Norton Ink

Practice Falling

Practice Falling


Karri Norton

Seattle is the most beautiful city in the world on a sunny day. The sun sparkles on the water, Queen Anne Hill looks wonderful from the freeway. You are surrounded by glorious mountain ranges. Tons of boats float in the water. People put on their shorts and bare their pale, skinny legs. Everyone has a smile on their face. It is an event. The sun is appreciated because it isn't there everyday. Seattle in September is spectacular. It seems there is always an Indian Summer.

So in the Fall of 1992 every morning when I woke up and looked outside my heart leapt. It was my first week in the big city, having just moved from Spokane, Washington, a much smaller city 300 miles to the East. Sure the sun shined a lot in Spokane but there was just a particular glow to this new city.

I was 21 and the year had already held many milestones for me. Of course, just turning 21 is a milestone in and of itself but it felt like a stellar year. Because I came from a poor family, my parents were never able to afford braces for my extremely teeth-crowded mouth. After graduating High School a friend of the family offered to pay for my teeth to be straightened. I was never supposed to know that she paid for it, but as kids do, I found out anyway. So after two and a half years I finally had beautiful, straight teeth. My braces were removed a mere 6 days after my birthday, what more proof of a harbinger of good will for my life?

My two years of Community College had paid off in not only receiving an Associate of Arts Degree but also a very fast acceptance as a Junior to the University of Washington, in Seattle. That year, I also joined Weight Watchers and went from 180 pounds to 125. World watch out, Karri was strolling on by to conquer! What formerly was a shy, self-conscious, insecure girl magically transformed into a svelte, smiling, confident ,sexy young woman burning to get out of small town and move to the CITY! I knew I would find a job right away because, well let's be honest, who wouldn't want me?

I was a little nervous moving away from the only city I had ever lived in, but I had no fear of Seattle. My Aunt Nancy lived there and we used to visit her all the time. Aside from that I had a few close High School friends that were attending the University. I was full of the boundless energy and excitement that can only belong to the very young in a new place.

Having only a small social circle in a new situation is good because you have a cushion to fall back on if need be, yet you are forced to make new friends and learn new things. Boy was I ready to do that!

The Summer before going to the University of Washington (or UW or just simply the U) I moved back into my parents house from my cozy little apartment and got a second job to save up money for college. My first job was 40 hours a week at Corky's Drive In a little greasy spoon, fast food restaurant that has the distinction of being my first real job. I had worked there for 3 years at just above minimum wage, which was something like $4.35/hour at the time. I had no title but I was as close to being Chief Cook and Bottle Washer as one can get. My part time second job was a glamorous "Market Researcher." Basically I called up people in the area and asked their opinions on things. To this day I am very nice to people who call up and try to sell things or do research surveys. It wasn't a bad job, but I couldn't have done it for more than one summer.

In 3 months, living rent-free and not having any credit cards I managed to save a whopping $1,000.00 that I hoped would carry me through the school year as long as I found a job in Seattle pretty quick. I really appreciate even though my parents couldn't afford to help me with tuition or living expenses once I got to Seattle, that they did this wonderful thing for me. Even so, once you have lived on your own, moving back to the parents can make you feel like your life isn't working out how it should.

In preparation for moving I spent one week that summer in Seattle with my Aunt. I attended the Transfer Student Orientation at the U during the days and in the evenings looked for a place to live that coming September. It is extremely difficult to find a place to move into in September when you are looking in June. So I spent a lot of frustrating time on the phone trying to find something. I left a lot of messages. No one ever called back, so when one lady finally called me back on the last evening I was in town I was elated! School started in October, but I wanted to move a few weeks earlier so I could find a job, she had an opening for September 1.

