Yesterday in the grocery store parking lot

I don't often write personal essays, but journaling about my day yesterday* I wrote this regarding my struggles with pavement (or maybe I should say anxiety) since my bike crash last summer and decided I might share what I wrote here. It's off-topic from my usual blog posts but I'm attempting to be braver sharing my art with the wider world and for whatever it's worth I thought posting this might be a small act of such bravery.  If that interests you, read on. Otherwise I encourage you to skip this post. 

Even while leaning on the grocery cart as if it were a walker, the elderly stranger looked like she'd topple. My mom and I were walking out of the grocery store, pushing my stroller full of my son and our groceries, on our way home when we saw the old woman. She moved glacier slow, the cart her crutch, her feet shuffling like a wind-up toy losing its wind. I motioned to my mom to take the stroller from me and I offered to help the old woman.

She was glad to let me put her groceries in her car. I stayed with her as she pushed the cart to her car door, tip-toeing with determination. She was grateful for my company, she said so, but I sensed hesitation in how she kept pausing and testing her grip on the cart, as if she wanted to let it go. It was clear she wanted to be able to do this herself. I felt for her. I wanted to respect her autonomy. Maybe she did usually do this herself. But then again, it was also clear something wasn't right. She looked off-center and a touch distant. Maybe it was a health episode?  Maybe she'd worn herself out shopping?

So I stood nearby after I unloaded her cart. And when she finally did let go of the cart it was like watching a cliffhanger letting go of a cliff. The old woman tipped, her hips swayed, her knees buckled. I lurched forward with both hands and latched on to her arm. She kept falling, I didn't have a solid hold on her and I tipped with her, at least partially. But she fell, my awkward catch at least softening the contact with the asphalt.

She was shaken, embarrassed. So was I. But she wasn't broken, at least I hoped not. My mom and I got her up and into her car. I stood next to her with her car door open and asked if she was okay. She looked at her arm. It was bruised. Probably from me grabbing it. She seemed rattled, but said, "I'm okay." Then she looked at her hand. "I'm bleeding," she stammered. And she was bleeding; it was a big cut, right on the butt of her paper-thin palm. Her hand shook.

My mom gave us some tissues and went to find a store clerk to help us. The old woman glanced at me, and looked down. "Thank you," she mumbled.  I asked if I could call anyone. She said she lived in an assisted living center not far away, but she'd be fine. She didn't want an ambulance. Her eyes knotted. I asked if she was in pain and she said she'd be okay. But I knew the pain was something different.

She was ashamed.

I recognized the look in her eyes, simultaneously grateful and horrified I'd gone through this experience with her. Or maybe that was just how I felt. I knew I wasn't only speaking to her when I pressed the clean tissues into her bleeding hand and knelt down with her, she in her car and I next to her on the asphalt and said, "You aren't alone. Lots of people fall. I've fallen. Look at this scar."

I pointed at my chin, at the place where I'd crashed into the pavement after flying over my handlebars on my bike just months before. The scar: the physical reminder of the accident that still replays in my head over and over and over during moments of weakness and vulnerability, the epicenter of my own mental issues with pavement.

The elderly woman looked at my chin. It was the first time she really turned and looked at me and she was looking right at my ugliest most unreasonably shameful spot. I traced the long red line of the scar.

"I got it only a few months ago falling myself," I said. "Someone else helped me get up afterward too." I added.

I thought not only of the two men who picked me up bleeding off the side of the road those months before, but of the paramedics at the fire station they took me to, and the emergency room doctor with the gentle hands who threaded my chin back together, and the friends who'd helped with my kids while I recovered from the accompanying concussion, and the friends and my husband who encouraged me to seek help when the anxiety and flashbacks and headaches overwhelmed me months later, and of my therapist who'd offered me relief just hours before.

"It takes a village," I said to the old woman who now sat bleeding and defeated at her steering wheel.

She nodded and half-smiled. I thought I saw her even raise an eyebrow. "It takes a village," she agreed."

I gave her my blessings as the store manager and a few clerks surrounded her and took over helping her. The asphalt was still hard under my feet as my mom, my son, and I walked away. But the sun was warm, the birds were chirping. And I was, at long last, moving forward.

*Please note that I re-wrote the intro to this essay a few days after I posted. Why? Because I didn't like the old one.