A Trip Down the Stairs

One day, when I was four or five years old, my mother accidentally knocked over a large jar of bright-colored plastic beads she had used for decorating Christmas ornaments. The jar had been left on the kitchen floor, in front of the open basement door. The tiny, shiny circles poured like shot down the wooden cellar-stairs with a sound like thundering rain that quickly dwindled to droplets. I saw the look on my mother’s face, and I realized that I could make things right by gathering the beads and putting them back in the jar as they were supposed to be. Eagerly, I leaped onto the top step, oblivious to the fact that a bead-covered step does not provide the greatest traction. I heard my mother shout a warning and felt her grab for me as my legs shot out from under my body. I sat down hard and felt myself rushing downward, carried like a leaf on a roaring stream, the beads like wheels under me. I scrabbled wildly and tried to brake with my feet but was helpless to stop, and I found myself flying headfirst underneath the board handrail toward the cement floor. I did a somersault in the air and landed on my back, the wind knocked out of me. I had gotten a pretty good knock on the head, but what I felt most keenly was embarrassment at having been brought down by the beads, so I stayed quiet, splayed out on the floor, gathering my wits. My mother hurried as carefully as she could down the stairs, calling my name. She told me later that her father had taught her that if a child cries when he falls, it means he wasn’t seriously injured, so my abashed silence after I hit the floor had frightened her. I hadn’t felt entitled to cry. I hadn’t been able to help.