We were skiing in Vail, Colorado, and it was a fabulous weekend with warm temps, bluebird skies, and decent snow. It wasn’t a dramatic crash, it was just a simple turn on a steep slope and POP! It didn’t hurt enough to stop skiing, but at the same time it felt awful, and adrenaline whooshed into my brain and made my hands shake and my whole body seem like it wasn’t even mine. So, I did what any reasonable person would do: I continued to ski. Which did not go well. Nevertheless, I made it down, made it back home, made it to the doctor’s office, and showed up on time for surgery to get my brand spanking shiny white new Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
My leg was unbelievably, haltingly swollen. Surely there was a mistake, I didn’t have an appointment to swap my leg for a giant watery bratwurst, and yet, here it was: shiny and pale, lumpy and foreign, and feeling like it had been through a meat grinder in the ocean. Trying to move this thing, which was strapped into a hulking black brace with gadgets on the sides and four straps across the front, padding, stabilizers, bars and clips, was quite a feat. I sat in bed with this monstrous appendage propped in the air on a pyramid of pillows, crutches in reach, a tray with necessities: pills, water, tea, paper, phone, computer, apples, and a minefield of charging chords. It was a great set up until I had to get to the bathroom, in which case it became a sea of tangles and impediments that reduced me to tears until my husband would bound in and scoop me up.
And under these conditions is when my parents arrived on their white horses to lend four helping legs and hands to the helpless, reckless daughter whom they have helped so many other unfortunate times before. They tied their animals and poured glasses of wine. Once properly nourished, they went to work: washing and folding clothes, straightening and cleaning, making beds, necessities shopping, child carpooling, cooking, everything we do on a daily basis without ever thinking twice about it. All under control, my husband was free to go on a business trip, and I was headed to my first physical therapy appointment.
It was a big day, a first post-surgery outing. I pulled on a pair of black athletic pants, a pair I wear all the time, that stop loosely at the knee. Mom opened the car door for me. I leaned over to lift my heavy leg into the car when she said with a casual lilt, I can see your underpants, and shut the door. As she walked around the car I thought to myself, What an odd thing to say! Who says underpants?? We made a few stops, since this was my first day out of the house, the first of which was my morning book club.
Once arrived, I sunk into a chair and elevated responsibly while we watched a video pertaining to our last read, a political treatise on the state of the nation, a brilliant nail-biter leaving you excited and terrified; a leaf in a gust. Mom met my friends and we had a lovely visit, all sending us off with well wishes and genuine offers to help, and we hobbled out the door together. At the car, again, I leaned over to help my leg in, slid into the seat, and mom said with the same lilt, I can see your underpants, and closed the door. I thought, furrowing my brow, Is she trying to be funny?? She climbed in the driver’s seat and off we went, recounting key points of the meeting and no other mention of underpants.
We didn’t have time to go home and rest before physical therapy, so we stopped at a great place on the way to our final destination to have lunch. By this time I was fading, woozy and tired, leg throbbing. The waiter made a nice place for me to prop my foot and in we settled for a quick bite. He seemed slightly inebriated, a huge, hairy dude with curls all over his head and beard and probably a suit of hair armor tucked under his clothes. Maybe it wasn’t he who was slurring, maybe it was me, hearing him slurry because the meds were making me slurry. Did I dream the underpants comments?
We moved as quickly to the car as was possible, a pace so slow even time took pity and halted. At the car, exhausted, I lifted the impossibly laden leg up and in, and as I leaned over to do so, my mom said, I can see your underpants. I snapped, Please stop saying that! She just giggled and shrugged and closed the door. As we pulled out of the parking lot we talked about the hairy waiter, the great lunch, and a bit more about book club, but not one mention of underpants.
Finally, we arrived at the soviet-like brick building just off the highway for my much anticipated appointment. My eyes were drooping. My knee was filling with fluid, getting tighter and tighter against the bindings of the brace. My foot was so swollen it looked like a fat flounder jammed into a sock. We didn’t do much for that first appointment, we bent the knee a bit, flexed the quad, and then, anticlimactically, it was time to leave. At the car mom helped me in, but before closing the door she threw her hands onto her hips and said emphatically, Erin, I can see your underpants! I yelled back, What are you talking about! I felt around my waist to make sure a) my pants were still there, and b) my shirt was still there, and before I could open my mouth to argue she boomed: Your pants are see-through! And then she shut the door.
The moral of this story is that being straight forward and precise with your words in order to save a loved one from a potentially embarrassing or mortifying experience is always the preferred course of action. Also, if one is over four and under eighty, do not use the word underpants; it doesn’t make contextual sense. And finally, if someone has been unfortunate enough to slip into a pair of pants that happen to be see-through, throw subtlety out the window. Most of us do not wish to be seen in public in transparent garments, and those who do, probably should rethink it. Try something, such as: Hey, your ass looks like the harvest moon, or Wow, did you borrow those pants from Miley Cyrus?, or, and this is my favorite, Honey, your pants are see-through.