One afternoon when I was barely 6, I was watching my favorite television show, Rootie Kazootie. As the credits rolled at the end of the half hour, an adult voice came on and said that we had just seen the end of poor Rootie; the show had been canceled. Devastated, I locked myself in the closet where I had spent many happy hours with my glow-in-the-dark Rootie Kazootie button. I cried and carried on until my mother finally coaxed me out. "Honey," she said, wiping the tears from my face, "you've lost your equilibrium."

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.


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