Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was missing a few necessities, so I ran to the local discount store this evening with my daughter, my son, and one of his friends (for clarification, my daughter came along to make sure that old mom didn’t forget anything; the boys only came to see what they could talk me into buying for them). The store was one of those small discount chains that stocks everyday items but is famous for selling closeouts, buying in bulk, and passing the savings on to the customer. Once we hit frozen foods, I realized that I had forgotten to snag some butter.
I told my daughter to stay put and turned back to procure the Parkay (the boys were off searching for one of those cheapie legal fireworks collections).
I only had to go two aisles over; two very narrow aisles. I would technically not even be out of sight of my daughter. But my successful navigation of those two narrow little aisles was just not to be. Halfway there, I encountered a sea of liquid which had crept across the floor, and down I went.
As falls go, it was relatively graceful; a kind of scissors splits. One leg behind, bent at the knee, the other in front, I was splayed across the floor like some sort of grotesque parody of a hurdle jumper. At least it wasn’t one of those tailbone breakers where your legs come right out from under you and you land, unceremoniously, flat on your back. I suppose it must have looked more like a feet-first slide into third base.
I never saw the offending liquid. The “Caution – Wet Floor” sign was a good two feet away from where I fell. I suppose perhaps the liquid may have originated where the sign was placed but, as liquids often do, it spread from the point of origin into the middle of the aisle where, lucky me, I met my fate.
So, what did I do?
After checking to be sure nothing was broken (I’m not as young as I used to be), I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my fall. In my younger days, as most still-young people can attest to, that process would have been reversed – i.e., I would have checked around to see if anyone saw me fall before it even occurred to me to wonder if I was hurt. But alas, broken bones trump embarrassment when you’re over forty.
This is not to say I wasn’t embarrassed. Once I confirmed that nothing was indeed broken, the embarrassment set in. Turns out two people saw me fall. One was a store employee who was stocking shelves a mere four feet away and, in the other direction, a shopper who was planted in the pasta aisle, probably lamenting the ever-increasing price of noodles.
The shopper and I exchanged somewhat nervous glances, smiles, and chuckles, not sure exactly how to behave. I’m sure that some part of that woman really wanted to laugh out loud, like so many of us who witness someone else’s splat. What is it about someone else taking a tumble that we find so terribly amusing anyway? Maybe we’re just relieved that we ourselves thankfully avoided such an apparently close call.
The store employee, however, kinda ticked me off. She offered nothing more than a mere glance in my direction and then went back to her job. Well, I’m so glad I didn’t interrupt. Now, I know a gentleman who is a manager at another of the store’s locations, and I know for a fact that their employees, though dismally underpaid, do receive basic training in such issues as call-the-manager-immediately-if-there’s-a-clean-up-needed-in-aisle-five, even if the cleanup required is human. And, doesn’t common courtesy warrant at least an “are you ok?” Geeze, the pasta shopper gave me more attention than the store employee!
There I was, sprawled out in all my glory, thinking “what the heck?” So, me, being notoriously unable to just keep my big mouth shut, spread my arms, looked squarely at the store employee, and said “excuse me?!” I wanted to say “yo, dingbat, a little help here!,” but I refrained. The fact that I restrained myself from saying what I really wanted to say, I believe, warrants a pat on the back for me. But, what did I get for my efforts? She glanced over at me, said “oh, sorry,” and went back to stacking the string beans.
Huh? Is “oh, sorry” in the training manual? Me thinks this one missed the help-the-customer-off-the-floor in-service. And she’s definitely missing the empathy gene. In her defense, however, she was pretty young. This chain frequently hires high school kids because they’re cheap labor. And most young people just haven’t reached the point yet where they feel comfortable reaching out to help us old folks; it’s just not cool. So, she did what teenagers are programmed to do; she ignored me.
But that made it even worse. I suppose maybe it was the embarrassment that made me want to wring her neck. I probably needed someone to be annoyed with. After all, when your own display of clumsiness puts you in a position of embarrassment, it’s only human to lash out at an innocent bystander, right? Of course, I was probably more embarrassed than I once would have been. There’s just something different about falling when you’re middle-aged than falling when you’re young.
Compounding my embarrassment was the fact that I ran to the store without putting on any makeup. After all, I just needed to grab a couple of things. I wasn’t going to the policeman’s ball. It’s bad enough being caught without your makeup; being caught falling without your makeup is even worse. I was wearing sweats too. And a man’s t-shirt. It’s not like I was dressed for the occasion. Falling in public does require some decorum, and I just didn’t have it. Nope, no fashionable falling for me.
