theory of trapped animals

an excerpt from a memoir

deon robinson

jane seibert

Now, falling forward at 30 mph off a skateboard speeding downhill wasn’t the best moment of my life, but I remembered when a kid in my homeroom class taught me how to Judo roll. I put both my hands together to form a triangle and shifted my weight into my hands. I rolled off my board, which kicked it back uphill so that it couldn’t hit anyone. I got up immediately and used my foot to stop my board as it came down behind me. The spectators of this circus act came up to me and asked if I was alright. After assuring them I was for what felt like five minutes, I started walking again like nothing had happened.

After a few minutes, the adrenaline finally wore off and my back was hurting me. I could feel something staining my shirt, and when I checked under my sweater, I was bleeding from my abdomen. It was like an abrasion spray painted red, pink archipelagos of peeled skin surrounding the gash and exuding blood of their own. The abrasion stung sharp, caressed by the sweat of my undershirt. I tucked my shirt into my pants and zipped up my sweater.

When I finally got home, I gave my mother her medicine and went to her bathroom in the back of the apartment. I took off my sweater and shirt, then found alcohol and gauzes and applied them to the bleeding site. My mom walked in and saw my bloody shirt on the floor, shook her head and helped me clean the wound while asking what had happened. She was afraid someone had attacked me in the street.

The accident fucked up my back, and my mom gave me her brace. It was this long white strap plagued with an ungodly amount of lint. It did the job in supporting my back. I just hated wearing it. It made me walk like a streetlight. I wobbled everywhere, and wearing it for more than an hour in the summer heat made me sweat. It hugged my torso the way twin white snakes constrict a caduceus straight into the path of recovery. 

The pharmacy called my mother a few days later to tell her the medication was available, and I insisted I could go get it. She was hesitant, given the state of my back, but she insisted I take the 41 bus to the 26 so that I could avoid walking. I hated taking public transportation for short distances. It made me feel fragile, but I lied anyway and told her I would. 

I had the brace on, and for some dumb reason I can’t explain, I took my skateboard too. I promised her I would take the bus, but I wanted to skate again. I took the 41 to the unorthodox supermarket but decided not to take the second one. I walked up the hill and alongside the Botanical Garden. I thought about all the flowers, and about how much I needed a break. I tried to skate in the cul-de-sac in front of the train station.

Surprise surprise, skating in a back brace in 85-degree weather wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

After skating along the cul-de-sac, I followed the road and was approaching the intersection when I witnessed a homeless man, hunched like a claw, being mugged by a large man, mid-thirties, big as a bear. You could say it was a modern reenactment of David and Goliath, the thief pulling the bucket of money away from the old man. The vagabond fought as hard as he could, swung his hands like hammers but the thief was strong, unshakable. Passengers in cars stopped at the intersection, but no one did anything. We were all terrified. Imagine a mugging with over thirty spectators and there wasn’t a single savior among us. 

I was about twenty yards out and I saw it clear as day. The park was only a block away, and my sense of time was already so exaggerated. Could I help? What could I do against a man twice my size? I wasn’t sure what stopped me. I felt my blood freezing over in my veins. I had so many excuses not to do anything—the condition of my back, my own safety, family obligations.

A man walked up behind me. “You don’t plan to move forward?” he asked without taking his eyes off the mugging.

“Do you?” I snapped back. 

There was a saltwater silence. By the time it was over, a man who seemed to come from the farthest corner of the world ran to the scene and went to chase after the mugger. 

“There goes our good Samaritan!” The man behind me nodded in approval.

Time began to flow again, and the dark man behind me started walking like nothing had happened. The cars began to move like clockwork. The old hunched man had followed the Good Samaritan down the other street to catch the mugger. I stood there for a bit, slammed my board against the ground and dragged myself through the park, ignoring the baseball game going on down the field. The scrapes on my abdomen had opened up from throwing my skateboard. I imagined the bleeding leaving a trail to a place where I’ve never forgiven myself.