Weird Things That Only Happen To Bernadette


This is the story of how I went canoing with my family and almost died. No, I’m not kidding. I may be exaggerating a little bit, but I’m not kidding. Really.

See, my family went canoing together Sunday, and if you know my family already you’re thinking, “Oh, dear.” I mean, we’re known for many things (being way too smart and articulate for our own good, rampant eccentricity, having read too many books), but any sort of physical ability or sports aptitude is usually not included on the list. The one time we went canoing before was remarkable for how much time we spent out of our boats, not in them. This, coincidentally, was the cause of a lot of hilarity, giving us several stories we happily told in the years since then. And so, the weather being beautiful and Judy’s birthday coming up, and while we were all still in the same geographic location (an unusual event typically prevented by my family’s tendency to wander off when not watched), we decided to go canoing again.

Everything was going really well. Mom decided to paddle her own kayak instead of being a passenger in someone else’s canoe, which lasted just long enough for her to discover that she cannot steer and does not like paddling. After the second (maybe third?) time she ended up in the water she wisely let someone else trade places with her. Other family members also discovered that they could not steer. Michelle and Larry seemed to make their way downstream by heading horizontally bank to bank in zig zag fashion. I was doing very well, though, sharing a canoe first with Eddie, and then with Mikey when Eddie decided that he wanted a turn in the kayak. My canoe never seemed to run into difficulties, serenely avoiding sandbars, lightly getting through rough places. As I successfully navigated challenge after challenge, I started to think, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.” And that’s where things went wrong.

We came to a kind of tricky place in the river. There was a large branch overhanging the water on the right side, the water underneath it running smooth and deep. If you cut to the left to avoid it, the water looked ripply and disturbed, the turbulence evidence of rocks beneath the surface. Close to the right bank the branch lifted up enough to make an arch you could paddle through if you steered precisely enough, but you would have to cut left immediately after you emerged to avoid a huge tree stump that jutted out of the water a little way further down. In my hubris I decided that I was up for this, and steered us towards the opening. And it went really well, until in our triumph at having navigated the arch, we didn’t cut hard enough and ran up against the tree. Mikey in the front was able to avoid it. I … couldn’t, and the whole canoe tipped over.

I came up under the canoe. There was still a little pocket of air under there, so I could take a breath and then duck back under to push it off of me, assisted by Mikey. (Mikey: “It was really scary when I came up and you didn’t, and I couldn’t see you.”) The next few minutes were very confused. Everything happened really fast. Judy and Heather were in the canoe right behind us which at first avoided the tree, and then tipped a little way past us. The current was very strong, sweeping us and the canoes downstream fast. We were trying to get our feet under us, hold onto the boats, and grab for paddles and life jackets (which, um, we weren’t wearing) that threatened to escape. The canoes were rapidly filling with water, which made them incredibly heavy and difficult to handle. Still, it looked like everything was ok. We were all above water, and working hard and fast to fix the situation.

And then it happened. I was on the downstream side of our canoe which was on its side in the water, trying to keep hold of it as the current pushed it down like the wind filling a sail. The river wasn’t very deep, so I was trying to get a foothold that would let me stop the thing so we could empty and right it. And then I got stuck on a submerged log. It was behind me and completely under water, so I never saw it. All I knew was that suddenly I was up against this big thing in the water with the canoe and the full force of the current crushing me against it. My right leg and ankle were trapped under water, snagged on something. I couldn’t get it free, and the force of the canoe was trying to make it bend in ways legs were never meant to bend. I couldn’t get out. The boat was getting heavier by the second, and I was up to my shoulders in rushing water.

