Stepping off the curb to cross the street, his foot lands on a piece of cardboard, and it slips under his feet. Everything goes off-center. He is falling backwards.
He slips into a familiar, momentary lapse of time. Weightless. Maybe like being in the womb. Maybe like death.
He remembers, in that one second, being someone else, a tiny child, whom his parents would toss in the air, eliciting delighted giggles. He feels again what it was to be a grinning kid who went sledding, who rode amusement park rides, who loved the loose sensation of roller skates under his feet, the dizzying slide of tennis shoes on a frozen pond, closing his eyes and jumping off the swing at its apogee, leaping from the monkey bars. As he got older, he needed to make bigger jumps: from the second story window of his bedroom, the stomach-dropping fall from the front car of a roller coaster, perilous speeding car rides down mountain back roads.
He used to seek that. The sensation of being stunned. The joy of getting turned up-side-down. Thrilling in the unexpected. Always finding a bigger risk.
Gravity returns with a vengeance. It knocks him flat, kicks the breath out of him.
He can’t breathe. There is something wrong with his tailbone. His toes tingle. This is the kind of fall that will leave traces for the rest of his life. Drawing lines of pain through his bones, down his nerves, trailing in his new limp, slowing him down. His routine will change. His shoes will change. The content of his conversation will change.
A college kid hunkers down beside him, concerned. “Are you OK?” She says.
He sees himself reflected in her eyes, distinguished gentleman with graying temples, ass over teakettle in the gutter, and finds his breath, taking in a great gasp of air.
He can’t answer her for his own wheezing laugh.