I am walking to the exit of the local dinosaur park, passing the plaster triceratops slide to a heavy metal gate worthy of Jurassic Park, when pain slides like a knife through the front of my ankle. I gasp, jump off my foot, but now it seems fine. I take three pain-free steps when the pain slides in again, then vanishes a step, then returns. My husband is far ahead of me now, talking with his sister, who’s here for a visit. Our three nephews whirl like nectar-filled bees around my son and brother-in-law. Only my fifteen-year-old daughter is near enough to see me suddenly, sporadically gasping and limping. “Are you OK?” she asks. I tell her what’s happening. The distance between us and the rest of the family grows as the boys race to cars for the ice cream we’ve promised. “Do you need me to have Dad pull the car up?” my daughter asks. The car is across the road, maybe fifty years away. I am tougher than this—an athlete, a badass—but “Yes,” I say, incredulous that I can’t make so short a distance, but now even lifting my foot even half an inch to clear the grass sends a fresh knife sliding in. I have no idea how I’ll heft it up into the passenger foot well of our car. My toes somehow now weigh fifty pounds apiece, each fully capable of dropping that guillotine again and again through the front of my ankle.
This is an essay about chasing perfection:
The day before the knife started its slide, I had run up and down and up and down the stairs of our split level home, setting up the guest room for the boys and finding books and toys and games they might like and pulling a Star Wars tiki mug out of storage for the oldest and then running down to find another for the middle child and then another for the youngest. I have become something frippery and fluttering, making cocktails and finding special plates and doing everything I can to be the perfect aunt and hostess, the perfect mother, the perfect wife. I am determined to show my husband’s family how well he’s chosen in picking me for his life partner. I do this every time his family visits, and though I always chastise myself afterwards for turning into a pie-baking, 1950s pastiche of femininity, this is the first time my body itself has actively revolted.
This is an essay about self-sabotage:
I don’t visit the doctor until they leave. In intervening days, the pain has vanished for an hour here, twenty minutes there, only to continually return, bringing tears to my eyes. I’ve iced; I’ve Adviled; I’ve elevated my ankle on cushions. These things work only as long as I make myself sit, but as the pain recedes, I find myself up again, wiping up a spill, fixing a snack, smiling and chattering until their minivan pulls out of the driveway en route to the next stop of their driving vacation. No one is asking me to do this.
This is an essay about the problems of a failing, aging body:
The doctor palpates my ankles, each in turn. “The tendons are swollen,” he tells me. He asks if I do any sports. “Running, tennis, and horse back riding,” I answer. He shakes his head and laughs. “Yeah, this is an over use injury,” he tells me. He tells me to lay off everything for a couple weeks and return slowly.
I broke myself walking in a park or I broke myself running stairs. Either way I see this, it seems impossibly stupid. I have never seen myself as fragile. “He diagnosed me as being in my forties,” I once heard a friend say after his doctor’s visit. I suspect I’ve just been handed the same diagnosis.
This is an essay about curiosity:
I search the Internet for more information, wanting to know what is going on under my skin. Anterior ankle tendon injuries are, apparently, rare. That’s what site after site tells me. From what I understand, when the anterior tendon swells to a certain point, it rubs on the bone. This is the source of pain; I am the knife as well as the body it stabs.
This is an essay about denial, an essay about body image, an essay about fear:
I lay off everything but walking. Our puppy is six months old and needs exercise and training and I’m the one who insists on manners. Also, if I don’t move my body, I will gain back all the weight I carried in high school and college. If I gain back the weight, I will become angry at my image in the mirror and in photographs. Fat will build up in my brain and I will have a stroke like my mother and lose my mind to vascular dementia. I buy ankle braces and high top tennis shoes, anything I can think of to offer support. I ice. The ankle is taking longer than it should take to heal. I return to the doctor for x-rays, but nothing is broken, so the prescription remains the same: rest.
This is an essay about the failings of the American medical system:
I return to tennis in late summer and running in the fall, but though they’ve now had months to heal, my ankles become swollen and achy after exercise. I make an appointment to see a sports medicine specialist. The receptionist tells me the doctor will want to take x-rays and I let her know that I already have had them. I collect the images on CD from my general practitioner and take them with me to my appointment. The receptionist tells me again that the sport medicine doctor will want x-rays and when I say that I have them she says he’ll want better ones. I repeat this conversation with the nurse who takes my weight and history. When the doctor enters, he comes in saying “yes we’ll need new x-rays.” He has not yet said hello to me or glanced at my face or my foot. He has not asked “what seems to be the problem?” When I repeat, yet again, that I’ve had x-rays, he scrolls through the images on the computer, telling me that they’re not good enough, that none of them are “weight bearing.” I am looking at an image of my bones, and my foot is clearly weight bearing.
This is an essay about the desire to please male authorities:
I feel the doctor’s anger. I have irritated him and all I have to do to make him happy is shoot radiation into my bones. The tactic is not ineffective: I want to make him pleased with me. He tells me that insurance will cover most of it and I probably won’t have to pay more than $75. He says this as if $75 were nothing and is surprised when, again, I refuse. I know, even as I do, that my problem is mostly one of tone: if he had talked to me first and looked at the x-rays and then asked for new ones, I would have complied. But this demand for x-rays feels too brazen. I feel like he doesn’t give a damn me, let alone my ankle. I feel like he’s using me to supplement his season ski pass at Snow Basin. I think of all the senators who insist that medical care is cheaper when patients take ownership of their care, but I’m out a $45 copay, supplemented with insurance, and I received no care. I didn’t even receive a passable replica of care. If my pain were worse, if I were more desperate, how fast would I have paid this man for the x-rays he claims to need?
This is an essay about dumb, everyday, unexciting injury:
I hobble around. I consider tying a string to my toes so that I can work my foot like a marionette.
This is an essay about body image:
In the absence of care, I treat my own damned self. I believe in strength training and physical therapy. I believe that if I can strengthen the muscles in my legs, I will have fewer problems with my ankles. Unfortunately, this means going to the gym. This means the hall of mirrors. It means spandex and white lights. It means men’s eyes. I vow to go in spite of all these things. I block time on my calendar. I pack bags with shoes and clothes so that I can head to the gym directly from my office. I do everything I need to do, and yet I don’t go.
This is an essay about a body part:
I ice my ankles. I keep them wrapped. I will power through and recover because this is what I do. I think of the phrase “a well-turned ankle.” I think of Victorians and fetishes, femininity and strength. I think about how the ability to walk upright is human, how on a horse or dog or cat, an ankle is a hock and a knee is a stifle, and how as a child I misunderstood animal knees as backwards. I think of how much is hidden in the interior landscapes of our bodies and how much can be read on those maps.
Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she teaches creative writing at Weber State University. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Ninth Letter, Cincinnati Review, The Rumpus, and many other publications. Her short fiction has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, once by Versal and once by The Georgia Review, and her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press), was a semi-finalist for the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Currently, she reads fiction for American Short Fiction and Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit sbgriffiths.com