We All Fall Down
Cherry red and the not-quite-yellow-or-orange color of papaya crosshash the view of my father and his camera, doing nothing to impede the skrish-click sound of him winding the film and snapping a photo. The colorful net looks like it was woven of seatbelts; the straps are wider than my foot, the square spaces between them wide enough for my body but not my diaper, and if I don't keep my feet too close together, both won't fall through the same hole anyway.
Even if I do fall, my dad will catch me. The holes are not why tears burn in my eyes, not why my face is so twisted in that picture.
The straps' hard edges dig into my stubby fingers as I grip the net. This is also not what's making me cry.
At the next plastic ring supporting this net tunnel just above my dad's six-foot-high head, my mom's behind blocks the entire view, her aqua-colored capris brighter than the San Antonio summer sky. That is what fills me with worry.
This playground is not for grownups. She'll make it all fall down. We'll smash dad, and his camera will get broken. Everyone will be mad.
No one understands this. They keep suggesting other things and holding their arms out to me, but that's not what I mean when I say, "Get off."
If I move, everything will fall.
This is my first memory, the bright colors, sharp textures, logic and terrifying conclusion that form this snapshot. I would have no idea where it happened or how old I was except that I saw the picture a few years ago. Apparently I was 8 months old, and we were at Sea World. My mom did not break anything, nor did anyone figure out what my problem was.
I used to believe...
As a small child figuring out the world, I believed in several misconceptions, such as:
Handicapped spaces were meant for those who badly needed to use the restroom.
This belief sprung from my interpretation of the symbol on the sign. I didn’t see a person in a wheelchair. No, it was an old man on a toilet. This conclusion was seemingly backed up by the fact that this symbol also appeared on the restroom doors and even on select stalls.
This belief was debunked sometime around age four, when my brother, who believed the same because I had told him and who was in desperate need of the restroom at the moment, tried to get our grandfather to park there because that was what the space was for. Our grandfather’s face twisted in confused amusement as he processed the thought and came up with a way to explain the truth.
All while my brother still really needed to go.
I still think “Restroom Emergency Parking Spaces” would be a good idea, though I don’t really know how it would be enforced. Maybe like those “for parents with sick children” or “for expecting mothers” spaces, which basically run on the honor system and fear of the shame of others judging you. Aside from the knowledge that you’re taking up that space when someone might need it more than you, the biggest deterrent from just parking there anyway is the momentary embarrassment when someone catches you returning to your car, clearly not pregnant or with a sick kid. And they just look at you. That’s it.
So maybe the fear of being looked at and judged as, “Oh, that person almost wet their pants,” might work?
There was a secret button somewhere in your house that might destroy your neighbor’s house in the name of crime prevention.
This was a result of those “Neighborhood Crime Watch” signs. Several versions of the sign exist, but the one I refer to had a big eyeball on it. The white sclera was almond shaped, there was no iris, and the round, black pupil was in one corner. No, naturally, I didn’t see it as an eye. It was a comet. The pupil was the rock part, and the sclera the tail.
We still lived in a particular town, so I had to be under three, and we passed this sign every time we entered our neighborhood. I asked my father about the sign because I thought it was a spot for watching comets like my mother’s uncle did with his big telescope and awesome star maps. Dad explained that the sign meant neighbors were watching each other’s houses to make sure no one suspicious tried to break in and steal stuff.
So what did that have to do with a comet?
Well, Dad didn’t answer that part, so a theory just formed and stuck in my head for a long time with very little actual basis. Thanks to a comet being on the neighborhood crime watch sign, I believed that if you noticed something strange going down at your neighbor’s house, you were supposed to press this secret button hidden somewhere within your own home. In response, a comet would come down and smash the perp…and probably your neighbor’s house.
That’s why they didn’t tell kids where this button was. It was too much responsibility.
Because of this belief, I was always very careful never to look suspicious.
This is an awful idea, and no one should ever implement it as a legit security system…even if it would be an effective deterrent for crime.
