This is a short story I wrote several years ago. I thought I might share it here. Let me know what you think! 🙂
I stood on the edge of a bridge; where my simple dream began. I could often be found perched precariously, with a skinny leg wrapped around a steel support pole and a hand grasping a cord above me. I would swing over the edge of the structure, suspended in air. The windy days were my favorite, because it would toss my pale hair and tug at my shirt, giving me the illusion of rushing through the sky. The air would move around me, shaping itself to my body that was speeding through time and space within the confines of my young imagination.
As long as I could remember, I had wanted to fly. Watching television, I was mesmerized by the cartoon characters that could soar in the skies. Superman and Batman, who could fly with only the aid of a flimsy cape, entranced me. I vowed that someday, I too, would fly.
When my brother, Travis, went into the Air Force, I discovered a real life hero. He would write to tell me about his training and what new things he had learned about being a pilot. Through the years of his absence, the letters from around the world became the lifeline to my dream. I would race home from school to check the basket inside the front door of our house, to see if he had sent me a new letter. If there was a foreign envelope, I would shriek with joy and run up the stairs to my room. I would sit on my bed and open the letter carefully. Savoring each word to myself, I would read it over and over as he described the feeling of flying with the birds. My older brother was my best friend and the only person that knew of my dream to be a pilot.
My fascination grew with the years and I began to lay my secret plans to become a pilot in my brother’s footsteps. Knowing my parents would never approve, I kept it to myself. I sent for enlistment information and began studying the tests I would take to become a pilot. I read all the books I could get my greedy hands on that talked about the science of flying an airplane. I finally completed the papers and sent them, telling the local recruiter I would be in on my birthday. I circled the happy day on my calendar, the day I would turn eighteen and I could take myself down to the recruiting office and sign my name.
The days seemed to pass like molasses, plodding and drudging along. Each hour seemed an eternity until I could give my soul to the air. I became impatient. My Mother said I was acting strangely and often watched me close enough to be my shadow. I would just hug her close and tell her I loved her and that everything was okay, I was just growing up. She would get teary-eyed, as emotional women tend to do and would leave me alone until it once again occurred to her that I was ‘acting strangely’.
The eighteenth celebration of my birth was finally upon me. I had planned to be up and gone before anyone was aware of what I was doing. Rising early and making my way to the kitchen, I was surprised to see my parents already there. They were sitting together, with some papers on the table before them. They spoke quietly to each other, and I heard them say my name. Standing still in the doorway, I waited for them to notice me. My Mother raised her head and I could see she had been crying.
I stood in silence, waiting for one of them to speak. My Father took a slow breath and blew it out. My Mother’s eyes were so sad, defeated, like she had to finally give up on something she had worked so hard for. Carefully, my Father arranged the papers in front of him and looked up at me. With a hand that had both swatted and comforted me, he motioned to the chair across from him and my Mother.
I don’t remember walking to the chair; don’t recall pulling it out and sitting down. The exact moment of his speech does not replay in my fragmented memories of that day, that morning. I don’t remember what he was wearing or whether he had brushed his hair or not. The words are what keep tumbling around, bouncing off the sides of my skull and knocking against one another in my mind, making a terrible clatter that I could not quiet. His pity and my Mother’s sympathy, as if I were a mentally handicapped child trying to perform calculus, were what struck me the hardest. I had always believed that I could do anything and this was the first time that I learned I was the only one who thought that way.
Moving my auburn eyes from my Father’s face to my Mother, time slowed. A tear, moving without sense of time and gravity, slid down the soft cheek of her face. Her eyes, blue like the sky, were temporarily masked by her sooty lashes, reminding me of a storm cloud covering the summer sky. All at once, I could hear their breathing, see their chests rising and falling with each intake of breath. The tear fell onto the paper in front of her, splashing on the ink like a huge drop of rain in a small pool of motor oil.
“You know you can’t, right?” Her soft question exploded on me like the bomb at Hiroshima, shattering my dream into a thousand shards of glass. The tear was joined by more. They were pouring down her face now. Her shoulders shook and she covered her face with a slim hand, her diamond wedding rings flashing in the light of the overhead lamp.
I just looked at them blankly. Hoping and praying they were not saying what I knew they were. I opened my mouth and closed it again, without uttering a sound. My eyes stung and the proverbial lump clumped in my throat. I swallowed, bit my lip and continued to stare at them. Waiting for one of them to say plainly what I was dreading.
“They called us. Told us you sent in the paperwork to . . .” he paused, swallowed and continued, “to be a . . . a pilot.”
I just looked at him. The words entering my ears were not registering. They were sounds, fighting with the pounding waves of my despair, to be heard. I pushed the lump down again, wanting him to smile and laugh and tell me there was some mistake, that this was a birthday prank. His lips pressed tightly together, a sign that he was not pleased. He lowered his eyes to the papers on the table top. He took another deep breath. Exhaling, he brought his eyes up to meet mine and I was startled to see there were tears there. Those tears in my Father’s eyes, said all that he could not. They didn’t believe I could do it. They didn’t believe in me.
Suddenly, I was running from the house. My Father’s shout followed me into the front yard, but was lost in the rushing sound of the wind in my ears. My feet pounded the pavement, carrying my wretched body onward. Looking down, I cursed, seeing the source of my sadness. The genetic deformity that would not allow me to fulfill my dreams. The leg that was not a leg at all. It worked fine, carrying me further and further from the words that were never said, but echoed in my mind. They had created a leg for me where one had not grown, a false limb. Using new technologies that were still being tested, they had given me the gift of movement by attaching the metal to my bone. I could walk, run, and dance. I could do anything anyone born with two legs could do and probably better, but I could not do this. I could not be a pilot. Would never be a pilot. The reality of my broken dream burst like a ruptured vessel in my chest. The coldness spread through my body like a web of despair.
I ran onward, letting my tears fall freely. The speed of my movement splashed the tears along my cheeks like the rain in a storm, splattering against unforgiving panes of glass. I did not notice where I was going until I was there. I slowed my pace; my breath was coming in ragged gasps. I leaned over, hands on my knees, one knobby and one metal, gaining my breath once more. I straightened, and walking to the bridge, I stood as close to the edge as I could get. I wrapped my leg around a steel support pole and grasped the cord that hung down above me. Breathing easy now, I closed my eyes, swinging out over the empty space where the wind could dry my tears and I could fly.