Because English was not my mother's native language, she learned to speak it with a studied precision, as many foreigners do. To her, equilibrium meant exactly what the dictionary said it meant: a state of balance or equality between opposing forces. What she had witnessed was her daughter hijacked from her normal domain of good cheer and delivered to a cave of bats and dark crevices.
This trafficking back and forth has stayed with me through adulthood, so much so that the word equilibrium has taken on a physical presence in my imagination. I see it as a seesaw, weighted on one side by e-q-u-i-l and the other by b-r-i-u-m, both teetering on the pivot of the slender I in the middle. It's up and down and up again, depending on which side of the I my fortunes unfold.
These days I'm not as easily flummoxed, but every now and again, a technological screwup such as deleting a file by mistake on my computer can rock my equilibrium. A few weeks ago, I was preparing tomato sauce as a treat for my husband. I spent two hours chopping, sautéing, and simmering. Then I poured the ingredients into a blender. I blended. As I went to pour the concoction into the frying pan—you guessed it—the bottom of the blender fell out. It was as if the person on the e-q-u-i-l side of the seesaw had jumped off and catapulted the poor sucker on the b-r-i-u-m side into a gloppy sea of tomatoes and onions.
My equilibrium wasn't just lost; it was hopelessly drowning. As I went berserk, my dog hid under the desk in the living room. Then my husband came into the kitchen to see what the ruckus was all about. A large man, he got down on his hands and knees and, with a soupspoon, started scooping up salvaged bits from the floor and plopping them back into a bowl. Suddenly, what had seemed so overwhelming became hysterically funny. I got down on the floor with him, and the two of us scraped up the remains between tears of laughter. My equilibrium had resurfaced.