When I was eight years old I fell into an electric fence that surrounded a hog pen next to my grandfather’s tobacco patch. I was riding my bike on this dirt path that stretched between the two properties, and I hit a rock or a mound of dirt or just thin air – something that sent me flying over the handlebars and into this fence.
Because of the speed I was going and the electric volts that traveled through my body upon impact, I was thrown – like slingshotted – backwards about 10 or so feet into the tobacco field.
I had these burn marks on my skin where I made contact with the electric fence, but with the exception of those and a few bruises courtesy of the ground, I was unharmed. My grandfather said I must have been the luckiest person on the face of the planet.
But I think I might have used up all of my luck that day.
Elliott likes to say that if you hang out with me long enough, something funny will happen. Funny in hindsight perhaps … but really, he’s just talking about my tendency for extremely bad luck.
And by “tendency” I mean that I’m on a first-name basis with AAA and half of the tow truck drivers in Lexington, I might as well have my own room at Central Baptist Hospital, I’m intimately associated with the security detail at many U.S. – and a few international – airports, and I’ve reworked Newton’s Law to read, “If something can go wrong, it will.”
“You must be the luckiest person on the face of the planet.”
I’m thinking of that afternoon and of that electric fence tonight sitting here on a barstool in the middle of my new apartment in Nashville. I’ve just finished mopping up my kitchen after it flooded this afternoon – a garbage disposal clogged and burst in the apartment above mine – and I’m trying really hard not to feel sorry for myself.
I’ve been in Nashville for three days and in those three days I’ve already had my car towed once – on purpose, it broke down – had to call maintenance to my apartment three times, and I’m currently sitting in the dry half of the room eating cold spaghetti out of a sauce pan because in my trial-by-error approach, I’ve realized that my stove doesn’t work. And I haven’t even started my new job yet.
I’m shoving fork-fulls of spaghetti into my mouth as fast as possible as I try to swallow the lump that is lodging itself in the back of my throat. You know the kind, the one that makes your chest ache and the back of your eyes burn with tears you’re trying to hold at bay. I’m trying extra hard right now.
My grandfather was an intense man. An officer in the U.S. Air force for most of his life, he didn’t take much crap from people. Even from his granddaughter. He was strong and he was tough and very difficult to please. But I can still see his face as he kneeled over me that afternoon, the worry and relief battling each other for dominance. I remember trying so hard not to cry – even though my body hurt like I’d just been electrocuted and thrown 10 feet – because I wanted my grandfather to know I was strong and tough, too.
I must have cried. I was a kid and it hurt like hell. But I don’t remember that. All I remember from that day was my grandfather picking me up and carrying me back to the swing on their front porch, muttering the whole time about how lucky I was. Then he sat me down on that swing, put one arm around my shoulders and said, “You’re one tough cookie.”
And that’s the part I remember – being so proud of myself.
My father drove the three and a half hours it takes to get from Lexington to Nashville this morning to fix my car. Then he helped me clean up my flooded kitchen and call the maintenance man to get my ceiling fixed. He left before I realized my stove didn’t work or he probably would’ve fixed that, too.
“Is it always this hard?” I asked him as we stood in the kitchen and watched the stream of water falling from the floor above me.
He laughed and shook his head at me. “Seems to be harder for you than most people.”
“Is it always going to be this hard?” I asked him, still watching the water flowing onto my kitchen counter then splashing onto the floor.
My dad just laughed louder. Like my grandfather, he doesn’t really tolerate people feeling sorry for themselves. He always taught my brothers and sister and I to be tough and to be responsible. To be grown-ups. To be thankful and grateful and accepting. And to never feel like we were owed anything by this life.
“The world owes you nothing,” he used to tell us. “It was here first. Everything you get, you have to earn.”
So we did. And somewhere along the line, I earned some bad luck.
“It’ll get easier,” Dad told me as he got in the car to go back to Lexington this afternoon. “And if it doesn’t, well just give me a call. We can fix just about anything.”
And then he winked and finished with, “You can handle it. You’re one tough cookie.”
Sitting here, all of my pictures and boxes scattered across the floor at my feet drying out from the Great Flood of January 1, 2011, and trying extra hard not to cry, I’ve decided to just be that tough cookie. The one who got electrocuted when she was eight. The one who knows everything that can break on a car, because it has all once broken on hers. The one who now is on a first-name basis with her maintenance man. The one who has to start a brand new job in the morning.
And I’m just going to cross my fingers that it gets better.