It was a beautiful, late-summer day. We were driving along a lovely mountain road in Vermont, showing our children New England and reminiscing about the time we had lived there, 15 years before.
Our road vied for space with a brook in the little valley between the mountains. The brook never left us, sometimes running along side the road, sometimes curving away behind a copse of trees, suddenly reappearing at the next bend in the road.
The brook was the lure. Fifteen years ago my husband and I had driven this road and had stopped to enjoy the cool waters flowing companionably beside us. I had knelt on a rock and dipped my hand in the water. My husband had taken a picture that made me look as happy and natural as the crystalline waters. Like a water sprite, or so I have always secretly thought, delighted with a picture that in a fluke caught the I-wish-I-were-me. This was in my mind as we drove along 15 years later.
It was to let our children play in this rock-strewn brook that we had come to Vermont. Now we were keeping an eye out for the right spot to stop the car and enjoy it. A few more miles and we found it, sunny, away from the road, tranquil.
The boys rushed to the water so precipitously that I yelled at them automatically to be careful not to fall in. That parental reaction distanced me from the young woman of 15 years ago, and I stood with my arms folded over a thicker waist watching them discover sprightliness -- as I once had -- in a babbling brook. But now I was merely an observer.
They tore of their shoes and socks and stuck their feet into the water, only to recoil at its coldness. Instead of wading, they set themselves to leaping from stone to stone, racing to reach the furthest point.
I watched them in the warm sun and cool air, I heard the song the waters sang, felt the quiet and solitude, heard the happy cries of my children and felt the lure of the brook, the memory of 15 years ago, the thought of being a sprite again. . . .
I put down my purse. Gingerly I left the ground and stood on a stone. Carefully I stepped to the next solid-looking stone. I stood still for a moment, the breeze against my face. (My long golden hair streamed out behind me, my silvery-diaphanous dress fluttered to the breeze's touch.)
I stepped to another rock, and then, more confident, I leaped to another and another. (I could hear music -- flutes, harps, lutes -- playing in the trees. The breeze uncurled like a long silver-green ribbon tickling my face. I was weightless, floating).
Exuberantly I ran along on a carpet of stone, leaping with sureness from one to another (like a gazelle, a nymph, a SPRITE!).
Crumple. Not even crash, nothing heroic. One minute I was leaping from stone to stone, the next I was holding my stomach afraid of being sick from the pain in my left ankle. I gasped and looked at it. Before my eyes it puffed up like a balloon, spilling out over the top of my tennis shoe. I ripped off the shoe and sock and beheld a growing foot. I howled for my husband; together we stared at it in dismay.
I crawled to the car and we headed for Brattleboro and hospital. I burst into tears of fright in the car and then tried to be brave. Then I was angry at those dumb stones that had betrayed me. Then guilty about ruining the trip. Finally, I was sheepish.
This is what I get for pretending to be a sprite. I'm not a sprite, I'm a responsible person, a mother, a matron. I'll never leap from stone to stone again. Okay, I've learned my lesson -- I'm middled-aged.
I recited this litany to myself throughout the examination at the hospital, and joked with the nurses about being too old for brooks. They were efficient and reassuring and after an x-ray and some advice, they issued me crutches, bandages and ice packs that allowed me to continue the vacation.
As I hobbled through the rest of our trip, I repeated my new lesson to all our friends in New England, to family, to self. There comes a time when you put aside the illusions of youth and accept the limitations of middle age. The brook was my turning point; the truth was painful but unavoidable.
But now I am back home, the pain has gone, mobility has returned and I find myself thinking about brooks and wondering about Truths. Maybe the truth isn't that I'm too old to leap from stone to stone. Maybe the truth is that you have to remember, when leaping from stone to stone, that sometimes you can sprain your ankle.