by Ashley Beth
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” James Michael Barry
“This is how you’ve been imprinted to use your relationship to power–to use it against yourself.” -John Trudell
There comes a time, in every developing mind when dreams and expectations of the future start to become visualized and hoped for. Take a Kindergarten class. If you ask a class of five year-olds what they want to be when they grow up—well, we all know the backlash that occurs when women generally generalize, but, come on—in a class of twenty Kindergartners you usually hear the term firefighter, police man (too soon?) or astronaut at least once. At least. Usually more. It is these very aspects of the pure, undiscouraged Hope that contributes to the description we often ascribe to five year olds; precious.
As in precious antique, as in precious stones, as in—an invaluable, priceless good that is entirely, well, unfucked with you could say. Because antiques, gems and Hopes born in the limitless, spiritual lucidity of childhood are almost always fucked with. The same is true of childhood aspirations.
We all start off on this Earth free from discouragement with a fresh, hopeful mind. A main pillar of the innocence of childhood is the belief that one can do anything. When we see a child, especially a child related to us, express their mentalities, we react in a touched, tender method. These expressions are usually accompanied with the encouraging phrase, “You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.” It’s a tool, a phrase told often to children by the adults who want to place a preservative bubble around that unabashed Belief in their own individual Power.
Remember the feelings of invincibility when you were a child? You believed you could do anything you wanted and often tried to. You could run around and skip and jump anywhere. You could cartwheel, you could climb rocks. You could be an artist!!! Especially on the dining room wallpaper (fuck ittttttt) or run the neighborhood tadpole rescue in your garage. (Back when we *saved* toads before licking them. You sick, sick, bastards.) However, at some point in our maturity, we started using the words ‘can’t’ more often. Maybe the ‘can’t’ came from bullies. Or judgmental peers. Our parents (ironically). Or worse—ourselves. Our own inner fears are more powerful than we can ever realize. And in fact, we don’t realize it. We won’t realize it until all the opportunities we have to do something are gone, cemented firmly and infinitely in the Past—and darlin’—there ain’t enough Prozac in the world for that shit.
I remember my own childhood fondly and very well. I remember it down to details that, when recalled to my Mother , she cannot believe I remember. I remember noticing the difference between what my childhood peers and myself could do—and what adults thought they could do. Examples: going into the pool at a summer barbecue, jumping off the high dive or going sledding. So many times I would ask the adults to join me in one of the funnest things ever! They would say no. Somehow, I understood that through self-consciousness, poor muscle flexibility or otherwise—these adults accompanying me in this universally pleasurable activity felt they could no longer enjoy the same delights as childhood.
It was at that point that I started to make a mental note to myself to remember to preserve the feelings of invincibility and fun that I possessed as a child throughout my journey into adulthood. I wasn’t always consistent. There were plenty of times in my life when I felt I could not fly. In fact, for the majority of my twenties I had forgotten. I had forgotten how to fly. It wasn’t until I completely followed that forgetful fear of flying that I realized this type of mentality was never going to get me anywhere. No. Nowhere but the floor of my bathroom, wrapped in a bathrobe, in the fetal position, as I cried hysterically whilst trying to control everyone else around me.
“Oh hi, linoleum.”
Slowly, surely, step by step, millimeter by fucking millimeter, I started to conquer my fears.
It started with quitting my job.
Right before that meeting which was to take place in the afternoon, I broke up with my boyfriend over lunch. For the past six months of my bathrobe-cloaked, verbal abuse via telephone misery, the very possible concept of losing both my employer and my lover had been terrifying to me. My anxiety-prone brain went with its default, destructive trouble shooting technique, that is, ruminating on the reality of the fears, in hopes of somehow being able to defunct them. Naturally, it would not be until the fears and the thoughts with which I was trying to defunct them had worn such a pathway in my self-traumatizing anxiety thought ways that it no longer mattered what was reality or not anymore. Between me and the cool, unforgiving linoleum, there was not much room for anything else. The fear of losing my job and my boyfriend kept me chained there. I was weighted to rock bottom as the while of my world splashed above me in the lively rays of a sun that I hadn’t seen for days.
