Torture to the Top
Mikayla, Age 11, Doylestown, PA

Trees. Grass. Leaves. I control all of them. I carry sounds and feelings. I pick up and blow cool air around the empty woods. I settle with a chilly breeze, careful not to surprise anyone who dares climb up into the trees’ canopy. "Who is THAT? Look at her SIZE! There’s no WAY she’ll finish." I blow her hair around wildly underneath her rock-hard neon helmet and she rushes to fix it. She's ready to prove she CAN make it! After a few quick adjustments to her giant helmet and loose harness, she's ready to climb. She mumbles a few words and she steadily climbs up the decomposing ladder. Each deep breath she takes and each small step she makes get slower and slower as she reaches the next challenge. The BIG challenge. The big challenge that takes the most courage. The staples. The far apart staples. The far apart icy and rusted staples. The hard part. She stretches out her trembling arm and grabs at nothing but my air. She's too short to reach!

"Come on, one more step," I whisper to myself. "Why am I whispering? I need to let HER know she can do it!" WHOOSH, WHOOSH. I rustle leaves and bushes in an effort to be heard, but it's no use when all you can do is blow. I try to encourage her as she carefully heads up the ancient, delicate tree, staple by rusty staple. I feel a rush of cold tingle through my body surrounding her and I know she won't reach the towering course. The bridge. The broken bridge. The old wood and wire broken bridge. As she nears the sturdy wire bridge, I dive underneath her, both of us pushing up with all our might. "You're almost there." I chant, and her classmates carry on the confidential message. "You're almost there, you're almost there." She gets a burst of energy and jumps two feet up onto the intimidating bridge. Once you're up, don’t look down, but of course she craves the knowledge of fright and stares downward to the earth below. A flash of fear spreads across her empty face. She gets all pale and her eyes shoot out of her head. She wants to get down, but the endless cheers echo up to us. "You're almost there! You're almost there!"

I gently push her along. The cheering just makes her more afraid. I can tell she is frightened with each step, because she is nearing the broken part. The worst part. "She won’t make it! She's going to fall! She'll get hurt! Why did I bring her all the way up here, just to come crashing down?" I hear her shaky voice say, "I'm scared, I want to go down."

I whisper back in a calming tone, "One more step until you're done. One more step until you're safe, just until the gap in the bridge."

"Ok," she whimpers. Then slowly and carefully she inches her leg up and pushes it forward, across the wobbling wire. "Now the other foot," I remark gently. She picks up her foot and moves it easily. She inhales and exhales deeply as her heartbeat quickens to the pace of a fast drum. She pushes her arms forward and slides. She's there! Once again I hear her shaking voice. Instinct tells me that her task is completed and her goal reached.

"Bilayer ready?" she asks slowly.

"Ready," someone calls back up to us.

"Falling?"

"Fall away," he answers.

I was overcome with joy as she dangled into my safe arms, my air. There was a slow sigh. It was the girl; she was done and safe. Slowly. Slowly fading. Slowly fading away down to the ground. The safe ground. The safe ground, where she won't fall. Where I barely see her anymore. All the children run to her and compliment her. Complimenting her with cheers. Shouts. And hugs. For a kid who I thought didn't stand a chance against the overwhelming course, she made the difficult melt into nothingness, forgotten forever. She made it all seem easy. 

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