I reached with my paintbrush for the tiny unpainted space between the two bedroom walls and the ceiling that the roller had missed, stretching my back and arm and holding the brush by its very tip to avoid having to step down from the radiator to go fetch the stepladder I should have been using in the first place.
I knew ahead of time I was going to fall. Lying on the floor, I heard my kids run into the room and then run out screaming. My daughter, then about 12, started crying in the hallway as if she’d already decided the time to grieve had replaced the time to help. My younger son stood in the hallway, inching toward his room, typically distant from an unpleasant situation while the older son, fresh from his lifeguard and first aid training, came in and told me to lie still while my eyes filled with blood. Everything was red.
“Oh, no,” my husband said, looking at me and seeing, before I did, how my eyes were going to look in a few hours. “People will think I punched you.”
As predicted, I had two vividly black eyes the next day. I was fine physically. No headache. I had never passed out though looking at my face in the mirror the next morning was jarring enough to make me go weak in the knees. Wildly purple and blue, my eyes looked like a pair of cheap sunglasses had melted on my face.
“Everyone’s going to think I did something terrible,” my husband started in again while I was getting dressed for a big meeting with several county officials, including a couple of folks who worked with domestic violence. “Don’t be silly. I’ll tell them what happened. I fell off the radiator, for heaven’s sake. What’s the big deal?” I replied.
But I kind of wondered. How would people handle it? Would they ask me what happened? Would they laugh about it when I told the story of the radiator and the stepladder and how my freshly (county) trained son came to my aid? Would they think it was funny that my husband was worried about what the world would think about my black eyes?
I don’t know. They didn’t ask. At first, it felt like a game to me, like I’m sitting here with this face and no one is going to ask me what happened. And then it started to make me angry as if they didn’t care what happened to me or worse, they knew what happened but didn’t want to talk about it.
I made a joke at the end of the meeting. “I’m sure you all noticed,” I said with a smile. “In case you’re wondering what happened to me, I fell off the radiator while I was painting the bedroom yesterday.”
Oh, that’s terrible, they murmured and cooed and walked out the door. “Take care, Jan.”