Essay: Head Up, Shoulders Back

I’m learning how to walk again. My physical therapist has a keen eye for a hanging head, slouching shoulders, weak abs, a protruding butt. “Hey, that’s how my whole family walks!” I say to her. “It’s part of our charm!” She doesn’t buy it. She has me walking with my head up, my shoulders back, and my stomach and butt tucked. She explains that bad posture leads to stressed muscles in the shoulders and the back of the neck—the land where tension headaches are born.

Rosie @ Hamlin Park, Chicago, 2011, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan's Left Coast
Rosie @ Hamlin Park, Chicago, 2011

I’ve been prescribed physical therapy as part of my treatment for chronic daily migraines. I spent four days in the hospital last month getting intravenous dihydroergotamine (DHE), an ergot and vasoconstrictor—the big gun of chronic daily migraine treatment. It caused virulent nausea and diarrhea.

Previous to my hospital stay, nine months of relentless, agonizing daily migraines (yes, my head hurt all the time) knocked me out of working out. Exercise just made my head hurt more. Plus, the worst winter in memory discouraged going outdoors at all.

When I got out of the hospital, I had frighteningly painful rebound headaches for four or five days. Since then, during a rainstorm, I had to inject DHE myself for a headache. Other than that, I’ve been headache-free for three weeks. I have not been without headaches for this long in maybe 15 years.

Now summer is finally here. I am stiff and sore. Walking around my neighborhood with that impossibly good posture, I feel like an invalid rediscovering the world. Which I guess I am.

Last night at around 7:00 PM, I held up, threw back, and tucked in before I headed out on my mandated walk. I have a choice of routes. I decide to go around Hamlin Park, where Little League is in full bloom. I am a devoted Cubs fan, and those kids knock me out.

Walking correctly is hard work. When I finally arrive at Hamlin Park, the Little Leaguers are on all four diamonds. I pause to rest at the first diamond I reach—the Ryne Sandberg playing field. I lean on Mayor Richard M Daley’s black-iron fence and take in the action.

The first kid I see hits a decent double and brings in a run. The next kid bunts, bringing the kid on second to third, himself making it safely to first. And then, the next kid walks. Good lord, the bases are loaded!

Rosie @ Hamlin Park, Chicago, 2011, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan's Left Coast
Rosie @ Hamlin Park, Chicago, 2011

These kids are barely four feet tall. They can’t be more than eight or ten years old. I see coaching, hitting, running. Peewees are learning teamwork, grace under pressure, how to win and lose. They have a real baseball game going on.

The next kid comes out and swings mightily at a couple high fast balls. The kid’s stance is off. In my head I hear my physical therapist yelling: “You’re hunching over the plate! Straighten up—head up, shoulders back!”

The kid lets a couple balls go by. He’s 2-2. He takes a breather and readjusts his stance. He approaches the plate standing taller, his midsection opened up, head up, shoulders back. Now that high fastball will come at him in his wheelhouse.

The pitcher kicks the mound and winds up. He hurls the ball toward home plate. It’s the high fastball. Crack! The kid makes contact. The ball flies high, past the left fielder, into the adjoining diamond. A grand slam.

The small crowd goes wild. One of the coaches shakes his head and marvels, “That’s a real grand slam! No two ways about it!” I cheer for a few minutes. The inning was over in a few more. I continue my walk, still stiff and sore, stomach and butt tucked, head up, shoulders back.

City residents share intimate moments with strangers every day. When the Belmont bus is late on a January morning, we catch our fellow shiverer’s eye and shake heads together. When kids on Michigan Avenue make talking drums out of white pails, we stop and listen. When a nameless Little Leaguer hits a grand slam on a warm summer night, we remember it for the rest of our days.


Elizabeth G Fagan is an artist and writer who resides in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She wrote “Head Up, Shoulders Back” in June, 2008. She became a widow when her husband died in 2009.

See more of Fagan’s essays

Art, content, photography, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast © 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Elizabeth G Fagan. Unauthorized use is prohibited.
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