Last year was a particularly rough one for our family, and especially hard on my wife. I'm not always good at dealing with emotional situations, even though I try to be supportive. I've settled on basically three ways to contribute - giving gifts, keeping my mouth shut and just being there, or, in some cases, acting a fool to get a laugh.
The week of Thanksgiving last year was specifically difficult because we were waiting and preparing for some crucial news, and were pretty certain it was going to be bad news. So on my way home from the gym after work, I picked up some flowers for my wife, hoping to cheer her up. The flowers went over even better than I expected. No tears, just smiles - exactly the way I like it. Then my wife asks me to get one of the vases down from the cabinet above the kitchen counter. I don't know where everyone else keeps their vases, but every house I've lived in has them up high in the kitchen. In order to get them, you have to either get a ladder or just climb up on to the counter.
Maybe it was the success of the flowers making me feel invincible, or the energy rush from my workout formula still running through my veins, but I felt like showing off, acting up to make her mood even better.
"Watch this, Babe. I can do a standing leap from the floor to the kitchen counter."
"No, Jeff, don't do that. You're going to kill yourself."
I'll get back to the story in a second, but I'd like to offer some advice, a little side note to all the women, especially women who love men. The surest way to get a man to do something is to tell him he can't do it. I don't mean that in any restrictive sense, like "you can't because it is illegal or immoral to do so." Most men I know would actually react sensibly to that statement. When I say "you can't" I mean in the sense of "you are physically unable," or "you are not big/strong/tall/mighty enough to accomplish this task." Any statement like that is going to sound just like "you aren't man enough for this" to a man. Most, if not all, men will take this as a challenge rather than a warning. I'm convinced that the vast majority of men visiting the emergency room are men who were told by a woman that they couldn't do something, rolled up all their energy and strength into a ball and gave it a shot, found out that they couldn't, and caused themselves catastrophic injury.
Of course, the difference here is that I KNOW I can make that leap. I can make that leap twelve times in a row. I've been working on my vertical leap for the past two years, mostly because I'm tired of being the shortest guy in my pickup basketball games with my friends, and the only one who never played high school or college ball. I got tired of getting my shots blocked like this kid, making posters and highlight reels for everyone else in the squad, and started doing all kinds of plyometrics to get better. I jumped those platforms in the gym over and over, missing that last one a whole bunch in the beginning, and I've got the shin scars to prove it. So when I dared myself to leap onto that kitchen counter, I knew for a fact that I could do it, and probably higher.
But apparently my wife just thought I would kill myself. Again, wives, don't ever tell your husband "You're going to kill yourself," unless you actually want him to kill himself.
So, obviously, I ignored her prattle and set myself for the leap.
And I cleared it. Easily. Landed on the kitchen counter with both feet flat and my heels all the way over the edge.
The problem was that with all that upward momentum, when I stood up, I came up so fast that I slammed my face into the bottom of the highest cabinet. It really didn't hurt much, but I felt the impact like a solid punch in the face, right between the eyes. And I've been punched in the face enough to shrug it off. I'll admit, there was a moment, maybe a split second when I felt a little dizzy from the impact, and a bit wobbly up there so high. But I manned right the hell up and belayed that sensation.
I looked down at my wife, and her face was a mixture of horror and vindication.
"Did I hurt myself?" I said. "Did it make a mark?"
"Is it bad?"
I jumped down from the counter, also with catlike agility, by the way, and walked over to the mirror in the living room to inspect my face. At first, all I noticed was a trickle of blood and a neat line, about an inch long, on the very top of the bridge of my nose. Dinner was just finished cooking and I was pretty hungry, so I said, "I don't think it's that bad, I'll go clean it up so we can eat."
Then I pulled the flesh apart a bit, just to see if it was deep, and it turned out to be a gash at least a quarter of an inch deep and an inch wide. Right in the middle of my face.
"Babe, can you pull the food off the stove and get the kids to watch the baby. I need you to drive me to the urgent care center."
Really, it didn't hurt any more than a punch in the face. There was a guy in the waiting room that had gotten into an accident on his bicycle and went right over the handlebars onto his face. He had one eye closed, road rash down one side of his face, and a bottom lip that looked like a slice of grapefruit. Next to him, I felt like I was complaining for nothing. The worst thing about it was that I insisted on getting the glue, rather than the stitches. It's not the fear of the stitches or anything; I don't get squeamish about those things, and I see my own blood on a frighteningly frequent basis. The issue was that I had a triathlon coming in five days, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I didn't want to miss it for a little cut on my face. There was no problem with getting the wound wet, but the water I'd be swimming in was lake water, and pretty dirty. The stitches would make a heal more nicely, but the glue would cover the would better. Actually, the doctor said that the glue might come off in the water anyway, and advised not to go through with the race, some kind of medical jargon or something, I don't remember all of it. The gist of of it was no swimming, but you can't train for a triathlon without swimming, so I did it anyway.
By the day of the race, the glue had all come off. It certainly didn't help that the wound was right underneath the bridge of my swim goggles. Still, It looked healed enough to get through the race, so I geared up and swam that nasty lake anyway. I got my best time ever on a sprint triathlon, so obviously I made the right decision. And you can barely see the scar, really. I just looks like a crease or a smile line on my face. That's what I tell myself anyway.
At the end of the day, the most important thing that I take away from this experience is not just listening to doctors' advice, or being more careful. The most important thing is the fact that I made that leap. In one try. And it was amazing.