Eleven years ago today I broke my neck and foot and sustained a severe concussion at a Boston production of Sleep No More. I was taking in this annoyingly avant-garde staging of Macbeth (yes, the cursed play) with my best friend and first boyfriend, all of us reunited for our 20th high school reunion, when I pushed through one of its many mysterious curtains to….fall in the darkness onto a hardwood floor from a stage 15 feet above. The Punch Drunk players had been too punch drunk to safely rope it off, apparently.
Every year, my body reminds me of the anniversary of this accident by rebooting my symptoms, and every year I am shocked anew. This year–the last of my 40s, the worst in our country’s history–my neck and back spasms are particularly acute. I have not walked or stood without debilitating pain for five days now. I am terrified of being alone while this vulnerable. I am terrified I won’t regain my health. Both fears are well grounded in reality.
Yesterday I bottomed out and am still in that abyss. It is from here that I am writing to you. It started with landlord troubles, which always scare me because I fear losing my home. Then a dear friend forgot to come by (he had good reason) so I wallowed in dirty clothes and dirty dishes I could not clean myself. Then my sometimes lover once again did not check up on me and did not have a good reason, which is why he is only a sometimes lover and I am a fool for still knowing him. Another friend surprised me with his brand of practical magic–I don’t want to gloss over this–but by evening my spasms were so bad I had to crawl into the kitchen to feed Grace. Afterward she pounced on the couch with uncharacteristic force and two of its legs flew off. Then a reproduction painting I’d found at a flea market flew off the wall and the glass encasing it shattered on my bedroom rug. I am too injured to clean that glass myself. So I feel trapped because I am trapped–afraid to walk lest I step on a shard I’m too injured to extract myself.
I am not making any of this up. I wasn’t even going to include that detail about the painting because it seems so unlikely except that I googled “woman floating in darkness” as I was searching for images for this piece, and the painting that had just broke appeared in the results. That is when I learned it was entitled “Hope.”
This is the first time I am writing about my accident. At first I was silent because I was knee-deep in a lawsuit and later because I wished to forget this terrifying experiences entirely. I still don’t want to write about it much, but one detail has been so hijacking me that I’m sharing it here. As I was being wheeled into X Ray that night, I grabbed the hands of my friends and said, “I’m going to quit my job at Us Weekly and work as a psychic.” Everyone took that declaration as a sign of severe cognitive impairment. I think I did, too. But I never worked another day at the gossip magazine where I’d aided the ascent of such bloviating bottom-feeders as Donald Trump. Instead I began to build a very different life–one I’m still trying to stabilize, one in which every lesson is incorporated into my burgeoning intuitive practice.I wonder if that’s what the recurrence of these symptoms are about today. I wonder if once again they will produce much-needed revelations so I may be of greater service to myself and others. But I know only one thing for sure: I experience the unknown, any unknown, as pure terror–as lying awake and alone in the dark, helpless in fear and pain. Precisely where I was last night and am right now– on some level still hurtling blindly off a stage I didn’t know I was on.
To get back up I need to surrender to the unconscious–to sleep, perchance to dream. I need to accept that hope is predicated on the acceptance of the unknown. That our bodies are time travelers’ maps, and that terrible accidents are also scavenger hunt clues, terrible and terrific coincidences that in fact are not coincidences so much as breadcrumb trails to better places. Which I find so hard to swallow because crumbs are all I’ve ever known and I’m very very sick of them. I do not know what it will take for me to learn a different way, but this is what I most wish to learn.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have extended a hand, both this week and over this very fraught last decade. I hope to better meet you in the days and decades to come. I hope to trust.
The thing about growing up the way I did was I knew I had no one to rescue me, no one to dry my tears. It wasn’t a child’s thought, it was a preternaturally adult realization that I was forced to register as a young person so I would survive the people who had been deemed my caretakers by biology and society. I’ve had that “no room to fuck up” feeling ever, especially since I’m not naturally an underdog. My unique skill set often means I understand others better than they understand themselves (let alone me) and thus owe them patience and compassion even when we’re at cross purposes. And yet: I am human and so screw up with a regularity–most recently by running on a broken baby toe because it never occurred to me it would so screw up my alignment that I’d be injured for a month at least.
Bottom line: I’ve never had a safety net to speak of but the kindness of friends and acquaintances. And during Trump’s reign this fact has proven genuinely scary: I ran out of cash twice, my kidneys blew out after a Covid bout, I immobilized myself twice through stress injuries, and I’ve been unusually irritable, which means I’m constantly poised to alienate anyone who doesn’t have to love me, which in my life is pretty much everyone.
