I was maybe ten or eleven. My feet, dressed in navy blue Keds, dangled over the water. I could see the soles and my dark knee-length socks reflected in the water. I sat on the edge of a pier and found that peaceful part inside myself. It was a part of me that I could only find when I was alone.
I know my family thought I was odd. Sitting on the end of a pier over the calm waters of the Magothy River, I could feel their eyes on my back. From the warm den with its picture window, they wondered about me. They worried about a girl who would choose to sit out in the chilly, overcast March day, Easter no less, than in the warmth with her family.
But I was content here. I was wrapped in my own little world of magic and probabilities. I’m not quite sure what I was dreaming at the time, but a voice interrupted.
I knew the voice wasn’t outside of me. I wasn’t sure if it was me or someone – something else, but I could hear its words very clearly.
“Walk on water.”
“Walk on water.”
I hesitated. How was I supposed to walk on water? Like Jesus. Jesus was a miracle worker. I doubted I was.
“Go on. You can do it.”
The bottom of my feet tingled, right through the soles of my shoes, and my body felt weird. Lighter. The water beckoned, and I wondered if I had finally lost my mind.
I felt like two people in that space between two moments. The breeze froze. Sound halted. Even the gleaming ripples held their place as if caught in a photograph.
I was torn between faith and terror. I knew in a very deep part of myself that this walking-on-water thing was a possibility. I understood on a visceral level that I was able to bend space and time with my thoughts. But was it probable? And what would happen?
My mind raced over the potential fallout. I could fail miserably. I’d sink into the water, floundering and freezing, and end up in the hospital. First the ER and then the sanitarium because I had clearly tried to commit suicide. And I heard voices. Tsk, tsk.
I could succeed. My family would watch me walk to shore, unharmed, dry as a bone, and serene as a perfect, summer day. I would be canonized as a saint by the Pope no less. My grandmother would be so proud. “I made her come to church every Sunday.”
And no one would leave me alone. I would be pursued, hassled, and asked to perform the miracle again and again. Scientists would study me, even want to dissect me, and I would become a ward of the United States government. Perhaps to use as a weapon against Russia.
Either way, I would die inside. I thought of my brothers, alone with the monster that consumed our father and helpless beneath the indifference of our mother. I knew I was all that stood between them and the madness of our home life.
I didn’t want any of it. And as the voice continued to cajole me, I chose to do nothing. Well, I chose to argue with the voice, and this was something I did not do to an authority.
I waited for punishment, for reprobation, and for rejection.
“Why?” was all the voice asked.
“I’m needed here. This is the path I chose.”
I could feel the voice’s silence in my head like a pressure. Weight squeezed me into something small and insignificant. I struggled against the heaviness.
Perhaps I was a coward. Perhaps I had chosen the devil-I-know. I’m sure I did. Fear is a many-splendored prison. But I knew that any way I sliced this bread, all the pieces were stale.
The scrutiny, the concern, and the potential for imprisonment was too great if I chose to act on the voice’s demand. Though I was in a different prison, I knew that eventually, I could escape.
I also knew I had work to do. I had children to raise and words to write. I had dreams to pursue and a life to build. I had my humanity and I had plans to develop it to the highest heights I could reach.
The voice stopped cajoling as it watched the visions that unfolded in my head. I felt the pressure ease and let out a sigh of relief.
“Very well. You have made your choice.”
I blinked. The chilly breeze caressed my cheek. Sound flooded my ears with the lap of water against wood and the call of a hungry seagull. The waves threw muted flashes of light into the dark cavern beneath the pier.
I was alone again. I was sane again. Mostly.
I rose to my feet, dusted off my skirt, and shivered. I had never remembered an experience like that. I had other instances of insanity, but none had made me feel as small and frightened as this one.
I studied my grandparents’ house, which looked like one of the models that Pop Pop would place around his beloved Christmas train garden. On Easter, the garden was carefully stored away for the next Christmas.
I returned to the stifling warmth of family. I picked through the basket of candy I’d been given. I pulled Easter grass from my hair. I argued with my brothers (“Stop touching me!”) as we returned home.
I felt relief as my head hit the pillow. The status quo had been maintained for everyone but me. My brothers were as safe as I could keep them, wrapped in the bliss of ignorance.
Only I was changed forever and to this day, that moment on the pier haunts me.
© 2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.