Head Up, Shoulders Back

Skull of extinct dimetrodon fossilized into chert by Elizabeth G Fagan, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigans Left Coast

Head Up, Shoulders Back

It’s circa 2000s, I am circa 40s, and 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.

I’ve been prescribed physical therapy as treatment for chronic daily migraines. A month previously, I spent four days in a hospital intravenously absorbing dihydroergotamine (DHE), an ergot and vasoconstrictor. It’s the big gun of migraine treatment, and it is used only when all else fails. It caused virulent nausea and diarrhea.

Previous to my hospital stay, nine months of relentless, agonizing migraines knocked me out of my life. My head hurt all the time. Exercise made it hurt more.

When I got out of the hospital, I had frighteningly painful rebound headaches for four or five days. After that, 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.

The worst winter in memory discouraged leaving home at all. But summer has arrived in Chicago. 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.

One night 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. It’s a warm summer night. The robins are calling, and the city is settling into twilight. As a long-time Chicago North Sider, I am a devoted baseball and Cubs fan. The route is a no-brainer. I head for Hamlin Park, a block-sized urban jewel where Little League is in full bloom.

These kids are barely four feet tall. They play real baseball. Not only that, they are learning what baseball teaches: teamwork, grace under pressure, how to accept both winning and losing. And that either way, you get up the next day and play again.

Walking correctly is hard work. When I arrive at Hamlin Park, the Little Leaguers are on all four diamonds. I rest at the first diamond, the Ryne Sandberg playing field. Cubs fans know that second-baseman Sandberg is a Hall of Famer. I lean on black-iron fence that Mayor Richie Daley placed around every park in the city.

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. The bases are loaded, an exciting moment in even the humblest of ball games.

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: “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, right into the game being played on the adjoining diamond.

It’s a grand slam.

The small crowd is on its feet, cheering as loudly as it can. One of the coaches shakes his head and marvels, “No two ways about it! That’s a real grand slam!” I cheer for a few minutes. The inning is 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, Lake Michigans Left Coast, lakemichigansleftcoast.com
Elizabeth G Fagan

About the Author

Elizabeth G Fagan is a professional writer who resides on Lake Michigan’s shoreline in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She’s been writing since she was a teenager.

Contact Elizabeth G Fagan

Fagan attended The Hammonasset School, a private arts high school in Connecticut, where she began writing, taking photographs, and making art. She earned a BA in English at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). She has an MA in Linguistics with a specialization in teaching English as a second language (ESL) from UIC. She subsequently attended The University of Chicago’s copyediting program. Fagan later gained an associate degree in Web Development from DePaul University, Chicago.

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