LAST YEAR, THREE DAYS BEFORE MY BIRTHDAY, I had not yet relinquished my hold on the younger of the two ages, the one I could still claim for the next 72 hours. Although being a senior citizen was no longer a shock, that didn’t mean I had accepted the label “old.” Because of my impending birthday, however, I was more focused on my age than usual, wondering how many more years I would be allotted.
In this state of mind, I exited my car for my weekly half-mile lap swim. An old man was just entering the pool building; I followed a minute later. When I opened the second door, which leads to the pool area, I reared back in surprise, nearly stepping on the selfsame man. He was wedged into the corner on the wet cement floor, his legs tangled beneath him.
“Have you fallen?” I asked. Dumb question. Clearly he had missed the small step down into the pool area. Some 20 feet away, his wife, gripping her walker, was all aflutter. She and another woman, both having just been in the arthritic swimming class, were the only other ones around.
“You can’t do anything,” the wife warned me. She was agitated and had no suggestions for how to resolve her husband’s predicament. I didn’t know whether she meant I shouldn’t rescue him or that I wasn’t capable of doing so. Because doing nothing was senseless, I ignored her and asked the man how I could help.
“Can you straighten my foot?” he asked.
I dislodged his stuck foot and untwisted his legs, keeping in mind the warning “First do no harm.” The man didn’t think he had broken any bones, but he was still sitting on the cement floor, unable to get up by himself. I thought briefly of snatching the walker away from his wife so that he could use it to pull himself up, but decided she’d probably keel over, and then there would be two down. I gave him my cane to try. That didn’t work.
Still ignoring his wife’s twittering admonitions, I straightened my Superwoman cape and felt a surge of power. With his concurrence, I braced myself, and, on the count of three, hauled him up and onto the bench next to me.
“Oh, you sweet girl!” his wife exclaimed.
Girl? Since the advent of feminism, I’ve bristled at being described as such, but in this instance, I reveled in being called a girl, especially a sweet one. And, indeed, to the 89-year-old woman and the 93-year-old man, I must have seemed young and bursting with vitality.
After determining that the man was uninjured, the couple cautiously exited the building. As I stroked my way across the pool, their thank yous echoed in my head. That I had rescued someone who had fallen was especially gratifying in view of an earlier discussion I’d had with my daughter. To be safe, she felt I should get an I’ve-fallen-and-can’t-get-up button. Yech.
At home after my swim, while drying my hair and mentally reliving the events at the pool, the smoke alarm screamed its warning. I was boiling an egg, and apparently something I had spilled on the stove earlier was burning. I was still in my head, glorying in my heroic triumph over age as I grabbed a towel and waved it at the ceiling to dissipate the smoke. The alarm continued to shriek. Annoyed, I waved more energetically.
Only to realize I was waving the towel . . . at the light fixture.
Embarrassed, I sheepishly admitted to myself that I probably deserved the deflating comeuppance. Pride, they say, comes before a fall. I hope they mean that figuratively.
Robine Andrau, a writer in Scituate, is working on a memoir about her family’s WWII experiences. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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