Just imagine a court room setting. The judge requests the jury’s verdict and sentence.
“Guilty, Your Honor. We recommend the defendant be smashed by a space-borne object.”
Not the lamest way to go, I suppose.
As a side note, the neighborhood crime watch sign by my grandma’s house had an orange background with a silhouette of a “thief.” Therefore, if you were to approach me wearing a hat and trench coat like a P.I. in an old crime novel, I probably would match you to the silhouette and think you are the bad guy.
We all had a word count limit.
Yep, I thought everyone had a set number of words they could utter in their lifetime. If you used up all your words, you could no longer say anything.
This came from time spent visiting nursing homes, where many elderly ones sat in random places and didn’t make a peep. At first, I thought they had used up all their words and couldn’t say anything anymore, but then one day one of them told me she liked my red dress. Coupling this revelation with the death of another resident, my theory reshaped. They weren’t quiet because they had run out of voice; they were saving what little they had left for truly important moments. When you used your last word, you ceased to exist.
Now, one would think since I truly believed this, it would have shown in my actions. I would have saved my words, but nope. I was a very chatty little kid.
I philosophically pondered this concept for years, worried that I talked too much, that I would use up my voice before I reached twenty. I wondered if everyone had the same word count limit, or if some were born with more words to spare, just like some people were taller. Was there any way around the count? What if I spoke fast, smashing my words together? What about the ones I only wrote and never said aloud?
At age six, I was laughed at for expressing such questions, and though I know it’s not true, this concept still niggles at the back of my mind sometimes. What if we did only have a limited amount of words to speak in our lifetime? Would we choose our words more carefully? Would we save them for conveying what really matters?
And then I write 200,000+ word novels.
Meanwhile, in the children’s department at the library...
Kid on computer: Look, Mommy, an elephant.
Mom: Oh, I see. What are you supposed to do with him?
Kid: It’s a girl elephant!
Mom: How can you tell?
Kid points indignantly at screen.
Mom: Ah, the eyelashes.
An elevator tried to eat me last evening. Don’t believe me? My hands still shake at the mention of that mechanical beast, but I’ll try to weave the tale for you.
I arrived at work, clocked in, and as I was assigned to man a desk on the top floor and the stairs were halfway across this Noah’s Ark-sized building, I headed for the much closer elevator. Like normal, I entered the mobile cube, pressed the button for my destination, and watched the chrome doors distort my reflection as they closed. Like normal, the floor rose.
A buzz like that usually accompanied by the words, “This is a test of the American Broadcast System,” assaulted my ears, and the elevator stopped. Slowly, the ascent resumed. Then a metal POP rang out. The lights flickered off, and the whole box dropped.
As my feet left the tiles and weightlessness spun in my gut, my thoughts raced. Instinct said to brace myself, but I knew that wasn’t right. Should I try to grab the miniscule railing? Should I go limp?
The fall ended, and with no decision made, my knees bent to absorb the impact. New thoughts formed a shoving crowd. How far did I fall? Where am I?
The location indicator beside the door read B. Was I really in the basement? Or was I below that, in the pit where the elevator retreated when not in use? I pressed the buttons. Alarm. Door Open. All the floor numbers. Even Door Close. Nothing happened beyond feebly flickering lights.
Was I really below ground? Or was I dangling at some unspecified height? Was that B the elevator’s declaration of intent to drop me should I move wrong?
I pulled my phone from my sweater pocket. One signal bar. Please work.
I flipped through my contacts and selected the front desk.
As a little circle spun on the screen and I waited for that first ring to confirm connection, memories flooded in of when programmers had set up this elevator. With the doors open and their slim laptops in hand, they had instructed the box to stop just above or below a floor so they could inspect its underside and top. It had reminded me of zoo vets asking animals to perform certain “tricks” so they could be assessed.
That was not an analogy I needed. This was a wild beast we should not have kept in captivity to do our bidding. It had chosen me as its prey, and I had fallen into its trap. It would drag me down into its pit for slow digestion. My co-workers (especially the one waiting for me to relieve her so she could go home) would notice my absence, right? They would see my car in the parking lot and know I had to be somewhere around here.
