She Twists, She Falls

polyester stretch
At First

I was 14 or so. I was at an army family barbecue on the Cotter River in Canberra. A small child darted in front of me. I was already in motion and the small person interrupted my pace. My feet halted but the top part of me kept going. I crumpled over my ankle. The half-size human was unhurt. I was in agony.

When we got home, I used the gauzy, sticky bandages stored in a square Tupperware container in the bathroom vanity to wrap my ankle and an athletic sock over the top for extra pressure.

That night, I had weird, feverish dreams. In the morning my ankle was swollen in a way I’d never seen a body part before. The underside of my foot was bruised and the joint puffed out. My mum took me to the family doctor. “How did this happen?” he asked. “I was walking,” I replied. 

At home, I refused to take pain medication and cried. I had this thing about not swallowing tablets and taking medicine. It was just something I had decided on in my mind and was adamant about not changing.

A few years earlier, my Dad had yelled at me in the communal kitchen of an army ski lodge in the Australian Alps, when I wouldn’t take Panadol for a sprained knee. Instead I stayed in the village that day limping around damp playgrounds and taking photos on a disposable camera with another injured army brat.

The torn ligaments in my foot meant I had days off from school. I was on my own in a brick rental house in suburban Canberra. I loved having the house to myself.

polyester peas and foot

But in the middle of the day, there was nothing to watch on television. There were only three channels. I would have read my parent’s paperbacks; mostly spy thrillers and Nevil Shute novels. There were small piles of magazines in the lounge room with the covers torn off (they did that to prove they hadn’t sold, so they could get their money back) from the newsagent where my mum worked.

This was days off from school before the Internet. There was no way to chat with people in a fragmented Internet way. You couldn’t work on your Pinterest boards, or tag friends on funny meme Instagrams or send Snaps of your injury. There was only the telephone, which always seemed serious.

I think about how things could have been different for me in high school with the Internet. I would have had a great Instagram. I would have had snarky, cryptic Facebook status updates. I would have won arguments against mean girls. On the back seat of an ACTION bus, a popular girl insisted Jim Belushi was in Ghostbusters and I knew it was Bill Murray. There was no Google to assert my pop cultural prowess. Instead she turned her attention on another girl and edged me out of that three-way friendship.

When I returned to school, I navigated the besser brick compound on crutches. Sitting on the grass at lunch time, I removed the bandages and showed kids from other grades the oyster-purple bruising. There was a tall, lanky runner. He and his twin brother represented Australia in orienteering — that’s running where you use a compass. He looked at my foot and said, “that will never heal.” He was right.

Again, With Feeling

It was April Fools Day. I was in my mid-30s. I worked at a creative agency in Manhattan. Ten years earlier I had won a Green Card in the lottery (it really happens! People win Green Cards! I won one!) No one gets into work until around 10am, which is fine by me. I get into a rhythm of wearing sweatpants and whatever I can find to walk my sons to school and then I come home, get changed and head into the city.

I can’t think about getting myself dressed while getting them out the door. My brain can’t handle the dual challenges at once: Finding clothes that don’t make me look fat versus asking two boys to do really obvious things. Have you brushed your teeth? Where’s your homework? It should be in this folder. Why aren’t your shoes on?

Walking towards their school, I was wearing clogs with thick woollen socks. I was holding my boys’ hands, one on either side of me. They were talking, incessantly, over the top of each other, and at me. My mind drifted. I was removed from the talking and the walking and I forgot how to walk.

My body rolled over my ankle and the heel of my foot scraped the clog’s wood edge. I may have simultaneously screamed and been out of breath. I sat on a stoop. Other mothers from the school asked me if I was ok. Another mum volunteered to walk the boys the last block. I hobbled home. I locked eyes with strangers on the street; I glared in pain.

polyester clogs

I got up to my apartment. Got dressed. Lay on the couch for a bit. Took two ibuprofen (had since got over my hardline stance on over-the-counter drugs). Caught the subway to work. I had lunch with a friend. I told her I was in pain. She suggested I push her child’s stroller. She was right. It was much easier walking and pushing the pram around Chelsea Markets. I took my socks off at my desk and showed a co-worker the swelling. He said, “you should go home.”

