Ten years ago tonight, an unexpected door opened in my life. It was one of those moments you never want to imagine living through, and as it happened, I knew the reality of it was bigger than me. Life suddenly became so serious, even at 24 years old. And yet, all I could think as I lay face-down, drowning in the pool, was: "You're an idiot."
I had mistakenly taken a dive into the shallow end of a pool. With an echoing "Crack" that screamed throughout every cell in my body, I knew instinctively what it meant to be paralyzed.
I used to hate everything about today. I used to hate hearing about friends going to their beach houses on summer weekends. The first warm days of the season would warp my mind into an altered state of consciousness that transported me back in time to that instant. I'd taste the chlorine in my mouth as the pool water flooded in, collapsing my left lung, and I'd feel like a shattering eggshell all over again, falling apart on the kitchen floor.
Looking in a mirror was not an option for three years after it happened. Catching a glimpse of my reflection anywhere would drive me insane; I'd burst into tears, in public, in private, I didn't care. And then the weirdest thing started to happen: I grew aware that I had been thrust into an accelerated adult version of myself. Whereas before my mind was occupied with things like my appearance, working out and carefully selecting my wardrobe, my topics of discussion had evolved to include more substantial issues such as health insurance, physical therapy and Osteoporosis.
Before that night ten years ago, life consisted of a flighty, peripatetic existence where if I didn't like something or someone, I could just get up and leave without giving it a second thought. But afterwards, everyday actions became more deliberate. Meeting a friend for dinner now involves first going through a series of stretches and physical therapy exercises, then using a crane-like device to get into a wheelchair and finally being driven in an adapted minivan into Manhattan. Any grooming and final prepping have to take place en-route, because there simply isn't enough time for it all otherwise. The point is, I've realized that I have to prioritize more deeply, and the adjustments I make aren't necessarily the things that anyone else will notice. My injury motivated me to figure out creative ways to problem solve, and forced me to rely on an imagination I never thought I'd depend on so much.
That sense of being able to run from any problem or scenario has vaporized. Friends, as it turns out, are much more important than you may think. A good laugh with good friends was all it took for me to forget about the pain I was in from sitting for too long. And they'd notice things, improvements, in ways I'd never be conscious of myself. Slowly, the egg that I thought had shattered forever was gluing itself back together in the strangest, most incomprehensible ways.
Today, recognizing the true value of friendship and family is much more deliberate, and because of that, I cherish it all the more. Yes, time is always fleeting. It was almost entirely robbed from me ten years ago. When I said to a friend last week, "All I really know is how I feel right now... " I meant it, and something kind of clicked. Twenty-four years of running and trying to squeeze so much into a single day doesn't make sense now, as I sit here, at peace, enjoying this quiet afternoon.