There was a house down the road from my parents’ that was brick and worn. The stairs leading up to the porch were painted and the flecks peeled and made intricate patterns like those in some Islamic temple. Layers of red, green, brown, and black peeled away and showed the house’s age. The porch seemed to be miles off the ground and also showed the same wear. Kids perched on the concrete ledge that surrounded the front of the structure. The house amazed me because there was always an abundance of kids on the porch. As an adult I now realize that this was a house that multiple families were living in and I picture kids on bunk beds and asleep on pallets made by their mothers. I didn’t understand poverty as a child; my parents shielded me from knowing how little money even our own family had. I lived a blissfully unaware existence.
On this one particular day the older kids were standing on the ledge, counting to five and jumping off. I watched in amazement as each kid jumped. Some held hands and jumped in tandem, while others jumped alone and screamed “Geronimo!” at the top of their lungs. They each seemed so brave and the ledge seemed so far from the ground. I watched from a safe distance and tried to make myself disappear into the red brick.
“Heather, jump,” one kid called.
“No, no I can’t.”
“Are you a chicken?” the oldest boy called back.
The answer was yes. I was deeply afraid to jump off that ledge, but in true peer pressure fashion I climbed up and stood on the railing. It felt as though I was 12 feet in the air and I could feel the wind in my hair. I scooted closer to the edge and looked down. The ground was a dark brown and only small patches of grass shot out. My blue Kmart tennis shoes inched closer to the edge and I had the knowledge that if I backed down I could never return to the house.
“Well jump then,” the boy mocked.
I paused and sucked in my breath. If I didn’t jump they would laugh. If I did jump I was obviously going to die. So the choice was made, I jumped. I would have rather faced death than face the ridicule of that neighborhood boy. I fell for what felt like forever, and when I finally landed, my left foot turned slightly in. The blue Kmart shoe was smudged with the rich dirt and the tread of the right shoe was caked with the gook. I had jumped.
“Do it again,” the boy challenged.
So again I jumped; this time I didn’t linger quite as long on the edge. I leapt and my windbreaker flared out behind me.
And I jumped.
And I jumped until my hands were black with dirt. The knees of my Pretty Plus jeans were caked with muck. I jumped and it became easier. The weightlessness of the fall left my stomach feeling airy. I wanted to please him and I thought I had. The desire to be accepted goes back to the beginning of time. Cain and Abel probably dared each other to climb the tree of knowledge. Maybe Cain would climb and hang upside down by his knees calling down to Abel, telling him what a chicken (this would presume that the chicken came before the egg) he was. My adventure at the brick house wasn’t over just yet.
“Wanna, see a trick?” I knew something was up almost immediately. I was young and naïve, but I also had a bullshit meter even as a child. “Ever had someone crack an egg on your head?” I knew the egg trick; you make a fist and put it on the top of a person’s head. You then “crack” the egg by tapping the fist and then you spread your hands down their hair to make it feel like yoke running down. I walked closer to him and he placed his fist on my head. With a yard SMACK he busted a real egg on my head. I burned with pain and humiliation. My Dorothy Hamil was sticky with egg white and yoke. I started to cry and ran back home. In our backyard I picked the shell out of my hair, piece by piece.
I never told my parents about that day. I was ashamed of my desire to please the older boy and embarrassed that I had been duped. My dad would have walked to the aging brick house and yelled in my honor, because he was my dad and he loved me. So now I sit and think about what came of that boy. I doubt that he even remembers that day. He probably has a wife and kids and spends his free time playing Xbox. Maybe he lives in a brick house and his kids spend their late afternoons jumping from a high porch railing. I don’t think he was a bully or mean spirited; I think he was just an older kid trying to impress boys that were even older than him. I wish I could find him (I don’t even remember his name) so I could tell him that I remember that day in strange detail. I remember the smell of the dirt on my hands and I can still feel the way the egg ran down my hair. I can still feel the heat in my angry embarrassed face. I would tell him that what he did hurt the feelings of a chubby girl with glasses and a questionable hairstyle. I would also tell him that I am glad I jumped that day. He made me do something I was scared to do.
I am glad I jumped.