And, when I was younger, I fell ever so much more gracefully. The fact that I can no longer fall with finesse probably has something to do with the old bones, lack of flexibility, or the fact that I’ve given birth to three children (when in doubt, always blame everything on childbirth). Falling when you’re younger is far less humiliating. Maybe it’s because, when you’re younger, you’re already convinced that you’re the center of attention, so the extra stares that you are rewarded with when you unceremoniously land on your arse are just icing on the cake. When you’re young and beautiful, everyone wants to help you up. When you’re approaching menopause, people would rather pretend they don’t see you. Whatever the reason, I think that I was a much better-looking faller when I was younger.
So, it was probably my lack of falling prep that made me more hostile than I might otherwise have been. Caught calling attention to myself with no makeup, wearing sweats and a t-shirt; that’s no way to behave! Still, WASP that I am, I picked myself up off the floor (a two-handed job now that I’m not as limber as I once was) and continued my quest for the butter. Finally, prize in hand, I was headed back to where I left my daughter when I decided that keeping my mouth shut just wasn’t in the cards.
Oh, that poor girl! Off I marched to that unsuspecting store employee who, by now, had probably completely forgotten about me, and squared off with her right in front of the canned carrots. I firmly announced to her that “you can tell your manager that, if that mess is not cleaned up by the time I come back around this way, he and I will be talking lawsuit.” Yep, that’s what I said. Guess I told her!
Now that all humanity was safe from further falling faux pas, I was off in search of pizza rolls. When next I checked, the young lady had vanished (whether to find the manager or escape from me, I’m not entirely sure) and a couple of aisles away, a young man was strolling toward the scene of the crime with a rolling mop bucket. I suppose he could have acted as if he really had someplace to be before the store closed, but I’d had enough excitement for one day and didn’t want to be caught on every store security camera hysterically haranguing a mop boy to boot. One humiliation was enough, thank you. Best to leave well enough alone.
Still, one doesn’t easily get past falling in public. Through the store, in every aisle, and especially at the checkout, I was firmly convinced that everyone present was a witness to the events. Although, logically, I know that only the store employee and the pasta lady actually saw what happened, my natural human sense of self-centeredness insisted that every store employee must have seen the video footage already being played in the break room and that all of the customers in earshot had heard them all talking about the crazy falling lady.
The boys never saw the fall, and didn’t find out about it until a discussion ensued as a result of the word “lawsuit” when my daughter and I were talking about what happened. Luckily for the store, I’m a firm believer that the nation’s courts are clogged with frivolous lawsuits and that accidents happen through no fault of anyone in particular, so filing a lawsuit is not my style. Of course, the store employee didn’t know that or my words wouldn’t have felt so satisfying.
My daughter, however, is a different story. After the fact, when we’d returned home and told my other daughter all about it, it dawned on me that she must have seen the whole thing! I’m sure that I blocked it out due to the trauma, but I vaguely remembered seeing her out of the corner of my eye. She looked right at me, there on the floor, and walked away! She left me! That silly little teenager abandoned her old mother in her hour of need!
She said that she didn’t really see me fall. She had only glanced my way, just at the moment I caught her in the corner of my eye apparently, and wondered if I was picking something up off the floor. She was actually surprised when I told her I fell, so it must be true that she didn’t really see the whole thing. Although she did admit that something in the back of her mind made her wonder if I had fallen, her teenage brain must have preferred to deal with the sight of her mother sprawled on the floor of a public place by fooling her into thinking that I was “picking something up off the floor.” In her defense, however, if it’s a dilemma for a teenager to figure out what to do with a middle-aged stranger who’s in obvious need of assistance, that dilemma becomes more than the mind can bear when the faller is one’s own mother! The teen brain is just not equipped to deal with such an embarrassment. Parent’s are embarrassing enough as it is without being firmly convinced, as teens tend to be, that everyone must be looking at you thinking “poor kid; mom just can’t stay upright, can she?” My younger daughter (she’s 14) would have been mortified, but my older daughter (almost 17), being the rock that she is, allowed her mind to trick her into thinking she saw something completely different. Gotta love her.
Luckily, I’m no worse for the wear. A sore knee, easily managed with painkillers and a bottle of scotch (nah, just Tylenol), and a wounded pride were the only casualties.
I don’t have all the answers either.
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