I stayed home for a week. This was being at home with the Internet. I took photos of my bloated foot and texted the pics to co-workers. They kindly asked me never to send them photos like that again.

I shopped online. I browsed relentlessly. I would start at Etsy and work my way across Anthropologie, Free People, Madewell, maybe some time on Net-A-Porter, the Outnet,  YOOX, if I was desperate. I would look at my favorite store’s catalogues online and match them to purchases that could be made in the future. I had to get back to work or I’d be broke.

Here’s the thing about staying at home with a torn ankle. You’re not actually sick. You can’t move and you feel awkward and you’re asking anyone nearby to fetch you a glass of water. But this isn’t like being at home with vomiting, diarrhea and intense, deep, instant-black sleep. North of my knees I was completely normal, awake, alert.

It was an injury that was a near replica to what I’d experienced more than twenty years earlier. Lying on a couch in downtown Brooklyn, I felt connected to my teenage self. I had such clarity and could almost reach out and touch that furious, pretentious person. I was so aware of that particular version of me; who I was at that time.

When not shopping online, I made collages. I found magazines around the apartment and attacked them with scissors and kept the trim lips and Tabitha Simmons heels and flexed hands I snipped in a plastic sleeve folder. I made all sorts of collages, that I would later scan and manipulate at my friend Elspeth’s apartment. I then uploaded the collages into my mobile notecard app, Card Lust. They’re still in the app.

I had not glued a collage since I was a teenager. The invitations for my 18th birthday party were hand-made photo patchworks, customised for each person. Never had Stirling College seen such elaborate invites for a party in a small bar in the Canberra suburb of Kingston. It’s only now I would describe the bar as New York-like. It was dark and poky and had two levels and a DJ. I had fibbed to the owner about the exact date of my birthday. The party was held two weeks before I turned 18.

In Brooklyn, on a couch made in Canada, I kept my foot elevated. I put bags of peas on it. I wore a compression bandage purchased from Duane Reade.

But my foot kept hurting. Six months later my ankle still ached. The next winter it still hurt. I was on a chairlift in Vermont, the kind that doesn’t have a ledge to rest your feet. The weight of the ski boot and the skis, pulling my foot towards the ground was excruciating. I said to my husband, I’d rather give birth than endure this chairlift ride. By the end of the loop, I was doing natal breathing exercises.

I told my family doctor that I had torn the ligaments in my foot as a teenager and I don’t remember it taking this long to heal. He looked at my foot and got me to do things like stand on my toes and wiggle. He held my heel and pushed my foot this way and that. “You’re getting older,” he said. I used this line on friends while drunk. “And then the doctor said to me, ‘You’re getting older.’ Can you believe it?”

The soreness lingered.

Third Time’s a Charm

I had just turned 40. We’d moved to Brisbane, Australia. I tell people it’s so I can take pictures of tropical flowers on Instagram. My husband is still in Brooklyn and in a few months, I’ll bounce back to the States. We’ve resigned ourselves to moving back and forth.

I had just started a new job at a creative agency in the city. I was deep in thought walking back to the office from lunch. I was wearing peep-toe heeled booties from late-night ASOS shopping. I had already collected three compliments for them.

As I walked along Queen Street, I did it again. I can blame the uneven footpath but my brain just turned off and I forgot how to walk and tumbled. I skinned my bare knees on the sidewalk. The Vietnamese spring rolls I had just purchased came out of the box in my hand and slapped the sidewalk. A woman in a high-vis vest, sitting on steps nearby called out, “three-second rule, love. Grab them.” I wanted to cry but nothing came out. It hurt and my chest felt tight, my left knee was bleeding and dirty and my ankle thundered.

I went upstairs to the agency. I took off my shoes and showed a co-worker my skinned knee. I asked if there was a first aid kit in the office. I was new in the agency so I didn’t know people’s names properly. But a young guy with a bushranger beard offered a large band aid and an unopened tube of antiseptic cream he’d found in a desk drawer. I went to the women’s bathrooms and washed the wound with folded, wet pieces of toilet paper that clotted against my skin.

I caught the ferry home. Walked to my house. Put on a compression bandage that I had leftover from the last time I injured my ankle. I drove to pick up the kids from school rather than ride my bike. They agreed to ride their bikes home on their own and I met them back at our rental Queenslander.

