Humble Dumpty: Ceiling Cracks and Broken Toes
You've never seen death? Look in the mirror every day and you will see it like bees working in a glass hive.
Time is the rain of ages and an altruism of life is the ravages of time. The clock ticks in torrents of seconds, ceaseless and never ending. Even if you forget to wind your watch, this doesn’t stop us all from getting old. As I sit on the cusp of 36 years (my hand trembles at the thought!) I have had to grapple with my own mortality. There was a time when I could party with the best of ‘em but now after 2 beers my bloating stomach battles back with merciless acid reflux and a dinging hangover. Such is where I find myself these day. Daily trivial worries like money, bills, jobs, blah blah are overtaken with weightier matters on the frequent moments of reflection. I sit and I trace back decisions in an effort to understand the course taken which got me to my destination.
How one’s life can change. Just a few years back I was alone. Now I am a father and husband. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” This is a comforting fact. You can’t avoid life or death, which are really one and the same. But no one wants to go down without a fight. Most of us in our own way try to do things to slow down our aging, making the most of our battle to defy the inevitable. As if we have some control in our own expiration date, we do the most we can to preserve ourselves. Even after we die, some us do the cryogenic thing, hoping one day we can come back regardless of the freezer burn. We have all become like Narcissus, transfixed by our own image. Each wrinkle and line of the face is traced by the ceaseless accumulation of pictures from our Instagram feed. The world could be crumbling around us and we would have the selfie to prove we were there. These documented experiences should count for something. The history of our age is shared millions of times and a future civilization 1000 years in the future will have more than they ever wished to know about who their ancestors were. Perhaps there are some things we shouldn’t preserve for posterity. But of course this isn’t about all of us. This piece is about me and as I sit here mulling my own cracking bones, lamenting each day passed with a new muscle stiff upon my morning wake, I wait for a mud mask to dry on my face. This mud comes from an ancient ash, formerly of a mountain in Mexico. A mountain demoted in stature from countless eruptions, a mountain now crumbled like the civilization which used to worship the grandeur of its peaks. How the mighty fall.
It is funny how things you once forgot about when you are younger come roaring back with a vengeance as an adult. About a month ago I came home from work and my daughter had a new obsession from a very old book: Humpty Dumpty. I had purchased her a used copy of Mother Goose rhymes and prior to that day she had never shown the slightest interest as to what the book contains. Up until then it had been nothing but Where is the Green Sheep? And Dr. Seuss. Then suddenly everything changed and nothing has been the same for her. Each day my wife and I read the lines over and over, incantations of the demise of this fragile man-egg who climbed a wall too high. The resonance has been a powerful one. As she stares at the picture of Humpty’s petrified face just at the moment before he falls, I sometimes can see me in that picture. She runs around the house reciting the simple lines of verse. Simplicity shrouded in complex meaning. The end is coming for Humpty and for all of us, too. In some way or another, we all fall down. Usually we pick ourselves up. This is life. But we all know at some point there is that fall in which we never get back up again. Some folks outrun this moment, living to a ripe old age until they peacefully fall asleep one day and never wake up. For others, time runs out much sooner. This is why her new obsession on that Friday was so ominous.
On that cold night we decided to venture to Park Slope for a bowl of ramen at Naruto (the best shrimp gyoza of all time). Boni and I were a hive of ideas and aspirations. We were talking about future jobs, travelling, studying, and family. Amara was in her stroller, her head turning from mom to dad, doing her best to follow the manic conversation while she sat in the stroller. The subway ride from Bensonhurst to Park Slope was about forty-five minutes. By the time we came off the subway it had begun to snow and Amara wanted to be held. If anybody knows Amara then they know there are certain things which are non-negotiable. Being in a stroller for an extended period is something she will argue against until she is blue in the face. So I took her out and carried her the few blocks it took to arrive at the restaurant. As we were just about to reach the restaurant, the sidewalk became uneven and I took a wrong step. My ankle twisted under the weight of our bodies and we went down on the concrete. Hard. Luckily I had the awareness to throw my body weight around and turn in the air as were were falling. I landed on my back. Amara was safe on my chest. My left foot was twisted underneath all of that somewhere. Immediately I knew. Before a crowd of onlookers I was able to slowly rise, handing Amara to Boni. I did a little dance to let them know Humpty wasn’t broken and I proceeded to hobble to the restaurant.
