kim photo of jeanhee kim

July 22, 2004

Down the Hatch!

Last summer, I had to put down Augusten Burroughs’ book, Running with Scissors, and declare I’d never read another word of it because it made me physically ill. It contained a description of a horrific accident that was, coincidentally, the recurring nightmare that I had as a child.

In my dream, i would be running — I think from someone who was chasing me — and one of my feet would fall into a gopher hole, but because I had forward momentum from running, I would bend my leg the wrong way and break it (think Joe Theisman at the Super Bowl–but extra dramatic because this is a nightmare. A break so ugly that you black out from the trauma of it). At that moment, i would wake up, and usually with such a violent jerk where afterward I would wonder whether my entire body levitated from the bed. (I am feeling ill to my stomach as I write this!). In Burroughs’ book, one foot falls into something — a pothole? a gopher hole? when he is out drunk, so drunk, that the doctor who attempts to put his leg back together takes a few moments to sternly rebuke him. He would never recover full use of his legs.

Tonight, I had the urban version of my childhood recurring nightmare come true.

I was on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, with Luke and our friends Sonja and Noah. We were heading to a new Indian restaurant that was highly recommended. As is usually the case, I was walking slightly ahead of the rest — I was hungry! But just as we got to the front door of the restaurant, I got a weird sensation of falling into an bottomless pit. It all happened so fast, but at the precise moment when I put my left foot forward, a restaurant worker below ground opened the cellar door and my foot went into the breach. I cannot describe exactly what happened next except to say that my feet never did touch the ground. I remember the cellar door opening up in its entirety, and i was twisting so that my body fell against the pavement, which preventing a much worse accident.

My shins hurt so bad that i could barely breathe. And I took several moments holding my hands against them to contain the throbbing. My ribs didn’t feel great either, but at least they had some textile protection. I was wearing a dress with bare legs. The worst part was that I was overwhelmed with nausea at that moment. My temperature began to rise and I had to fight the urge to tear off my clothes. I actually turned to sit at the edge of the cellar and let my feet dangle below so that I could bend over and try to get my head between my knees to fight the nausea.

There were so many people dining al fresco on a beautiful summer night on Smith Street, and I felt like a spectacle. I could hear snippets of conversation as people talked and discussed what happened. The wounds on my legs — all of them very superficial luckily — began to bleed after a while and Luke asked the restaurant to get me something to clean and bandage them with. There were all sorts of people standing around me, including the worker who never emerged from the cellar. He just stood waist deep in the cellar depths and just kept saying, “Sorry” over and over. He looked so chastened and even scared — he didn’t speak English and may have also been worrying about his livelihood. I smiled weakly at him to let him know I didn’t blame him. It was a stupid accident and clearly, he and the restaurant will come up with a better system for opening cellar doors. Meanwhile, I just wanted to catch my breath and stave off the nausea. I knew it would eventually pass.

We did have a comical moment, when I was feeling really hot I asked for cold water. Then someone got me a chair and I stood up — confirming that nothing was broken — and sat down in it and then put my head between my knees. The waiter returned with a pitcher of water and an empty glass and tried to hand me the glass — as he has done countless times in his waitering career — so that he could then pour the water. I was so weak at that moment, though. This was not a moment for good waitering etiquette! Someone just hand me a glass of water, please!

Anyway, I’m okay. We went to dinner at Panino’teca, where they were nice enough to put some ice in a bag so I could ice while I ate.

I’m so grateful that the fall wasn’t worse. Luke credits beach volleyball, of course, for the quick reflexes that maneuvered me away from the yawning bottomless hole of the cellar. Maybe he’s right! All I know is that I survived my recurring childhood nightmare — the urban version — and lived to tell about it.

jeanhee @ 1:23 am