When I was in grade school, my friend Alanna and I went to the local park. It was the middle of winter, and we were bundled up in down jackets and winter accessories. One of us, I don’t remember who, came up with the bright idea that should walk across the ice to the other side of the lake. It didn’t matter to us that winter that year had not been overly cold, or that the ice might be thin. What mattered was that it was an adventure. It didn’t occur to us when we set out that we might fall through the ice.
At some point in life, I lost my willingness to take risks. I don’t know if it was the fact that I got older, or the fact that life seemed to beat me down every time I stuck my neck out, but I stopped taking chances. I stopped sharing secrets. I think that in losing this piece of myself, I’ve caused myself to feel isolated in so many ways.
Feeling alone in the world is the worst feeling ever. You can be in the middle of a room full of people and feel like even if you screamed at the top of your lungs, they would not acknowledge you. They would turn away. I am always pleasantly surprised when a person I meet challenges this view. I am always pleasantly surprised when I myself can take risks, when I can find that little girl again.
I had an experience that I didn’t know how to talk about. And then there was someone else on my scope who had had that same experience. I still didn’t know how to talk about it, but I could write.
That’s exactly what I did. When I was done, I had this thought. What if I let somebody read it? What if I let someone in? What if I made a legitimate connection?
When we first set foot on the ice, my feet almost slid out from under me. Alanna did fall. We laughed as if it was the most hilarious thing ever, and then I helped her up. We linked elbows and started across the ice, one tiny step after another.
Too much Red Bull had been dumped into my body; I was a ball of nerves. I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet, Energizer bunny style. “Have you read it yet?” As she sat in the chair with her iPad in her lap, I towered over her.
“I started it, but really, time wise…”
“I know, but…” I shifted from foot to foot and an idea occurred to me. “Just skip to the end. It’s the end of the story that’s the most important. Like, the last two pages.” There was a drive inside me, a push by some invisible force. I needed her to read it. I needed someone to read it, and I was certain she was the only one who would understand.
“I can’t just read the last two pages; how would I know came in the beginning? How would it make any sense?”
It just would, I wanted to say. You would understand. But I didn’t.
I needed someone to know, but I wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud. Just in writing. I didn’t know what this meant in terms of the person I was.
There was a cluster of fishermen on the ice as Alanna and I moved away from the shoreline, crowded around a yellow sign on a tall pole. Thin ice, it read. As we shuffled forward, I remembered a Disney movie I had seen once where the main animal character plunged through the ice and thrashed about in search of rescue. I pictured the ice cracking and splintering under our feet, and the pair of us plunging to our doom with the ice freezing back over on top of us.
We were walking on thin ice. Dangerous.
My greatest concern with the most personal aspects of my life is losing the people that I most respect. There are a lot of things that I keep very close to me, and here I was letting this cat out of the bag, even in the smallest of ways. And waiting. Waiting, and wondering if her opinion would change. If she would think less of me.
So. I read the piece.
I read the message she had sent several times, word by word. I have never been one to take something at face value; I read into everything that is presented to me. I could hear her voice in my head as I read the words, and it occurred to me that she was talking to me in the same way she always had. She knew my darkest secret, but nothing had changed. She still respected me. She wasn’t treating me differently.
I took a risk, and it turned out okay. I learned something. I’m not totally alone.
Alanna and I touched down safely on the other side of the lake, sans any accidents or falls through the ice. Then we turned around and walked back across. It was the most fun I’d had all Christmas break. Of course, we got in quite a bit of trouble when our mothers found out what we did, but all the yelling did not negate that we had had a major victory. We had taken a risk and succeeded.
I’ve been stuck here for months. I feel guilty; I feel like I’m wrong; I feel like a generally shitty person. I’ve hated myself. But the thing about respect is that it acts like a mirror. I took a risk, I shared this secret, and she still respects me. That’s important, because it means that perhaps I can still respect me too.