Which is ALL to say that yes, today marks Week 3 of a back spasm so painful that, as I write this, I can’t stand up or sit, let alone lift or clean anything or walk down the stairs of my building. It’s honestly humiliating, let alone dangerous, to be so vulnerable; even I am rolling my eyes at my damsel-in-distressiness. And of course because of Covid my normal healers have long fled the city and I am too broke for the Goldilocks experience of testing out a series of practitioners until I find the correct one. (I saw a terrible one Friday.) And I live alone and can’t drag people over every time I need to eat or feed Grace and of course I am running out of cash because I can’t do readings while I can’t sit up.
What has always scared me most is not seeing the forest for the trees, the escape hatch to a terrible trap. And because everyone is also struggling, worrying (drowning), I genuinely don’t expect anyone to fix or save me upon reading this. But on this very dark November Sunday night (the saddest nights of the whole year) I am still writing this out. Because I believe solidarity helps. And because I know that telling my story always saves me if only because it makes me believe that my story matters too.
Postscript: In response to the very kind offers of support, donations are gratefully accepted here.
My back still out, I drove into the city today because I had errands that simply had to get done–food and medicine to fetch for Grace, that sort of thing. I suppose I could have used one of the new-fangled services to get the items delivered but the New Englander in me finds it hard to spend money on things I can do myself, and the truth is that I haven’t worked while I’ve been feeling poorly so for the billionth time in my life I don’t have money to spare.
Into lower Manhattan I ventured, where, grimacing in pain, I knocked all the errands off my list while cursing all the myriad unmasked mothertruckers, not to mention the usual bastion of crap drivers and bikers that (I’m sorry, biker friends) were making it absurdly difficult not to hit them. I hate driving in Manhattan on any day but Sunday even when my spine is not in spasm.
Anyhoot–or so said the owl-I parked on Lower Broadway and though had thought I’d left plenty of time on the meter, found myself sprinting back to my car bad back and all because I’d underestimated how Covid restrictions would add time to my errands. I returned to my car two minutes late to find a NYPD officer already scanning my car for a ticket. All is fair in love and war, but–no doubt because she was anticipating my fury–the woman began to rail about how she had to write out the ticket even though I’d returned to my car already. “I can’t do anything once it’s scanned,” she said in one of the most common scam lines of all time.
I blew up, I admit it. I’d accepted the reality of the ticket but not of having her go off on me. My lower back was pounding, I’d completely defeated the purpose of doing my errands myself by incurring a $65 ticket, and now this bird was lecturing me on top of it. “Just give me the damn ticket and spare me the shit, ” I said, and then she really began yelling at me about how she was just doing her job, which, honestly, she was–a job that no doubt is incredibly stressful in this brave new world.
Centered, om-shanthi intuitive Lisa could recognize this, but stressed-out, injured, broke Lisa did not give a fuck about her backstory though I could sense it was rough. So I said, “Your job does not entail lecturing me, so just fuck off. I’ll pay the ticket but I’m not paying to listen to a NYPD meter maid pig.” At that, she waved me off and began walking away, not writing the ticket, not anything. I stood for a second watching her, confused, before driving off, my heart pounding in my throat. Then I ran through our exchange and felt sick. A meter officer is not high on the NYPD totem pole, and I could feel she hated her job more than I could ever hate my own circumstances. There’s nothing worse than knowing you’re the bigger asshole in an exchange. So I double-parked and went back to find her.
“I’m not talking to you, you were disrespectful,” she said. “I was,” I said. “Feel free to give me the ticket. I am just coming back to say sorry. I am having a bad day but it is no excuse for how I spoke to you.” “Go away,” she said. “I will,” I said. “But please know I know you deserve an apology.” Right there between Spring and Prince, with all kinds of New Yorkers streaming around us, we both burst into tears.
“It’s ok. You were having a bad day,” she managed and waved me off again. Knowing that was the best either of us could summon in that moment, I nodded and climbed back in my car before I could get another ticket.
Between Trump holding the nation hostage and this last gasp of Mars Retrograde, always roughest when coming and going, life is unusually stressful even for 2020. None of us are our best selves and none of us have an excuse to treat each other like garbage. As I write this, I’m icing my back, and have declared 4pm whiskey o’clock. Wherever that woman is, I hope she can do the same soon.