In the end, the solution was simple. Crush the fear. Breathe deeply. Break the chain.
So there I was, a 27 year old with a rent payment, a car payment, about $100K in student loan and credit card debt, and I had just quit my job. Ok, toxic, confidence-eating, Tyrannosaurus Rex of a paycheck killed and conquered. Next was to vanquish the codependent, alcohol-focused relationship with a man saturated in the world of self-destructive behavior. A relationship that I had at one point clung to with all the ferocity of Scorpion possession—only to realize later that what I thought was a raft was actually an albatross. Albeit, an albatross who would bear witness to some of my most painstaking steps to self-assurance and confidence.
One of the most memorable steps towards confidence I committed in front of him occurred during the ride back from my friend’s wedding on Lake Winnipesaukee. We had stopped for a liberating, pee-in-the-woods break off New Hampshire Route 16, just south of Conway. While peeing I had spotted a path. My conscience saw no reason to deny my inner child though my inner adult was so goddamned miserable, so curiosity won and I followed the path to a rushing river. The river had moderate rapids going over small dips as the water descended down from the White Mountains. There were calmer spots of clarity where the water’s rapid path was disrupted by a string of boulder rocks which led away from the shore on which I stood, back to the center of the river, where a giant, Papa Bear boulder stood calmly, beautifully, defiantly in the center of the water.
Without much consideration for being barefoot or the fact that I was naked besides the long-sleeved, thigh-reaching, made-in-Thailand sun dress which I bought in one of the last remaining hippy boutiques on San Francisco’s Haight Street, I stepped onto the first, flat rock of the boulder chain, and then, I began to Hop. Hop, skip, lean, whoa, slippery rock, check, foot once, foot twice, put some weight on the foot, does the foot slide? No. Ok. Step over water onto rock. Gain balance. Deep breathe. Ok. Next rock. Let’s see, is it flat enough with no tipping factor? Observe, observe, go for it——HOP! Deep breathe. Ok, ok, next rock. Hmmm, more of a stretch of the legs. Thank goodness the water level’s so low, this would be impossibly dangerous if ‘twas wet underfoot.
As I hopped from rock to rock, the feelings of childhood returned to me. The sun-warmed stone beneath my feet. The elastic power returning to my muscles fibers. I was remembering my childhood hope and confidence. I was starting to remember everything. When I got to the climaxing, Papa Bear boulder, I stopped. Stretched. Did some yoga. Looked around. Looked down.
I spotted a rock. A big, flat rock. About two feet from the base of the Papa Bear rock on which I stood. By that time, my boyfriend joined me on the rock. Silently, like he always did, he read the inside of my mind by observing the outside.
“You want to jump onto that rock, don’t you?” he asked me. He asked me in the same tone as he would have asked me the question “You want to slam that speedball into your wrist, don’t you?”
“Don’t.” He maturely cautioned me. “Don’t do it.”
It was one of the only times of our entire relationship where I would not verbally dissent to what he was saying. But I still didn’t take his advice.
I remained quiet as I figured out how I would jump onto the rock. Expecting and almost understanding my stubbornness, my then-boyfriend turned to hop his way back towards the shore. Later he would tell me he went to the shore to be in a better position to rescue me when I inevitably injured myself from trying to jump on the rock. I mean….talk about being confident in your mate, right there. Sigh. At least I got to keep the took the pictures of me standing there.
In fact, he had looked down to untie his shoes to start swimming when I finally jumped. I did it. I jumped. After about forty minutes of thinking about it. Studying the slope of the rock’s surface, anticipating the amount of balance I would need to not fall backwards, hitting my head on the way down to freezing river rapids which would be heard to swim against with a strain or sprained ankle, I jumped. I jumped perfectly. I jumped before he had a chance to see it.
I landed on the rock with both feet firmly planted, and my calves stinging. They stung so bad I had to sit down. But the exhilaration and adrenaline coursing through me gave me clearer focus than years of prescribed stimulants ever did. Suddenly, I had confidence again. I remembered my confidence. I had ceased to doubt myself. I had remembered. I remembered, Peter!
