I loved the jungle gym. The gray steel bars rose up creating a structure that looked like a castle.
I was fascinated by it, but I never climbed it The bars were too slippery, dripping with morning dew, and the gaps between each rung were too big. Reaching up to climb meant letting go of a bar just long enough to give me a queasy feeling that would run from my fingertips to my toes. So, I spent my time on the ground, watching other kids climb.
One day, I had a different idea.
No one was around. I walked toward the jungle gym. My red tennis shoes sunk into the wet sand as I stepped toward the empty structure. I grabbed the bar at chest level, and put my foot on the rung below. With one foot on the ground, I rubbed my shoe back and forth on the metal bar. Maybe this isn’t a good idea, I thought, and I took my foot off the bar. I leaned in and saw on the other side, James White reaching up and starting to climb. Snack time must be over.
Next thing I remember, I was at the top, facing James.
We had reached the top at the same time.
Memory is a strange thing. What we remember. What we don’t. How we remember and why. This is one of my earliest memories I dredged up for the memoir unit I’m writing with my students. When I read this to them, most thought I conquered my fear of heights. But I know it wasn’t that.
I still have a fear of heights. Rollercoaster are a no go. When I worked on the 40th floor of an office building, I had difficulty being near the windows.
I was a cautious kid. What my four-year old self did that day was decidedly out of character. Maybe that’s why I remember. It was so stunningly not me.