We planned it for months, my book tour/family summer vacation camping trip, which involved my husband, Jim; our two kids; and me. Readings of my novel, Famous Baby, were scheduled in California, between Los Angeles, where we live, and Mendocino, along with stopovers at bookstores for signings. Jim booked campgrounds with beaches and redwoods and, because it was my book tour, bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers.
The night before we left, I took a big skipping jump, landed on a piece of broken sidewalk, and rolled my ankle. The pain was sudden and intense, but since we had meticulously planned the following 13 days, I decided, with the help of Dr. Google, that it was only a bad sprain. I would ignore it! Overnight the tennis ball–size hematomas on my right foot flattened under the weight of a two-pound ice bag. By morning, though, the foot looked like a loaf of bread, the toes like fat, purple gummy worms.
When it was time for my first reading, I shoved my hugely swollen, aching foot into an unlaced hiking boot and limped off, family in tow. The event was a success, but the foot wasn’t getting better. Each bookstore visit was more painful than the last.
Finally, six days into the trip, we found an urgent-care facility, where a doctor took an X-ray. “You’ve got a broken ankle,” she announced. “You must have a high tolerance for pain.”
She put a cast on my leg that came up past my knee, which meant I couldn’t bend my leg. By the end of my first day of walking with crutches, the palms of my hands felt as though I’d been catching hardball pitches bare-handed. Jim and the kids set up camp and made meals while I sat on a chair pointing at things. “Hand me that?” “Pick up my shoe?” “Get me a beer?”
My hands hurt, my underarms chafed and bruised, and I had to abandon my “good” pants for oversize cargos—the only thing that would fit over the cast. I couldn’t get the cast wet, but it didn’t matter, because I was too beat up to haul myself to the shower anyway.
Next on our itinerary was a bookstore in a beautiful resort town. I wore my son’s plaid flannel shirt over a paisley tank top, because the early-morning mountains had been cool and my sweatshirt had fallen into the campfire. By the time I made it halfway to the store, I was perspiring through both shirts, my campfire smoke–filled hair was plastered to my forehead, and I’d realized that my baggy cargo pants were stained with tree sap and blueberries. I swung inside and headed to the information desk.
“Excuse me,” I said to a young man, who looked up from his work as I peeled chunks of hair off my sweaty forehead.
“Bathroom’s over there,” he said, turning back to his work.
He pointed again, and then it dawned on me: he thought I was homeless, looking for a place to clean up.
“Oh, no, no, I’m a writer,” I assured him.
He smiled. “Oh, that’s nice.”
“No, I mean I’m here to sign books. You have my book—Famous Baby.”
A female employee approached. “Is there a problem?”
“Well, yes, hello,” I said. “That’s my novel, on the table over there. I came by to sign copies. My publisher spoke to someone...”
The two of them exchanged looks. A third employee was summoned. My identification was confirmed. An apology was whispered. Books were signed.
As I met my little family back at the door, I felt an abrupt wave of happiness and gratitude.
“Ready for the next bookstore?” Jim asked.
“Nah, let’s figure out something fun to do. After all, it is your vacation.” The kids cheered.
“You sure?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m certain.” I said. Then I fell sideways into a shelf of classic fiction and sent Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird crashing to the floor.
And then we were gone.
Karen Rizzo is author of the novel Famous Baby (Prospect Park Books) and the memoir Things to Bring, S#!t to Do... and Other Inventories of Anxiety (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).