About hundred years ago, before the invention of electricity, I lived in Jennings, Missouri, a sleepy town in north St. Louis County.
I lived a lonely sort of childhood, with only a few friends. I found myself ridiculed often, imitated, derided, by the cruelest of judges, other children. Adults shook their heads and patted my shoulder. My brothers suffered scrape after scrape defending me. I often lay in bed at night, engaging in a running dialogue with myself, a mantra designed to encourage myself to get through each day bravely, like a soldier, like a tough girl, like a good sport.
Life terrified me.
I’ve written before about the dares I endured at my own bidding. I dared myself to walk down the aisle at school to make a presentation. I challenged myself to learn to jump rope. I phoned boys when even the prettiest girl of the 1960s Catholic Elementary School days would never do that — though of course, they didn’t need to phone boys because the boys went gaga over them. Once, I even forced myself to ask the most popular girl in our 8th grade class to help me play volleyball — and she did, forcing our team, of which she was captain, to let me play in the intramurals. They invented a new rule that let me serve and then rotate out, all because I steeled myself to ask Pat Puzniak to help me, and she had the guts to do it.
But I could not talk myself into jumping across the concrete stairwell that led to our basement. I feared falling; I did not believe my legs would carry me across the three or four foot width, and at age eight or nine, I knew that a fall would bring serious injury. I could not make the leap.
In fifty-nine years, I’ve completely trusted about a dozen people. Many have never let me down. Some have exceeded even my faith in them. A few sucker-punched me. Through all of that, I’ve talked myself into “soldiering on”. And I have. Punch, after punch, after punch. Usually without complaint. And now, tired, hunkering down to gather strength for the home stretch in my year without complaining, I’m digging deep within myself to find the last well of faith, the last spurt of hope, the last germinated seed of something lovely that can bloom if tended with enough care. I’m thinking to myself, To Leap, or Not to Leap, that is the question.
I’m back in the bedroom of my childhood, lying in the dark, listening to the voice in my head encouraging me, urging me to just get through one more day and surely, surely, the effort will pay off. I stand again on the far side of that concrete drop, wondering if my legs will hold or if, maybe, I might fall — and if I fall, will someone catch me?