Up A Tree
By: Linda De la Fonteijne
After the first semester of my freshman year of college, I went back home for Christmas to Northern California. It was my first time back since I left to go to school in Los Angeles to pursue acting. I had just picked up one of my best friends from the airport, who had flown in from Seattle to surprise another one of our friends for her birthday. We were all goofing around in the yard, and as one thing led to another, I ended up climbing a tree. I was hanging upside down from the tree, the way you’d hang from monkey bars, when I fell about 5 feet onto my upper back.
My whole life up to that point I had been an actress and as a result, I was often labeled “dramatic” and “loud.” After I fell, I didn’t want to overreact. While I was laying on a pile of leaves and dirt writhing in pain, I caught my breath and decided I was probably just fine. I stood up, walked into the house, and laid on the couch to shake it off. I rested on the couch for 15 agonizing minutes, continuously adjusting myself, trying to get comfortable, but there was a terrible pain in my back. At this point, I realized there might be something wrong. Being the daughter of a single mother and living on a budget, I didn’t want to call an ambulance. Instead, I hobbled into the backseat of my friend’s suburban, and we drove to the ER. Many speed bumps and red lights later, we arrived, and immediately the ER staff told me not to move. After some scans, they told me my spine compressed and part of my spinal column shattered. I had surgery the next day. It was a miracle that after all of my movements, I was still able to walk. And to think that trying to not be “dramatic” could have drastically changed my life forever...
Nine days and a New Years Eve in the hospital later, school was just about to start. Being quite stubborn, I was set on going back to school so I wouldn't fall behind in my classes, but I couldn’t take care of myself. I wore a full back brace; I couldn’t sit up by myself or carry anything. So a friend of mine flew back to my hometown the week after classes began to drive me back to school. The girls in my dorm would come by when I woke up in the morning to help me sit up and changed my bandages multiple times a day. Another friend carried my bags to and from class, and in doing so earned the nickname “Two Bags.” Overnight, I had friends that transformed into nurses, caretakers, and best friends. If it wasn't for these angels who spent their time helping me when they could have been living carefree college lives, I would have never been able to graduate on time. Their selflessness was the reason I was able to stay in school. Their love, care, and support were the reason I could be resilient.
In part, because I made the choice to climb the tree, my actions caused my injury and even now when I tell people how it happened, I often get reactions like “What were you doing on a tree!?” When people ask me this, I feel even more ashamed of my actions. However, despite the shame, this freak accident, something that certainly would have been easier if it would have been avoided, has taught me more about myself than I would have ever imagined.
My injury means that I am required to take extra care of myself. When I was in high school, PE was my least favorite subject. I made it my personal game to do the least amount of physical activity I could, while still getting an A. Since my injury, however, I have fallen in love with my body’s resilience and power. I love finding workouts that keep the muscles in my back strong; reformer pilates, running, and yoga are my favorites. My yoga practice has taught me that to master the practice doesn’t mean being the best, it means understanding yourself enough to know your limits and modifications. I now have to know when to listen to my body and give it a break, or when to back down from a physical feat because it will end up harming me in the future. My injury has made me a stronger listener, and it has made me kinder to myself.
I think back to when my spine was shattered, and I had to relearn how to walk. That same body is the vessel that carries me around New York City every single day. I have a large scar on my back, and I see that as a physical representation of my experiences, my resilience, and my strength. Its existence tells the story of who I have become. My body is faithful, strong and adaptable, and every time I see my scar it reminds me that our bodies are capable of miracles.
Follow Linda's journey on Instagram @delafajita