It was a typical kid stunt on a typical Oklahoma summer day. The weather was hot and I felt pretty hot-stuff as I accepted the neighborhood kids’ dare.
“Climb up on the roof? No problem!” I said in my most mature 9-year-old voice. Not one to be told that I couldn’t do it, I figured how hard could it be?
I thrived on challenge, well as much as a 9-year-old kid could. I mean, I grew up tightrope walking drainage pipes spanning 25 feet across ponds that looked like cesspools. And traversed my bike across slippery red dirt slopes that threatened to plunge me into the murkiest of waters at Camp Ione. And eaten paper sack lunches of baloney sandwiches that had been sitting in the direct sun and 100 degree temperatures for hours. And I even drank a whole jar of pickle juice on a dare.
So getting on the roof didn’t seem too outlandish to me. Besides, I wanted the fame and adulation of every kid for blocks around. Wait…stop right there. That should’ve been my first clue that this wouldn’t go well.
Our house had a brick decorative wall that sat perpendicular to the front of the house. That wall was designed with areas of bricks purposely left out to disperse the sunlight. These “holes” so to speak, made great footholds for climbing. Thus allowing even a 9 year old to reach the roof without too much effort. Once my foot was resting inside the top hole, I could grasp the composite shingles of the roof. My heart began to race as I looked back down at the kids gathered in our front yard. I was not high enough to go up and too high to come back down. I was at a crossroads. I could hear their taunts.
“I told you she couldn’t do it.”
“It’s too high. Come back down.”
“She’s a fraidy cat.”
Then the chicken sounds started, “Bock, bock, bawwwkkk!”
That did it for me. I snapped! I grabbed those hot, sticky shingles with both hands and pulled and kicked until finally I was up on the roof. Exhilaration filled my lungs and elation tingled down my spine. I raised my arms high in the air to celebrate my victory and then… I lost my balance. Everything was a blur as I began an out of control, spastic, speed demon slide down the scratchy, coarse shingled roof. As I reached the edge I looked at the neighborhood kids watching, their eyes widened in fright. That was right before I slid off into the large rose bush below. The thorns pierced me in more places than one could count and I let out a blood-curdling scream, which sent the kids scattering to unknown places.
My parents heard the commotion and opened the door to discover me splayed out in the rose bush whimpering. You can probably guess how the conversation went.
“What in the thunderation are you doing?”
“They dared me to climb on the roof.”
“Well, serves you right then.”
The screen door slammed and I crawled out of the bush. I sat on the porch checking for thorns. My friends were all gone and so was my fame. The embarrassment made me cry more than the momentary pain. I saw motion from the corner of my eye and noticed a girl standing at the edge of our garage. I’d seen her before in the neighborhood but didn’t know where she lived.
“I really thought you could do it,” she said.
I just looked at her speechless.
“If you ever wanna try it again, I’m sure you can.”
Her words hit me like a gut punch - but in a good way. From that crazy experience I learned to measure risk, which in part, meant not to put myself out there for accolades from others.
To put in today’s vernacular: Keep grinding. Someone you don’t even know is rooting for you, while someone you know isn’t.
P.S. The picture above was a “pre-fall” climb I made on my grandparents farmhouse. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the house I fell off of…but you get the idea!