While waiting for them to arrive, I called a physiotherapist. This is the thing I regret about the last time I sprained my ankle. I just did all the usual things (kept my foot elevated, frozen peas in a pillow case, ibuprofen). I didn’t really take action. I let the ankle happen to me. The pain hung around for so long. My doctor told me I was getting old. Now, I really am old. This time, I’m going to take charge. I booked an appointment for the next day.

The clinic was a shopfront in suburban Brisbane. The rooms divided by curtains. Next to me I could hear a woman telling a story about finding a wallet on a beach with a student ID card. She contacted the school and the wallet’s owner, a Brazilian exchange student came to her house. He was so grateful to get his wallet back, he thanked her with a pair of Havaianas.

My physiotherapist has one of those floppy, brushed sideways hair-dos; like a member of One Direction tending to my foot. He looks younger than my brother, who is always my cut off for young. Alas, my baby brother is now 32 and has a child and a mortgage.

On the phone the next day with my neighbour Shelley, I tell her: “I’m used to medical professionals being my peers or older,” She cackles. “You’re having that thing where you turn 40. Suddenly everyone looks young. This is the moment where you cross over.” Shelley is 42. She has two more years experience on this than me.

This time round with my ankle trauma, I’m not shopping online like before; just chatting like hell. Right now I’m commenting on Facebook threads I would never bother with otherwise: Australians in New York groups. I’m giving restaurant recommendations (French Louie on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn). Linking to apartments on Instagram. I’m posting on Facebook several times a day. Funny quotes from my sons. Showing off my PHHHOTO page. I hit like on replies from friends then reply to their replies.

polyester foot

I’m unguarded on Twitter. Linking up podcasts. Congratulating friends on recent press. Getting into one-sided arguments with the Sydney Morning Herald about their coverage of private schools. I tag public school champions, who retweet my tweets and fuel my gabbing. I bounce back and forth with a friendly retiree in Southern Tasmania who lives with two wolves named Magnus and Sally (according to his profile).

My last ankle injury I was reaching into the past and feeling it, almost touching it. This time I’m calling out to the past through a megaphone. I’m smashing through time and space, across oceans. My last workplace in NY, the one between ankle injuries was like being in a cult (in a good way). I’m in Snapchat video with my old co-workers who are working late under fluorescent lights.

I make Google Hangout dates with former deskmates. I send calendar invites. I’m gossiping in WhatsApp with the other side of the world. I chat between friends and screens. “Oh, that’s old news,” I say to a friend who reveals some office tidbit. “How do you know that already from the other side of the world?” he shouts. “I just do,” I say from the couch, my foot elevated, my ankle expertly taped by the teenage physiotherapist.

Two nights into my ankle injury I’m on Facetime. My iPhone wedged between couch cushions. My face takes up the whole screen. My friend Leeta, from my former life in magazines, is in suburban New Jersey. Her house is just waking up. We talk about our injuries and husbands and making art. She tells me a story of how she had a broken bone in her foot for a year before she made it to a doctor. She was angry with herself. Everything felt hard in New York with a boot and crutches. The subway. The stairs into the subway. We agree to chat again soon.

I think about my grandparents. Towards the end of their life they were beset by falls. They would lose their balance and fall on each other. The injuries racked up. Hips. Wrists. Elbows. Ankles. What did they think about when they were resting? They missed out on watching YouTube videos of fashionable Parisians. (Right now, I’m deep diving on Michele Lamy and Rick Owens. I love them and their apartment and the way they speak to each other.)

Back in the clinic, the physiotherapist tells me how his phone isn’t working but he’s using an old playstation to replay podcast episodes of Serial and he recommends NPR shows. He holds my foot and says there was ankle trauma in the past. The ligaments aren’t strong enough. The ankle will roll again. He’s given me a photocopy of exercises to strengthen my right foot, improve my balance. In my mind, I dread the ankle injuries of my future. What will I do then? I don’t want to find out. But I do. But I don’t. It hurts too much.

Felicity Loughrey lives between Brooklyn and Brisbane & has written for Vogue Australia, Vogue Living, GQ, Oyster and New York magazine amongst many others.

Illustrations by Georgia Haire.