Once upon a time, I had super powers. A combination of childlike faith and my own superstitions and stubbornness, I could close my eyes and will the lights to go out during a thunderstorm and it was so.
I could (and did) keep my feet from growing beyond a size six, because I cherished my role as the tiny one of the family, the runt of the litter. A size seven simply would not do.
I was able to wake myself from a nightmare by calling upon the name of Jesus and I could heal a sick kitten with fervent intercession.
I stashed lucky pennies in my shoes, wished on falling stars, knocked on wood, threw salt over my shoulder and I prayed. Oh, Lord, how I prayed.
I was small but mighty. A red-headed freckle-faced sorceress in bell bottom blue jeans and a Dorothy Hamill haircut. I beseeched heaven and spoke in tongues.
All summer long I dreamed my secret dreams in hideaways built amongst the towering bales of hay. I believed that one day I would be an artist, and an author, but before that, a junior high cheerleader. I alone had the power to make these wishes come true.
In the freshly plowed fields I found treasures of milk glass and geodes, iron pyrite and Indian arrowheads. I ran through the corn fields until I was dizzy and lost, always magically finding my way back to the grass waterway that led to home. I made boats out of milkweed pods and raced them on the tumbling creek at dusk, imagining them sailing all the way to the sea. I hunkered down with hardback books in my tree house with no fear, high in the weeping willow, where no demons could harm me, where no dark creatures of the night would dare tread.
As I grew older, it was more difficult to find four-leaf clovers, and I saw fewer shooting stars. There were kittens who died and cheerleading tryouts that ended in humiliation. There were boys who chose others over me, and art contests that resulted in last place. There were tense supper table conversations and slammed doors and a hard, dark knot in my belly.
But I had one super power that no one knew about. I could run. One day I would simply go to another place, anyplace, anywhere but here. There, wherever there was, I would do and be anything I wanted.
I was always good at running. In my mind, I simply fled what didn’t suit me. I pretended and imagined and denied the scary monsters in my closet or sitting on the living room couch. If I didn’t like the way things were, I simply chose not to believe it. As an adult, I changed jobs, cities and boyfriends whenever that dark knot flared up, when the burn rose to my throat. For a long time running worked.
When I moved to Nashville I was caught up with a chaotic young man I couldn’t seem to let go of. So I lay prostrate on the floor of my cruddy South Nashville apartment and cried out to God, to the heavens, drawing on all the powers of the universe, to set me free. Within two weeks he had taken a job on the other side of the country. Gone.
I fell in love immediately with a perfect man who was beautiful and talented and kind and as good at dreaming and making believe as I was. My powers, it seemed, were back.
My marriage was pristine, a perfectly round bubble, floating on a powder blue sky. It was iridescent and it was effortless. Weightless and serene. Eighteen years of peace.
There were no highs, no lows. No fights, no ecstasy. Just two people, clinging together, protecting each other from the world, banishing sadness and struggle, conflict and disappointment, anger and rage to somebody else’s marriage. It was eighteen years of running in place.
For almost two decades I drifted in a state of suspended animation, the wound in my belly forgotten. I had agreed to this trouble-free union, an arrangement in which my spirit could not soar but it also could not fall.
Or so I thought.
One August morning, in the wee hours before dawn, the bubble burst. I went to sleep cloaked and sedated, warm and well fed, swaddled, safe and dry. When I woke, it was to the harsh reality that nearly two decades of my life had been only a dream.
Suddenly there were falling fragments all around me, littering the floor, piercing my flesh, breaking my bones, producing pulsing gullies of sorrow from my veins. The ache in my belly rose throughout my body and I was rendered powerless: huddled and spent, naked and unprotected, lost.
I could not, for all my efforts, summon my super powers to save me. They simply did not work. Magic could not exorcise my grief. Stubbornness and faith could not erase my sadness and fear, I could not will away my shame.
And so, without meaning to, or perhaps on purpose, I let go of everything I knew and freefell – freefell into the piercing, terrifying light.
The light burns less than it used to. I’m starting to believe that it’s ok how things turned out, and am slowly realizing that I’m stronger than I ever knew, super powers or not.
I still believe that anything is possible, that I can be somebody special in this life. That we all can be.
The hardest part is waking up.
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