Blogging is narcissistic, but check out my new bruise!
Risk assessment. That was the second thing I thought when I suddenly found myself sprawled out on a white sidewalk the other night. My self-sacrificing hand, scraped and scuffed somehow on both sides, just barely saved my face from unwanted intimacy with the concrete.
The first thing I thought was, Has it happened to you yet? A question posed to me one day by a running companion after she tripped on a tree root, but caught herself in a deep lunge, masterfully avoiding a tumble to the ground. I remembered her question the other night as I rolled myself over, sitting up slowly, examining my skinned knee, searching for some kind of culprit in the pavement.
She was from Chicago. A strong, decisive, I-get-what-I-want kind of woman who discovered a lump in her breast at the age of thirty and opted for a double mastectomy. That’s risk assessment right there. I was lucky enough to meet her three years ago when we were set up on a blind running date of sorts through three degrees of separation. Or maybe four. It was unlikely but it worked out perfectly, like so many good things. She told me that all runners fall, and that it would happen to me sooner or later.
Last year, her haunting words proved true. I tripped and hit the dirt hard while running in a grungy beach town in Peru. Slamming into the ground jostled her words out of hibernation, and they bounced around in my memory. And it’s funny because I think I thought I got it out of the way, like once you fall, you won’t fall again. But that’s seldom the case, as I was reminded the other night when I couldn’t quite figure out how I ended up on the ground yet again – this time on a perfectly paved sidewalk, neatly curving its way through cropped, suburban grass.
And I was suddenly reminded of risk assessment, and a popular article the New York Times published this summer called, “Why Teenagers Act Crazy.” Something about teenage brains being hypersensitive to rewards, yet not developed enough to accurately assess risk. Which explains a lot. Like the kids I used to work with who would recklessly light things on fire. Some of them had underlying issues, of course, but the majority just thought it would be fun and forgot to stop and think, “Wait, what could go wrong here?”
I understand. I forgot to ask myself that very question when I set out to run in the dark that night. In my defense, I started with good intentions. I dug my headlamp out of a paper bag that has been sitting in my closet since I moved here. I found it cramped beneath Bandaids, old batteries, pens, junk I don’t need but also don’t want to throw out for some reason. But when I switched it on, there was no response. A dead bulb. So I decided to run without it. And it was the first cool night in weeks, so I was flying down that sidewalk, my brain elsewhere, thinking all sorts of pleasant, Peter Pan thoughts, when I was rudely interrupted by the sound of hands high-fiving pavement, knees knocking on a surface with no give.
It appears that running in the dark comes with considerable hazards even in the safest (dullest) neighborhoods in the world. Much like feeling nauseas after riding a rollercoaster, the risks detract from the rewards. And I guess this is how you become an adult. You fall hard, or you crash your car, or you get sick from drinking too much, or you date the wrong guy, and then you learn. You remember the pain and stress involved in your mistake, and make a more informed decision the next time. I contemplated these things as I slowly got up, somberly wiped the dirt off my pants, and decided it might be best to just walk back home.
And as I thought that and asked myself if this means I am now an adult, as I pondered the banality and sadness involved in growing up, my legs started running on their own. They didn’t ask for permission, they just started going. Muscle memory outweighs logic, or Reward sticks its childish tongue out at Risk. And away I went. Back down the road, the breeze in my face, the country sky illuminated by a sliver of moon.