This self-affirmation stuck with me the whole ride back to Bangor. It stayed with me. It explained to me the reason why I had just made those jumps. It helped me to remember I was the type of woman with such a strong inner compass that I could discover pathways that others could not see, that I could open doors that others could only bang against. I had not fallen from love or solid employment. I had not been cast out of Eden as my demons and several jealous women downtown would have liked me to believe. I had jumped. I had jumped from a burning, collapsing building. All of a sudden, the inevitable conversational ‘update’ I had with each member of my support system, had taken a turn from sadness to victorious defiance.
All of a sudden, the primary word in my word cloud changed from crazy to brave. Brave fit me better than crazy. Quite honestly, any word will feel better to anyone than crazy. Crazy isn’t a word people keep in their head to factor in their relationships with themselves. Crazy is a word people keep in their head to factor in their relationships with the dissent of the world around them. In that vein, sure, I still kept the word crazy. After all, it is crazy to walk away from a six figured salary. Then again, it was also crazy to cross the country in a painted bus while tripping on acid. It was crazy to start a book with the line “We were just outside of Barstow when the drugs began to take hold.” So maybe I was crazy. So what? If the golf shoe fits, well, I guess I’d be in good company. And in need of waiting for someone to tell me about the fucking golf shoes.
“Hi. Is this the crazy bar? The one where people live against the grain? Where people burn their baggage to kickstart their trail blazing? Where people break down to get to the ultimate, artistic, breakthrough? It is? Great. Okay, Kesey, Wolfe, Thompson, move over guys. You too, Patch Adams. And Amanda Palmer. And Endless Delirium. “Now, passive aggressive barkeep, Ima need three glasses. A water, a diet pepsi and an IPA. I need a good honest buzz and nothing delivers that faster than a brew designed to keep British man ravaging India with their trading company with a bacteria-free buzz.”
There I was. Sittin’ upon a barstool in a bar on the dock of the benign world of art and pain and suffering and the creation therein. I got comfy and sidled up with all the laid-back charm of a girl who wanted to be accepted as a regular. After all, I still hadn’t figured out the best way to channel the pain of the past year’s breakdown into an object I could admire outside my own head. I still had to expectorate the lump of dead hopes and mucus membrane cells of a bad virus of a life plan. But every second I sat on that stool, I felt my inner glow returning to me. Pretty soon I was nothing but my old, hopeful, sunny-side-up self, with a halo of confidence around my path. When my concerned, employed friends asked me what I was doing with my life I replied, “Making life happiness from scratch.” Then I would ask them how their therapy appointments were going.
I felt like I had a secret. A secret to happiness, that no one else around me could have. I felt like a character from the novel ‘The Giver’ or M. Night Shamalan’s ‘The Village,’ who had risked pushing past the boundary of their civilization. Only to discover that it was beautiful out here. Out in the open ocean during the hurricane of life’s quest for sustainable happiness. I was no longer tethered to the employment dock as the hurricane waves smashed me head first into the sand. Nope. I was out to sea riding the waves like a badass fucking mermaid. I was swimming. I just kept swimming. I was on my way.
What is astounding to me, once I was well on my way to confidence and self-assurance and self-love was how many people immediately tried to bring about consequences for my own self-love. Everywhere I went, expressed in the form of dissenting Facebook comments and vicious female jealousy, came the message from the world that I was not allowed to love myself. That the inner-power I was wisely embracing was “intimidating to others” and that I should just sssssssstop it! Cut it out. Stop being so obnoxious. It was as if I was that guy in the ‘one person dancing alone in a crowd’ phenomenon where the one person dancing whilst surrounded by people not dancing at first is feared, criticized and finally provoking the entire crowd to wind up dancing with him. Except I wasn’t dancing. I was daring to love myself in a society of identity theft protection, armored Hummer police forces and backlashes against women who used their own, reversible lens technologies to preserve pictures of themselves feeling beautiful.
