Who Will Catch Me If I Fall?
Rhonda M. Foote
I was the playground chicken. The girl who always wore dresses and skirts and refused to play kickball. I was the kid with the book under a tree or found sitting on a barely rocking swing while others pumped legs with skill and fervor and flew high into the sky. I imagined my toes touching the breathy branches of a tree like my friends. . . but, only imagined.
My elementary school had two jungle gyms. One was a twist of metal with holes and loops and places to sit. For me, the attraction of this particular jungle gym was to sit in the middle, safely on the ground, and lift my face to the sun while my friends whooped and hollered and swung their feet and heads dangerously close to the ground I sat on. The other was a ladder with a fireman-like pole to slide down once you reached the top. My friends would flit to the top and slide down over and over and over again. I would watch. I didn’t even WANT to do it. I did, however, somewhere deep in my seven-year-old soul, believe I HAD to do it.
It is all a fuzzy blur now. Did someone dare me? Maybe. Maybe not. Did I get a hankering to try to climb up there? I find that impossible to believe. For whatever reason, one spring day, not far from summer vacation, I decided to Climb To The Top. Climb I did. I got to the top. I gingerly made my way to the pole and. . . froze. Tiny hands grasped the cylinder of steel as my toes curled inside my saddle shoes, desperate to hold on to the slippery rail I found myself perched upon. My friends chirped from the grass below. Come down. Slide down. Jump. Come on!
No. This girl was not going to take that step and slide down that pole. Nope. Not happening. Soon, a small group that seemed a mob surrounded the pole. Kids I barely knew were calling for me to come down. They became a blur and one foggy sound as I clung to the steel pole and my teeth shivered.
Someone got the recess aide. “Come down,” she prodded sweetly.
I shook my head, “No.”
“Come down,” she insisted with less sweetness. No. No. Never. Her faced twisted into a look of anger and disappointment. I wrapped my arms against the pole, where my heartbeat echoed and rang in my ears.
After what seemed an eternity, out came the school janitor with an extension ladder. This man’s name is lost to me, but his kindness remains in my heart to this day. He was a wonderful man who loved children, who paused to tie shoes in hallways and pat heads on the way to the bus. He was so good to me, even as I clung to the pole and shook my head negatively at his soft command to reach for him. I was not taking that step. I began to think of my life consisting of this place. This playground. This jungle gym. What would happen when I had to pee? I was getting hungry. Would I miss lunch? How cold and dark would it be tonight? Still, I grasped the silver steel with a seven-year old’s death grip and refused to budge. I remember that our Principal, Mr. Marcott, ended up outside. A tall man, I know now he probably did not need a ladder to extend his arms and rip me from my perch. However, he didn’t interfere, but let the janitor continue his cooing and prodding, watching as the janitor convinced the tiny, scared bird to let go and fly.
I do not remember getting down. I do not know how this kind man talked me down or when I took that big step. I wish I did. I wish I could clearly recall and grasp the importance of that moment. I do not remember the victory of achievement. I only remember the fear of letting go. The belief I would fall. The deep seated, gut wrenching belief that No One Would Ever Catch Me.
I returned to that playground one summer of my collegiate life. The jungle gym looked so small and dauntless. Tentatively, I placed my hands on the top rung with my feet and safely on the ground. I thought about climbing up and jumping and sliding down the pole to safety, but decided against it. After all, I was alone in an empty playground. I had to wonder, who would catch me if I fell?