Our family’s normal procedure when someone runs into difficulties while canoing is to hang around casually while they right themselves, pretty confident that they’re fine, but there just in case. So there I was, trapped near the right bank of the river, with Judy by me trying to hold on to the other canoe, now pressing up against my canoe. The rest of my family was fetched up on the left bank, unconcernedly waiting and unaware that I was in deep trouble. Larry was out of his canoe, watching us. “Do you need help?” he asked pleasantly. Judy started to say that we did, and I cried, “I need help NOW!” my voice rough with panic. I think the raw terror in my voice got their attention. Within moments I had Larry, Mikey, and Sean all over there trying to help. Their first attempt to pry the canoe away only forced it harder against my leg. Then they got Judy’s canoe away, which eased the pressure a little. But my canoe wasn’t moving, and my ankle was still securely caught. Mikey started feeling around under the water trying to see what was holding it. I started praying a Hail Mary out loud. And then somehow I came free. (Later I realized that the whole side of my Tevas, which was what had snagged my foot under the water, had ripped away, freeing me.) I was able lift my ankle up and over the log that had snagged it, and stumble away from the group holding on to the canoe. With me out of the way they could let it go a little further downstream to calmer waters where they could right it.

I stood away from the group for a long moment, almost unable to believe I was free. I suddenly felt a deep need to not be in the water at all. I haltingly made my way up onto the bank a few feet away. I turned and looked at my brothers in the water with the canoe, at the sunlight glistening on the water, at the people and boats drawn up on the rocky beach opposite, at the lush green trees framing everything in beauty. “I just almost broke my leg.” I thought, and I started to shake. “I could have died.” I thought, and right there had a small, quiet bout of hysterics. Larry noticed. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said as I hyperventilated, “I’m just having a reaction. Give me a minute.” Guy-like, he stood and waited for the tears to stop, then walked with me as, still jittery from the adrenaline rush, I crossed back over the river to the rest of my family.

And then we all got back in the boats and continued on our way.

I’m still amazed that I got off so easily. I think my Tevas must have been cushioning my foot under the water. My ankle is bruised some on the front, and there’s a huge scrape/bruise/contusion on the back of my calf that will be turning interesting colors for some time. Other places are sore to the touch, but there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage. Nothing broke. I only have a few scratches. I think I aspirated a little water, which made my breathing rough for a little while, but that’s easing off. All in all, I’m fine. And I’m enormously lucky. If my brothers hadn’t been there, if they hadn’t been strong enough to get the canoe off me (in the end it took four of them to right it), if anything else had gone wrong… I don’t think I would have been typing this right now. Instead you could have been reading some newspaper story about the incredible tragedy on the river. But none of that happened, and I am typing this, and I’m so, so grateful to be alive.

I might even go canoing again some day.

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I got tagged by the lovely Amber of danceprimer.com!

Here are the rules:
1 – Link to the blog who tagged you (above)
2 – Post the rules on your blog
3 – Share seven random and/or weird things about yourself.
4 – Tag seven people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
5 – Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Seven Random Things About Me:

1. I actually like getting tagged in memes like this. I enjoy the challenge to my creativity. Plus, it shows me that other people are reading what I write and actually want to hear more! That’s exciting.

Peace Rose

2. I love roses. There’s something about them, with their many soft petals gracefully unfolding around the secret, fragrant heart. I love every color of rose, but I particularly love the soft, pastel roses brushed with many colors all at once. They enchant me. I also love climbing roses. I have a theory that any outdoor structure could be aesthetically improved by the addition of a climbing rose. I once amused myself on a long car trip by imagining how you could grow climbing roses up over the St. Louis Arch. This included a scheme of hanging platforms for them to could grow on and an irrigation system. It was pretty sweet. I’ve always said that if I ever get married, my husband will be a lucky man. If he does something stupid, all he has to do is bring me home roses and all will be well. Of course, that depends on exactly how stupid he’s been.

Crystal Lite drink mix

3. I’m becoming a bit addicted to sugar-free drink mix powders. I used to scorn them as the quintessence of over-commercialized, over-packaged, artificial suburban lifestyles. An unnecessary product with absolutely no nutritional value, packaged in single serving portions, designed to be added to another unnecessary product (bottled water – when the stuff that comes out of the tap is perfectly good). I didn’t go so far as avert my eyes when I passed them in the supermarket aisle, but it was close. Then my boss bought a box and didn’t care for the flavor. So she passed them on to me, and, well, I couldn’t let them go to waste, could I? (God forbid I should actually throw something out!) And… they tasted good. And I started drinking more water. And they had Vitamin C in them. Now the box is almost completely used up and I’m contemplating actually (eek!) spending my own money to buy another box. Sigh.