I went to the house to see, it was a nice looking house, 5 blocks from campus. Not an apartment but a boarding house. The lady had bought the house a few years before and to help pay her mortgage she rented out most of the rooms. The room I looked at was HUGE, furnished and had lots of windows, huge closet, door lock, phone jack. Essentially everything a college student needed. Kitchen was shared, one whole fridge shelf to each tenant, use the plates, knives and forks that were already there. Just $350/month. Now I look at that amount and it seems piddling. However, it was more than double what I was paying for an entire apartment back in Spokane($300 split between 2 roommates). It seemed safe, clean and really my only shot. I swallowed hard and wrote a check.

Still it was very hard to go back to Spokane because it felt like my real life started when I moved away and college began. Those last few months seemed to drag on forever yet mysteriously whip by. I don't suppose that makes any sense but it is true. Months before when talking to my boss at the fast food place he asked when I thought I would leave for Seattle and I just picked a random date in my head, September 16. Yet as soon as it was said, it crystallized into reality and all my plans swirled magically around that date. It never seemed like a flexible time frame after that.

Finally the day dawned, hot and sunny. All my belongings packed into my parents Ford LTD and one little trailer behind. We drove away. I remember that day as being wonderful. We listened to music, laughed and talked, I always get along really well with my parents and this day was beyond compare. Clearly my life was on the right track. When we got to Seattle, Mom and Dad helped me unpack, we loaded up my new room with boxes, checked that my phone worked and drove off to see Aunt Nancy. I spent the night in my new room unpacking while Mom and Dad stayed with Nancy. The next morning we walked to the campus, had some coffee and they drove away. Mom cried a little and then I was waving as they drove off. It was so ordinary that it was surreal. For the first time in my life I was on my own. Somehow I thought it would feel different.

Even though every September in Seattle is glorious, I swear the September in 1992 must have been one of the nicest, it was 80 every day, the sun sparkled, the birds sang, all was harmony. Those first two weeks before school I formed a little ritual, I would take a walk/jog through the local park. Make myself a cup of coffee in my little one cup coffee filter bought especially for Seattle from my parents, then look in the classifieds for a job. After I circled everything I might be capable of doing, I would call or pick up an application. Then have the rest of the day free.

Somehow what I saw as a very Karri-friendly job market didn't quite work out as planned. Of course, I love coffee and back in 1992 Starbucks was just starting to take hold on every block and corner of every neighborhood, I saw that I was perfect to be a barrista! So I hounded and pestered the Manager of the Starbucks at University Village. He never did end up hiring me. In fact the whole job search was very very frustrating. I went from bursting with confidence to just hoping my measly dough would carry me through I started picturing that I would have to move back to Spokane by the end of October!

Meanwhile, I was making friends in the boarding house. Oh I realize I left out one thing. All girls. No boys allowed to rent there, none could spend the night. If you had a male visitor he had to leave by 10 pm on school nights 11 pm on the weekends. Since I had no male visitors the Nazi-style regime didn't bother me at the time.

All the boarders were very nice and one in particular, Anne, became a good friend. It was through Anne that I finally secured a job, after an entire month of being unemployed! She worked for the University of Washington, Extensions office in Distance Learning and heard of a job opening in all things.......Market Research. I secured the title of "Market Research Assistant" and went learned how to make surveys and compile data results. All for $6.00/hour. After my minimum wage experience this seemed like riches, however it was a University job and they had strict rules that you could only work 19.5 per week during school term. That is a whopping $450 a month before taxes! I wonder now how I lived on that. Then I get my credit card bill every month and figure it out.

Two weeks after I was hired by the University a lady who was a manager at a new Starbucks at Northgate Mall called me. She had heard I was gung-ho to be a barrista and was hiring for the new store. As I already had a job and felt that I had been given the run around by the other Starbucks Manager, I said I wasn't intersted. I wonder if my money situation would have been less tight if I had?