Finally, the phone rang. Someone answered. She couldn’t understand me; the connection was too poor.
I held the phone directly in front of my mouth and spoke slowly, annunciating each word. “I’m. Trapped. In. The. Staff. Elevator.”
To hear her verify she understood was such a weight off my chest. Someone knew where I was. They would get me out, or if they couldn’t, they’d call someone who could. Even if they had to hack through a wall, the Fire Department would rescue me.
I still tried not to move for fear I hung halfway somewhere. The feeling was like while waiting at the top of one of those thrill rides where you know you’re going to drop but not when, except worse. I didn’t know if the floor would drop. I didn’t know how far it would drop. I was pretty sure that drop would not be safe.
Eventually, I heard a beep as the beast was called to the main level. Its gears churned with a sound like rushing water, but nothing moved. After a handful of heartbeats, the box jumped, and as my heart hammered faster, the elevator journeyed up the shaft with a series of hops.
It chimed to say it had reached a destination.
Please be a viable exit, I silently pled as the doors peeled back and revealed the workroom where I had clocked in only six minutes before.
Six minutes. Such a short timeframe, but it might as well be forever when you’re expecting any second to drop to your death. Maybe it would sound better as three hundred sixty seconds.
I Used to Believe... pt 2
Here’s a second set of three misconceptions I believed in as a small child. Find part one posted about two years ago here: https://theprose.com/post/222429/i-used-to-believe
You grew a beard by eating strawberries.
The little seeds on the outside of this red berry looked like stubble to me. It didn’t help that the person I most often saw eat strawberries was Dad, and he would have stubble by evening. I concluded that as he ate, those seeds pushed through the skin of his chin and throat.
It seemed like an unpleasant experience. I also didn’t particularly care for the taste of strawberries at the time, and this belief hardly encouraged this little girl to eat them. I really did fear that I would grow a beard.
A dog’s back should be called its front, and its tummy should be called its back.
This one is more a of a linguistic quirk than anything else. I knew anatomy-wise what a spine and stomach were and where they were located on a dog’s body. However, I didn’t agree that the words “front” and “back” should be synonymous with those body parts.
See, when you think of someone, what features come to mind? When they interact with you, what part of them usually faces you? This is what I defined as their front. Sure, their spine and rump and the backs of their knees are still a part of them, but if you were going to describe them to someone else, is that really where you’d start? This secondary, less notably identifying side is the back. Same thing for a book. You might recognize it from the back, but where do they put the title?
Now think of a dog. When you interact with a dog, what do you see more of? If one was lost and you needed to describe it, would you really start with the spots on its belly? Therefore, the tummy is secondary. It is the back cover of the book.
Perhaps this concept is found in some language I have yet to encounter. If anybody knows, please tell me.
I also want to point out how bold it was of me, being a child barely taller than a cocker spaniel mix, to think that my insistence on saying things incorrectly would change the English language. I also insisted that scissors should start with Z because we didn’t have enough words that did.
The trombone and french horn were the same instrument…just coiled up sometimes.
My father played the trombone, so I knew what it looked like both in and out of the case. However, there was a recording in which the camera panned across the orchestra, and trombones appeared in the background for about a millisecond. At this point, Dad never failed to point at the screen and excitedly say, “There are the trombones. That’s what Daddy plays,” and of course, I got just as excited with him.
Yet, I didn’t see the trombones barely in frame. I saw the french horns that were the focal point of the shot. That was what I believed Dad pointed out, but that wasn’t what his trombone looked like. I reasoned that this coiled up instrument would never fit in a trombone’s case. Therefore, the trombone shape must only be the default form of this instrument used for storage and some note positions. The slide moved in and out, why not the rest of it? Surely, it could. I had seen it all coiled up in the video, after all. I could never get it to do so, though.
Bit of a side note, but Dad’s trombone is also silver, and I rarely see that.