My flair

4. Lately I’ve also been getting a little addicted to the Pieces of Flair application on facebook. I resisted it as long as I could. I always looked down on applications like this as faddish clutter – annoying and teeny-bopper-ish. Then my friends started using it, first Sue, then Lori, then Stella. They kept sending me stuff, and talking about what they’d sent. Finally I couldn’t hold out any longer, and with true convert-fervor started flair-ing all over the place. Maybe there’s a 12-step program I can join…

World Youth Day 08 logo

5. There’s a chance I might get to go to Australia for World Youth Day this summer. It seems that there is a certain organization sending a delegation which has acquired a sponsor eager to pay all expenses for young adults who otherwise could not dream of going. As far as I can tell they’ll pay for everything, and in exchange you help work their booth promoting vocations. As soon as I heard of it I sent back an e-mail saying essentially, “Oh, me! Pick me! Pick me!” They say they want to meet with me, and then… we’ll see what happens. Here’s the funny thing – the acronym for the organization I’d be going with is SPORCH. Which, if you squint at it a little, is like SPORK. Which is a lot like The Tick’s battle cry of, “SPOON!” I find this endlessly amusing. Liv says that we should pass out metal sporks engraved with vocations information, and then people would remember us. I pointed out that all of the meals provided to us at World Youth Day will come with their own sporks as it is, so perhaps extra ones won’t be so memorable. And then, it seems that, since this is an organization promoting religious vocations, most of the other young adults on the trip will be guys discerning vocations to the priesthood. Considering my strict (sortof) no-dating-wannabe-priests policy (and what does it say about my life that I have to have such a policy?), this is more proof that God has a seriously twisted sense of humor. Fortunately, so do I.

Sylar

6. I am currently watching the season one DVDs of Heroes. Justin found out that I like the show, but hadn’t watched the first season (besides the two episodes that were still upon the NBC website), so he lent them to me. So far I’m almost more a fan of Sylar than any of the other characters. There’s something about a really good villain. They appeal to the same part of me that likes guys who ride motorcycles and have five o’clock shadow. Maybe this is also why I like Dexter so much… Although Mark challenged me the other week on how I, the Theology Major, could justify watching a show celebrating a serial killer. He’s got a point.

7. I am the third daughter of my mother, who is also named Bernadette, and who is also the third daughter in her family. If I ever have kids, I’ll have to have three daughters so I can name the third one Bernadette.

And that’s what I have for you today! And I hereby tag… Mames (again), Polly (also again), Stuart, Kjirstin, Allison, Kenzie, and Zaph (turnabout is fair play!).

Former Wine RackOnce upon a time, I had a cabinet with a wine rack and holders for wine glasses, etc. in my kitchen. It was mounted on the chimney next to the refrigerator, right behind the chair at the kitchen table where I sit to do my homework. I would bump it every once in a while and hear the glasses in the holders tinkle against each other, which reminded me to scoot my chair forward. This is a picture I took of it in happier days when I was trying out my mom’s blurry digital camera.

Tuesday morning I wandered into the kitchen bleary eyed, getting ready to buckle down to my usual cram session prepping for my MA level Aquinas class that afternoon. I woke up my laptop, then randomly got up and went over to the other side of the kitchen for a drink of water. Just then, behind me I heard a huge crash followed by the sound of much glass breaking. I turned to see the entire cabinet off the wall, still more or less upright, crushing some boxes that had been stored underneath. Almost all of the wineglasses had slid out of the holder and smashed on the floor, along with the bottles of alcohol that used to be on the top of the cabinet. Shards of glass were completely covering the area where I had been sitting only moments before, and had shot out to cover most of the kitchen. The place where I was standing was almost completely untouched, although my socks were quickly soaked by either Port or Apricot Brandy flooding across the floor. If I hadn’t gotten up to get that class of water, there is a good chance that the cabinet and the smashing glass would have been right on top of me.

