Crashing back down to earth

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Falling over will teach you hard truths about life - and teeth, writes Eva Wiseman.

One second I was running, a proud and gentle kind of lope, the next I was staring up at sunlight shivering through the leaves, my mouth somehow full of blood, and then everything was black.

It was a warm morning as I set off, on the public holiday in question, which meant my children were off school and chattering around the kitchen table when my boyfriend heard - his whole face squints now as he describes it - the terrible thud of a body on concrete.

It was comically small, the uneven paving stone that I tripped over, it was hilariously nothing - a centimetre or two maybe that the toe of my trainer must have caught on, but I flew somehow, quite high, and landed on my teeth and cheekbone. I passed out because of the shock, I think, rather than the impact, and spent some time there on the grass in a glorious faint. That was the best bit. I do recommend unconsciousness. I’m up for a light coma one day perhaps, but until then these rare moments of savage exit will have to do. The time asleep always feels longer than really it is - I was blissfully relaxed, in a theatre, in fact, watching hundreds of little children dance, until suddenly I was dragged back to life, and the path, and Mark was propping me up on his arm and saying my name too many times.

I was half-carried back home, spitting out chips of teeth, and everything looked as though I was seeing it through lace. What I was thinking at that moment was: how awful it would be if your everyday life was full of violence like this. I said, a few times, how lucky I was. And then, sitting on the carpeted stairs inside, I was suddenly shaking and sobbing. My children hovered white-eyed behind me, shifting from foot to foot, as surely it was they who were meant to be the fallen overs, the bloody-knee havers, the criers on the stairs; everything was upside down and awful. "Let’s go and play!" my daughter said to her little brother, in a bright and terrible voice.

The next day my glands came up and I stayed in bed for almost a week with some mean little flu, the cuts turning to scabs, the swellings on my face mutating and confusing my banking app. I had time to consider exactly what had been so bad, what had been so particularly horrible about an otherwise silly fall. It wasn’t the pain, which was irritating but manageable. It wasn’t even the humiliation, my grand display of clumsiness, which was embarrassing but, due to lack of witnesses, negligible. I think it was simply the shock, the grim cliche that something can change in the space of a second - one moment I was in control, the next I was in the grass.

All the other split-second reality shifts I’ve experienced in my life came back to me one by one as I lay there in bed awkwardly eating a mashed banana. The phone calls with no caller ID, "Are you sitting down?", the realisations, the rejections, the doorbells going, the sudden wins, these bang-crash-out-of-nowhere moments that leave you lying on the ground a whole different person to the one you were when you were standing up. And then in time you forget how this can happen, how change can arrive unannounced, and angry, until the next one appears.

This morning I went to the dentist. The swelling has almost gone, but my cheek and jaw are still a muted shade of mango. Five teeth are cracked, the dentist said, sighing as if they were his. He seemed, not angry with me exactly, more disappointed. I tried to get his sympathy or perhaps a medal as he filled the chips in my front incisors - the nurse held my mouth open as I tried to explain, with mounting desperation, I’d been running, for my health, for my migraines, even though I hate it, even though I hate it!

Other people I’ve met since falling over have earnestly listed the crimes of exercise - not just the injuries it causes, but the things it does to your joints, the slow death of once-happy knees. I’m aware I was giving a kind gift to these people, a solid reason not to leave the house, and I was pleased to do so - some good should come out of my very bad week. Older people warned of what happens to your fear after "having a fall" - that you walk cautiously for months afterwards, that you avoid certain steps, that you veer towards conservatism. I corrected them politely - I didn’t have a fall, I’m young, I "fell".

The dentist booked X-rays in for me in a few months’ time - before then, he said, I must watch my front teeth closely in case they "go dark", a phrase that made me shudder in my blue splashproof bib. On the way home, jaw numb, walking briskly, but still not running, I remembered an old poem by Aram Saroyan, 14 words long. "A man stands on his head one minute," it goes, "then he sit down all different."

- The Observer