody crockery in the kitchen sink but wondered how I was going to wash myself. Not very well, was the answer.

Those haven’t been my only accidents, there’ve been other, lesser ones, and I was alone for most of them, too. I like being alone. I chose to live in a strange, dilapidated flat in a bad part of the city because there are no neighbours. I’d spent so much time with people recently that before I fell I was looking forward to three days away on my own. It felt like freedom. Then I was on the floor. I remember the side of my head meeting the ground, and then I was lying there, asking myself why I was alone.

I asked myself that at 1am in Southport hospital, walking between my assigned room and the ambulance bay, where my phone came to life and I hoped for reassurance from strangers on Twitter. When I left, with two fractures, minor concussion, no money for the taxi and a leaflet saying someone should check on me every hour throughout the night, I found myself laughing at the set up that assumes everyone carries a loved one with them at all times. I didn’t have one for miles.

I did have one on the other end of the phone. After a few minutes on the floor, I managed to drag myself up using the side of the bath, held a towel across my front and escaped the bathroom. I cowered away from the alarm and the open curtains, in case I was seen. When the alarm stopped I dashed for the lightswitch, then I sat on the edge of the bed, curled over my painful arm, and called the lover. I closed my eyes and said, “please pick up, please pick up, please pick up,” pressed call again and again, and then, my head clearing a little, recalled his wife’s name. He answered her phone. He told me to find a first aider. He stayed on the phone when the first aiders left the room to fix the sound system. He insisted I ask for an ambulance when the first aiders suggested they take me back to my room and make me a nice cup of tea.** He stayed awake until 3am, when I got back to my room with my broken bones and aching head. And he met me at A&E in Manchester the next day, where I was reading my book and trying to avoid looking at the drunk who’d been starting at me for half an hour.

I don’t know how the doctors thought I was going to cope when they sent me home. I spent the next week hardly able to move, and either incoherent with pain or incoherent with painkillers. I couldn’t think. I tried to reason and, realising I couldn’t, I cried with terror. I couldn’t wash, I couldn’t cook or clean dishes, I couldn’t reach the cat’s food bowl to feed him, I couldn’t reach the fridge to feed me. Which wouldn’t have mattered, but for the big letters on the painkillers warning dire consequences if taken without food. But the lover was there. He was there to cook, to shop, to arrange pillows, to help me dress, he was there through the screaming arguments as I insisted I could shower myself (all but my hair, my left arm and my right foot, at time of writing), and the weeping fits that came after the dreams of torture and medicated captivity with which my mind processed my injury. He was even there at the hospital appointment yesterday to point at two bones on my x-ray and say, “Are those bits meant to be connected?” so that I cried with fear that the doctor would decide to nail my bones together. The whole thing was humiliating, awful, and necessary. I literally don’t know what I’d have some without him. And I hate it.

The lover has been here twelve nights of the last sixteen. This is the man who I used to throw out in the early hours of the morning when I tired of him. This has been, I think, the first relationship in which I genuinely want to see him when we’re together, feel able to say I’d rather have time apart without guilt, and am sure that if he’s with me he wants to be there. One fall seems to have undone all of that. He didn’t come round to enjoy my scintillating conversation as I dozed in bed, hardly able to form sentences, he did it because I needed help. So while I’m grateful, so grateful, he was there, I’m worried that my fall has ruined everything. How will I feel free while being so much in his debt? Did seeing me at my weakest change his view of me, from an equal to a damsel in distress, or even worse, a dirty, unattractive mess?*** In the past, I’ve been weakest when people offer support, leading to them eventually and dramatically revealing its conditionality. I suspect will be the point from which it all goes wrong.

As I begin to heal, I don’t know where I am on being alone. Today I was intending to go into town to buy of glittery scarves to make glamorous slings, but the lover is at home with a headache, so I’m staying in—I need him to walk on my right hand side in crowds to stop people bumping into my shoulder. I don’t feel much like the younger me who set off for Asia alone, I’m too scared to go to the shops!

It would be nice, the next time I’m injured, to feel looked after. It would be nice to have company the next time I’m waiting in a hospital late at night. But what price would I have to pay for that? A significant loss of freedom, hours in company I don’t want, and the worry that, having seen me at my worst, partners will never consider me smart, independent and sexy again. In an attempt to regain at least a little cleanliness and independence, I’m going to attempt my first proper shower alone. If I don’t post again within the fortnight, please call an undertaker.

*Yes, I looked utterly ridiculous. This didn’t help me feel better about the situation.

**Tip: never be brave with a first aider, they won’t take you seriously. Also, don’t queue at the enquiries desk to ask for one, I suspect that in my case this gave the wrong impression.

***When I brought this up with him, he pointed out that he has a vulnerability fetish, and told me that he was tired of me, “smelling like a soap factory.” Which was either a very kind lie, or a niggle he’s been hiding for a long time bursting out.

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 27, 2011 at 8:28 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Sorry to hear about your injury. I thought this post was excellent and articulate on the problems of feeling like you rely on someone too much. I always wonder how far a vulnerability fetish will go.

    Catherine (youreyesaregems)

    October 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm

  2. Wow. Some post, turning the injury (owww; hope it’s healing OK) into something so much deeper and more profound. Wow.


    October 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm

  3. Thank you both. I’m healing, we’ll just have to wait and see if a degree of self-reliance returns soon, too.

    Not an Odalisque

    October 31, 2011 at 12:08 am

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