I was able to pick my way to the kitchen door, where Liv brought me a pair of shoes to wear. She couldn’t help with the cleanup, the glass would have punctured her wheelchair tires. It took me three hours to pick up all the glass and clean up the alcohol. It was especially interesting because as the alcohol dried it started to glue the smaller pieces down to the floor.

Unfortunately, this consumed all of the time I’d set aside for school work. Consequently, I found myself at 1pm, just starting my prep for Aquinas at 3pm. There was no way I could get everything done. This meant that I had to send an e-mail off to my professor, asking for an extension because the wine rack fell off the wall.

If I were a teacher, I wouldn’t believe it either.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon working in the kitchen, baking bread for the formal dinner I went to last night, among other things. I was wearing one of my bibless chef’s aprons over a long jean skirt and a grey sweater. My hair was pulled back in a clip at the nape of my neck. At one point I slipped on my favorite new ballet flats to take something out to the trash. When I was outside, I looked down at myself and realized that I was dressed like Cinderella, even down to the shoes. Make my hair blond and exchange the clip for a ribbon, and we’d be pretty much there.

To make the similarity even more exact, later that night I exchanged my work clothes for formal dress, including a long, ballgown skirt and many, many rhinestones (of the vintage variety). The party I went to was, unfortunately, not a ball – although there was dancing, and I danced. However, no one gentleman monopolized my time, and while I did happen to leave at midnight, my car continues to bear no resemblance to a pumpkin, and all my shoes are fully accounted for. Though I did lose a button off my skirt. Maybe tomorrow I’ll hear a knock on the door and open it to find a liveried lackey standing outside holding my skirt button ensconced on a large pillow. When I can produce the matching skirt, he’ll forthwith lead me to his employer, who will be the Man of My Dreams. We’ll live happily ever after, of course. That’s what you do in fairy tales.

Unfortunately, for this to really work, said Man of My Dreams had to have also been attending the party last night. While there were some truly excellent guys at that party, I’m pretty darn sure none of them are the Prince Charming I’ve been waiting for. Sigh.  Though Lucy did award me her personal Best Dressed Award, so I think, all in all, it was worth it. Though you don’t have to take her word for it – judge for yourself (I’m the one with the pomegranate):

B with pomegranate

Sunday when I went home for the Family Christmas Planning Meeting Part II, I picked up the envelope from the Ohio Poetry Day Association, containing a Certificate of Merit for winning First Prize in the Welcome Aboard Poetry Competition, as well as a check for $35. It was pretty sweet. I have to fight the urge to frame the check and keep it forever instead of cashing it. Don’t worry. It won’t be a long fight.

So for the last forever Liv’s been cramming for this Huge, Important Test she has to take as part of her Master’s. It’s been an ordeal, not least of which is the two days it takes to actually take the thing. A few days ago when I picked her up from another marathon study session at the library, she declared as soon as she got in the car, “I’m gonna flunk this thing. There’s no question. I’m flunking.” I kinda nodded, and as soon as we got home, looked up the facebook group 30 Things To Do In An Exam When You Know You’re Going To Fail Anyway, and started reading her the suggestions. We especially liked #17: “Come to the exam wearing a black cloak. After about 30 min, put on a white mask and start yelling “I’m here, the phantom of the opera” until they drag you away.” After some discussion we decided that it might not be necessary to sing Phantom of the Opera, that perhaps anything by Andrew Lloyd Weber might do. Then the conversation moved on to other things and we didn’t talk about it again.

Yesterday was the first day of the test. When I got home, Liv was there ahead of me, curled up in her favorite chair under her favorite blanket, watching CSI Miami. I asked her if she’d had to sing any Andrew Lloyd Weber. She said no. I said, “Not even anything from Cats? A little ‘Memory’?” Again she said no, and, well, that Horatio Caine has very blue eyes. So that was the end of the conversation.