We dined and noodled to our hearts’ content while under the table my foot was outgrowing my shoe. Then came the check. Cash only. I would have to find an ATM. My bank was across the street. I put on my jacket stood up and that’s when the real alarm sounded. Not an ounce of weight my foot could take. I tried again. Not even close. I even tried, much to the amusement of the customers and staff, to hop out of the restaurant on one but the throb was searing. I gave up and sat down. On my face I must have looked just like Humpty all cracked up on the ground.
Some pain disappears as the years pass and other pains you remember forever. My left foot has had a history of being broke. In 6th grade I was playing soccer while wearing dress shoes in the schoolyard. A kid with cleats landed on my big toe and it snapped. For months it was black and blue and hasn’t been the same since, always cracking on call, stiff in the mornings. Since that day I have a disdain for soccer other people can’t seem to understand.
Fast-forward to July 12, 2013. NYC to Washington D.C. The details of that day are clarified by the pain which I had to endure. It was about two in the morning. I was packing my bags and about to head to D.C. from NYC for a Paul McCartney concert which was going to take place at 7pm that day. The last order of business before I took the subway to Penn Station: snacks for the ride. Throwing on my flip-flops, no socks, I went outside. The crosswalk was about to change so I ran across the street and BANG! SNAP! I writhed on the sidewalk howling. “My toe, my toe!” Again my toe. I kicked a brick I didn’t see and off the wall fell Humpty Dumpty. What was a brick doing in the street? I didn’t ever find out. I picked myself up and made it to D.C. When I was there a police officer saw me hopping down the Washington Mall. He took me to a doctor’s office located in a Smithsonian! Free of charge I was splinted and wrapped and sent on my way. A hard day’s walk that was but a great fucking concert made all the more memorable because my poor toe was hanging on for dear life as we all sang “Hey Jude” in unison. (take a sad song and make it better)
Flash Forward again to that night where my daughter discovered Humpty and my left foot is crying out in pain. By the time we arrived home it was swelling. I am couch ridden for the weekend. Ice. Hot. Me complaining to Boni. Amara staring at my big foot sticking up in the air. Then suddenly (I am calling it a minor miracle) Monday morning, I can walk. Sure it is sore and black & blue but I can freaking walk. Then the days following days it gradually became better. Now I am walking with no pain and this humble Dumpty lived to walk another day. But this story has a poignant coda.
The following weekend, after hundreds of Humpty recitations using every manner of voice variety to keep a child interested, new cracks began to form. The last snow storm came through New York and the city shut down one last time before spring. House ridden for the day, I hobbled to the nearest pizzaria for a pepperoni pie. When I arrived back home I noticed a puddle of water on the kitchen floor and looked up and saw water leaking through the light fixture. Then cracks began to form across the ceiling from our kitchen to the living room living room. More water began to come through in various spots. Pots and pans catching drops of water were strategically placed on the floor. Amara watched with intense curiosity, the ravages of age and time concepts still foreign to her. I, too, watched for a few moments the drops of water falling into a pot. The quiet tink tink sound was eerily reminiscent of the magnification of sand falling in an hour glass when Jiminy Cricket was trying to sleep in Pinocchio. Yes, time for us all is crumbling away our facade. At that moment the pain in my foot tinged and I felt somewhat akin to the crumbling ceiling in our old apartment in Brooklyn. Then I went back into the bedroom where a little girl was waiting for me to read her Humpty Dumpty. As I read her those strangely perverse verses I thought to myself, “what’s new will become old only to become new again and to make an omelette you must crack some eggs. And to get a new ceiling the old one must cave in.”
As you are reading this now, Boni, Amara, and I will be flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The mud mask had been washed away many hours ago and I will be trying to catch some Z’s before landing in Milan. In the days that follow we will be touring a country who is no stranger to the ups and downs of time and history. We will walk streets which once held a worldly greatness but are now admired for their ruins. The strangulation of the inevitable demise of a culture so focussed on youth, which is so prevalent in a city like New York City, will be be regarded like a friend as we drink from ancient fountains of the Etruscans. The wine we will drink will hail from vineyards passed down from more generations than our country has in its entirety. We will breathe the same air which eroded empires and it will be comforting to be amongst a culture which can allow the passage of time to flow freely like the melting of ice from a mountain turns to a river and flows to the sea. Sandcastles indeed.