As I only had a few friends and they already had lives, having lived in Seattle longer than I had, I was left on my own more than a little. During the afternoons I would walk down to the campus, find the buildings I would have class in, then go to Red Square and watch all of the guys Rollerblading. Red Square is an enormous bricklayed square that is surrounded by libraries and some administration buildings. Students go there to eat lunch, have a coffee, sit in the sun and enjoy life. There are benches and stairs and statues, lots to see and do. All of the Rollerbladers were daredevils, they would jump off flights of stairs, jump up on benches, flip off of the statues, amazing.

I was mesmerized, in the weeks before school started I watched them everyday.

I wanted to be like them SO bad. I wanted to fly. Even though money was tight I couldn't live without a pair of inline skates. So I went to the local bike and skate shop and splurged some of my hard won summer wages on a brand new pair of Roller Blades, complete with knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards. I was so joyous that on my walk back to the house where I lived, I doubt my feet even touched the ground. The second I got home I tore those beauties out of the box, took off my shoes and went outside.

Having heard that the worst Rollerblade injuries occurred to the wrists (what else do you throw out when you fall but your hands?) I was diligent in putting on all the safety gear. Sitting on the steps of the boarding house I lived in I strapped my new inline skates on. Now how to get up? I sure felt gawky and ungraceful as a wobbled on up. Finally, I was standing. The trick in my mind was how to stay upright. It was so difficult getting up the first time that I didn't want to chance falling down and have to try to get up again!

Inline skates are opposite of regular skates in the brake area. Since I grew up in the 70s and 80s I was very accustomed to braking with the front of the skate. Not so with inline skates. The brake is in the back. I guess that makes sense if you don't want to go flying ass over teakettle by tipping your toe down. However I wasn't used to it and it felt uncomfortable and unsafe to tip my ankle up to stop. When I tried to do it, the brakes didn't seem to work very well anyway.

When walking to school it seemed like I was on flat ground. To my horror, I learned that the U was slightly downhill from where I lived and on my virgin trip I found that tends to easily build momentum in anything on wheels. To my way of feeling I was fast going out of control, not knowing how to stop and OH MY GOD WAS THAT THE END OF THE BLOCK COMING UP????WHAT ABOUT THE TRAFFIC!!!!!!!!!!!!! In this way I learned that the first and easiest way to brake is to skate into gravel or lawn or anything that makes wheels stop spinning. What an ugly-rollerblading-duckling I made. I was so completely graceless and inept. What the hell was I thinking?

At this point I was only one block from my house with at least 4 more blocks to go just to get to the end (or the beginning) of the campus. I already had threatened my own life and wellbeing as well as the few pedestrians I had encountered on my one block flight. However, $100 on a pair of skates seemed a steep price to pay for something that I was only going to use for one block, so I decided to keep going. Slipping, sliding and rolling into the neighbors lawns I managed to make my way to the edge of campus. Miracle of miracles, I hadn't fallen. I felt this was a major accomplishment. Knees buckling inward I surveyed the sidewalk to Red Square, at least a half mile more of downhill skating and more than the gentle slope that I had just encountered. What to do? Why spend half the time in the grass, of course. Looking back now, I must have been a sight. I see people now who are obviously on their first pair of inline skates and I think, "Those people are at least 10 times more graceful than I was." Clearly I wasn't going to be jumping off any stairs this day.

I finally reached my destination, Red Square, and sat and watched the Daredevils fly around for awhile. Then too chicken to even skate in their presence I wobbled off to the Quad (a lovely square with lots of grass surrounded by the 4 major liberal arts buildings), for a more quiet bit of flat ground rollerblading. When I came to sets of stairs I careful sidestepped down them, grabbing onto the guard rail for dear life. I wore myself out the first day merely trying to stay vertical and did a reasonably good job. I finally skated home promising myself that I would continue learning to fly. Each day I would skate on down to the U, tool around and never jump off a single thing and almost never fall.