Anyways, squirrel. The point I am trying to make is that after achieving one of the highest achievements in academia, dating eligible bachelor’s such as son-of-a-PhD man and trust fund daredevils and doing it all with a loving family, enviable blonde hair and a smile that suggests I had my whole life handed to me on a silver platter (it wasn’t), I lost it. I lost everything. I had to. I had to jump. I had to leap from the swinging, Edgar Allen Poe scythe pendulum that oscillated from the happiness that such life traits bring and the downward-spiralling despair of losing all of it, one by one, until you don’t even have Your Shadow anymore.
I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the Edge. I didn’t go over. I was close, though. I was sliding towards it like a sailor does down a deck covered with hurricane sea foam. But I caught myself. Or should I say, my inner child caught myself. That little girl who would look at me from behind my looking glass, in my sparkle jellie sandals and rainbow polk-a-dot leggings. That little girl who believed in herself. Who made promises to herself to never hurt herself. To never let herself be hurt. Especially not by boys. She was better than boys. She knew that. She knew she needed to beat them at their own game. She needed to run fast to surpass them. She knew she would. She knew she would grow to be a woman who would be awed and criticized. She knew she would break away from the crowd. She even knew, strangely for a child, that there was an Edge out there, and that just like Death, she had an inevitable appointment with it. She knew that. She knew it all.
She just didn’t know how eerily quiet it would be once she got there. Quiet on the outside. A high-pitched, high-frequency, self-destructive hum in the other. “You’ve swum out too far,” her demons would whisper. “You’re in too deep. Way over your head. And now, it’s over. You’ve reached the end of the game. The bottom of the ice cream pint. The last of your monthly income. Why didn’t you save it, stupid girl? Why did you have to use it up all at once? Why did you quit that nice job. Oh look, another missed call from a debt collector. Remember when you used to have money, Ashley? Remember when you used to have a guaranteed man in your bed? Remember when you used to be safely tethered to the dock, rocking sure, but rocking in the same rhythm as everyone else? Was it really that bad? Were weekly therapy and psychiatry appointments that bad? You were smashing the shore, sure, but we have lidocaine for that. Topical anesthetics. We have meds for everything. You know that, Ashley. You should know that. Your parents were so proud of you. Now they’re worried about you. You used to fit inside a nice, obedient little tax-paying box. Now, look at you. You’re so much to handle you don’t even fit within most people’s newsfeeds. Why don’t you just give up now. Turn back. Get a cramp. Find a field of poppies and fall asleep. Yes, poppies. Poppies will make you sleep. They’re coming for you. They’re coming to get you. And your little self-confidence too. This is the end. You’re Bruce Willis hanging from a noose in a hotel room in Sin City. It’s over.”
And the next thing I know, I was pumping my legs, iPad in hand, filming my feet as they swung above the sands in a playground where I used to know myself. I was slithering my tush off the comforting swaddle of the leather swing-seat. Right outta the swaddle. Right towards the edge. Because the Edge is the only place I feel comfortable. The Edge is that Happy, Safe place I go to where all of the anxieties of failing in life and despairing my inner spirit have already happened. It’s all behind me. It’s all gone. Even the Fear is gone. In fact, this is the only way to get the Fear to be Gone.
You see, living with Fear will never protect us from the anxieties of our spirits. They say anxiety does not stop Death, it stops Life. It makes sense. We cannot escape Death. We have not been baptized in the River Styx. We are not invincible. We are vulnerable. We are Fearful of things happening. Yet constantly worrying enough to assure ourselves our greatest Fears will never happen. We have to accept that our Fears may all inevitably happen. We all are at risked to be Fucked. Harboring, nursing and gently stroking our Fears will not stop things from happening to us. It will not get Fear to leave our nest.
No. The only way to approach fear is with the wisdom of Shakespeare. If Fear be Rough with us, be Rough with Fear. Squeeze it. Jack it. Twist it. Grip that Fear by its tightly wounded, anxiety ridden, fiber-thin strings and race straight towards the precipice of our anxious minds. Giving Fear the ride of its Life. Foot on the gas pedal, off to join Thelma, Louise and all those other crazy Laura Palmer’s out there. Out there behind the Red Velvet Curtain. Out there over the Edge. It’s such an exhilarating moment, truly, that I’m fantasizing about it again right now.
I’m running. The elasticity returning. The lightness in my chest lifting. Bracing my legs for the jump…