Crutches, Color, and Confidence

yellowlightOn a Friday night almost exactly 21 years ago, I was alone. My boyfriend was at Jam Box with his band. My roommate was with her boyfriend. So I planned a night with the blues: Eric Clapton, Dr. Pepper, and my new bass guitar. I went to the gas station across the street from my dorm and bought a six pack of Dr. Pepper.

Alone on the street corner across from Bellarmine Hall, the night felt ominous. I had only taken driver’s the year before, so I knew a yellow light was nine seconds long – in Arizona. In Washington, where the speed limit was 15 mph lower, a yellow lasts four seconds. I ran into the crosswalk on the yellow. The light changed, and a Baptist minister in a 1981 Mustang hit me, breaking my leg in three places.

Later, my friends told me that everyone in the dorms drank Dr. Pepper all weekend. I didn’t see it, because I was in the hospital for two weeks. When I came back to school, I was in a wheelchair for a month, and on crutches for the rest of the school year. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Even though I had to drop one class and take an incomplete in another; even though I ended up having two surgeries and multiple rounds of physical therapy; even though I have bone spurs in one ankle and one knee makes crunchy noises on the stairs. The spiritual and mental recalibrations that followed the accident could fill a book instead of a blog, but the most immediate benefit of a broken leg was that I suddenly became a celebrity. I was The Girl Who Got Hit by a Car. I was The Girl on Crutches. Complete strangers asked me how I was doing, and held the door open for me and offered to help me up stairs or carry my lunch tray.

Before the accident, I was invisible. After the accident, I was interesting. For an extreme introvert, making lots of new friends without any effort was little short of miraculous.

Fast forward a decade. We made a down payment on a house in the artsy Fremont neighborhood with what was left of the insurance settlement from the accident. I celebrated at Vain Salon, where a genius colorist spent almost eight hours dying my almost waist-length hair with three different bleach concentrations followed by three different color mixtures. The end result was hair with all the variation of natural color, except that the range was from Grape soda to pale lilac.

As a brunette, I was invisible. As a – what is the name for a woman with purple hair? – I was approachable. Tourists stopped me to ask for directions. Men walking down the street asked for my name and number. Everyone assumed that anyone who chose to stand out so dramatically would naturally be outgoing. And for as long as the color lasted, it was true.

There have been a few times in my life when less dramatic circumstances tapped my private reserve. Almost any experience requiring a passport seems to open the flow. Once, after a frustrating and fruitless summer of job hunting, I got fed up and headed out without any real plan. I walked into an environmental nonprofit and signed up for volunteering. Then I went downtown and started knocking on doors. I had a job within 48 hours and two weeks later moved on to one that paid twice as much.

So I wonder: if life flows fastest and freshest when we let our guard down, why is being unguarded so hard to do? Why do risk aversion and caution get all the kudos if a skinned knee (or broken tibia) is the real blessing? Just imagine how amazing life would be if we never dressed fear as prudence and used it to make a decision.

Did you ever notice how ‘what the hell’ is usually the right answer?

-Marilyn Monroe


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