I did find a measure of grace eventually. The flow of inline skating is definitely a cross between roller skating and ice skating. The brake still haunted me, when I did try to use it, it seemed very ineffective but I learned a cool way of turning around and sort of angling your ankles toward each other to stop. I could speed up, do circles, basically a whole bunch of girlie moves. Which is fine, as I am a girl, but I still wanted to be daredevil. I would spend hours and hours watching them, wondering, "how do they DO that?" I was still afraid of falling.

So one day I bladed on down to the Square, and sat and watched. I wanted to learn how to keep from falling. I thought that was the first step to flying. However, when I really watched these guys I noticed they fell. Not even a little bit, they fell a lot! They fell tons, but it didn't hurt them or seem to break anything significant. They seemed to know how to fall to wound themselves as little as possible. It wasn't that they were not falling, it was that they weren't afraid to fall.

Major breakthrough. They weren't afraid to fall, in fact falling was inevitable. So why not learn to fall as safely as possible? I looked down at my knee pads, I looked at my wrist guards. The rest of the safety gear I had stopped using because it was too sissy, but I cared about my knees and wrists. You know what? So did the daredevils. So I practiced falling. The natural inclination when you are about to fall is to go backwards and catch yourself. The only padding back there is nature-provided, why not try to fall forward? Back I went to the Quad and started dropping down onto my knee pads. Not too bad.




So I fell, on my own terms, I made myself fall. I learned to roll, I learned to count on my gear. Falling wasn't so bad, who knew?

Elated, I skated towards Red Square, however a set of three stairs got in my way. I stopped. I circled around again. What was the big deal? Was I going to let a set of stairs stop me? No. So I skated back towards the square and just as I got to the stairs I...............I chickened out again and did a circle instead. DAMMIT! Damn damn damn fear. I was still afraid to fall. I must have skated towards those steps only to circle away at the last minute about 5 times.

Big breaths, you are going to fall. You are going to fall, but it won't hurt. You are going to fall and even if it does hurt you will have done it. At that moment I decided I wouldn't let those silly stairs get in my way. I skated towards them, speeding up, got right to the precipice and JUMPED. My first flight. I landed and looked back. I get shivers right now describing it. It was amazing. I felt untouchable. I did it again and again and again. It wasn't jumping over benches but it was a start. I let the fear go. You are going to fall.

Falling isn't the tragedy I once thought. Once I let go of fear, I fell less. Don't get me wrong, I still fell but not every muscle bunched up in anticipation of it. I relaxed. It was wonderful and freeing, I was really flying.

Jumping off those stairs that weren't even 8 inches of height difference was such a high. I felt like I owned the world, I whooped. People looked at me because I was magical. Every time I ever jumped anything again on blades, I gave at least an internal whoop.

I eventually worked up to feeling comfortable skating in front of the daredevils. I jumped off steps. I jumped up on benches. I never got up to the level of the guys in the Square but somehow it wasn't necessary anymore. Learning to fall was much more important. Somewhere along the way I found out how to use my brake. Push harder. Worked like a charm. Don't be afraid of failure because you are creating a paradigm for yourself that will eventually come true. You are letting your muscles bunch up in anticipation of something that might not even happen.

That Indian Summer I learned two things:

You are going to fall.

If something seems not to work very well you might try a little harder.

Life is here, you are suppose to love the wrong people, place your trust in someone unscrupulous and get burned, eat food that looks different, think of it all as practice. Fear is something you have to get past to have a real life. Treat fear like your enemy and you make it so. Stop attempting to stay upright, it isn't possible and it hurts worse if you resist. From today on, I am not just going to fly with my rollerblades, I am going to fly with my wings. I will sing out loud while walking down the street, I will voice my opinion where others can hear it, I am going to laugh with my mouth open and cry and wail and make a spectacle and if you listen you might hear that internal whoop.



Practice Falling© by Karri Norton 2001 if you want to copy and send this story to anyone, please feel free. As long as you copy the entire story, as is, and also be sure to include the copyright tag. I do, however, prefer that you just send people here to this site to read it instead :)