This morning I took Liv to school for the second day of her test. As I held the body of her wheelchair so she could put on the wheels, our conversation went a little like this:
Me: “And if necessary, there’s always Andrew Lloyd Weber.”
Liv: “Did he write Into The Woods?”
Me: “No, that’s Sondheim.”
Liv: “Are you sure?”
Me: “Very sure.”
Liv: “Well, I like Into The Woods better. And Rent. I like Rent.”
Me: “Well, what about Cats? Or Evita?”
Liv (singing as she’s wheeling away): “Into the woods, into the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go! And home before dark!”
Me (singing after her as I head the opposite direction): “Don’t cry for me, Argentina! The truth is, I never left you!”

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Here’s something else to file under Weird Things That Only Happen To Bernadette: The other day when I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment, the fragment of a soap opera I caught while waiting concerned a young woman who was very distraught that while she was fooling around on the couch with a guy the night before, somehow her cell phone on the desk across the room had come on and started taking pictures of this fooling around. Moreover, it seemed that Person or Persons Unknown had gotten hold of these pictures, and was posting them all over the internet. This whole plot device seemed so absurd that I remembered it, and marveled at the invention of soap opera writers.

Then, this morning when I walked into the kitchen first thing, all bleary eyed and sleepy in my PJs, my cell phone was on the table where I left it – turned on, and in picture taking mode.

Now, certain evidence to the contrary, I do not really think that my life is a soap opera. And the idea that someone would be remotely controlling my cell phone to take pictures is, um, a stretch. Plus, since at the moment I have no one in my life that I’d be fooling around with, on the couch or otherwise, any pictures wouldn’t be all that interesting. And I gotta say, the sight of me in my sleep pants and t-shirt is not that exciting! Honest!

Still… it was a little spooky.

Good thing Halloween is coming up.

So last night I had this, “Damn, I’m good!” moment (I was going to write “Dang” but then I decided that the moment was fully worth the swear word). This is what happened: This semester I’m taking a class on Thomas Aquinas (the Big Bad Boy of Catholic theology), and on Tuesday I gave a presentation on part of the Summa (Aquinas’s master work). It went rather well, and I was excited about it. Last night while I was dancing with Pierce he asked me how my week had been. I told him about my presentation. He asked more. I told him more. By the time we were done I had explained all of Part I, Question 105, Article 4 of the Summa Theologica (“Whether God can move the created will?”), complete with Objections, Respondeo, and Answers to the Objections. All of this while doing Lindy and neither missing a step nor failing to follow a single move. Also wrapping it up before the song was done. And I’m pretty sure Pierce understood it.

I can’t believe I did that.

Damn, I’m good!

Of course, having done something like this, I then had to find someone who could fully appreciate my Mighty Deed. This would require a fellow theologian who can dance. There are none that I know of, but I couldn’t wait until I saw Justin tonight so I could tell him all about it.

Also last night, for the first time my dancing was praised by another dancer. I don’t mean that I haven’t gotten compliments before. There’s always the cute little old people who come out for the live swing bands in the summer and just love watching the swing dancers, or beginners who don’t know what good dancing looks like yet. It has been fun watching the number of leads who want to dance with me increase, and I’ve gotten admiring looks or words of praise for individual cool moves. Dancers whose opinions I trust have told me that I’ve improved a lot in different areas. Still, I’ve never felt like my dancing was of a quality that another dancer would get pleasure from watching me. Last night I danced some Westie with Trey, and later Lyle couldn’t get over how amazing the two of us had been. He was in awe at our musicality, the moves we had done, and the way we had mirrored one another: “There was this move right at the beginning that was like a sugar push, but not! And then you both kicked your foot out to the side at exactly the same moment! It was so awesome! I just love watching you two!” It was a little humbling, especially since I didn’t remember doing some of the moves that so impressed him. I’m sure I did them, but, well, for me it had been just another dance with a better than average lead.

Maybe I’m better at this than I think I am.