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Going out with a bang

Sheila Flynn | Thursday, May 13, 2004

People chronicle their lives through various means – achievements, monumental events, celebrations, failures … the list goes on and on. Every person places different priorities on different things, and the categorization of his or her memories reflects that.

I have my own method of remembering, one that is as humiliating as it is effective. I can chronicle my time at Notre Dame through the times that I’ve fallen – literally, not metaphorically.

Freshman year, I fell down the steps in DeBartolo. Considering the off-and-on nature of DeBartolo traffic, it is possible that such a fall, if taken during an opportune moment, could go unnoticed and therefore remain relatively obscure. I, however, did not time my fall accordingly, instead tumbling headfirst down the steps at rush hour. I flailed out amidst the crush of students in an attempt to regain balance by grabbing a complete stranger; too uncoordinated to do so, however, I simply ricocheted from student to student until, by some miracle of God, I regained my footing near the bottom of the steps. Shaking my head and muttering to myself, I fled the building, still in disbelief that the idiot girl careening down the DeBartolo steps had, in fact, been me.

The most notable sophomore year fall occurred while I was visiting my roommate in Georgia. She and her mother took me into Atlanta to visit the CNN headquarters, and we ate lunch at a bar/grill within the building. The host seated us in a raised booth, but I forgot that fact when we finished eating; charging off at my usual break-neck speed, I stepped off the platform into mid-air and soon lay face-down on the floor, sprawled out like a chalk figure. The restaurant patrons who hadn’t seen my graceful leap soon ended up watching me, anyway, because my roommate and her mother were doubled over next to me, hysterical.

I fell too many times to count in Spain junior year, but by far the most memorable tumble occurred during my first week in the country. Headed to a bar near my host family’s apartment, I pointed up to show my friends where I lived and promptly tripped off the curb. I soon burst into my apartment, bleeding and rambling, and, unable to remember the words for “bandage,” “curb,” or anything relevant, I think I sputtered out “street” and “blood” before limping into the bathroom, cackling. My Spanish mom looked after me, alarmed and confused, and that look never really left her face until I flew home.

And now we come to senior year, the most mortifying and difficult to live down of the Notre Dame years. I fell outside the stadium in an incident that the Observer sports writers like to reenact. I had been assigned to write about a senior walk-on for a feature issue, and, despite teasing from the sports guys who doubted my ability to interview athletes, I proved them wrong. I successfully completed an in-depth and interesting interview and rejoined the other writers at the door. On the way out of the stadium, however, I spotted the walk-on and shouted something to him, jokingly, about whether or not I was a good reporter. As the words left my mouth, though, I failed to notice a raised portion of the exit gate, and I tripped over it, lost my balance, and executed a spectacular slow-motion fall, complete with flailing arms, flying notebooks, and incredulous onlookers. I ended up on my knees, arms outstretched in front of me with palms flat on the ground in a prayerful position, as if paying homage to the athlete in front of me. Too mortified to raise my head, I remained frozen in the ridiculous pose, listening to the sports writers shriek with laughter as the walk-on said that, regardless of my interviewing skills, I was not quite good at walking.

But the senior year plunges didn’t even end there. I contrived another, final, more innovative fall to top off the others and end college properly. While dragging my roommate around the lake on one of my daily marches, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to swing over the gate and walk out to the island in the middle of the water. The day was rainy and horrible and my roommate refused, but finally I convinced her and she followed me over, complaining and threatening. Trying to cheer her up, I skipped across the damp leaves and dirt on the island, inanely leaping from log to log in an attempt to be funny. (Side note: Who does this? I have no idea.) Anyway, my jester plan predictably backfired and, when I landed on a particularly slippery piece of wood, my feet flew out from under me. I fell forward, face-first, into a pile of matted leaves and mud, my head smashing against a fallen branch as my legs, still on the log, stuck up behind me. Unable to remove myself from the awkward position, I laughed through my pain and my roommate yelled at me, insisting that I’d better not be injured because she refused to call NDSP out onto the island in the middle of the lake. So eventually I righted myself and limped home, still laughing, and soon she started giggling, too.

This, you see, is my life. I always end up in impossible situations, but I amuse myself – and others – along the way. I remember the falls, and I remember the good times, and all of them are far too numerous to recount here. Notre Dame has been hilarious, touching, enlightening and irreplaceable, and my experience here has changed me, for the better, forever. I have not only the memories but the physical scars to prove it.

Sheila Flynn is a graduating senior and the former Assistant Managing Editor of The Observer. She is driving to Texas the day after graduation, where she will report for the Associated Press in its Dallas bureau. She ultimately hopes for a foreign correspondence position, through which she can amaze people the world over with her endearing clumsiness and unmatchable accent. She would like to thank her Irish family, her Observer family, her grupo espanol and her roommates for an amazing four years. Go Irish – and Ireland!

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.