Up the boy leapt, into the air. Down he came, feet first into the sand. Losing his balance, his rear cratered what was once even. He pulled himself up, mildly dejected, for he had failed to surpass the mark achieved by one of his classmates. “Not good enough,” the boy thought. He exited the sandpit and jogged 50 feet back to the line of his waiting peers. “You were so close,” one boy exclaimed. “Told ya you wouldn’t pass it,” sneered another. “I got further than you!” the boy recanted, defending his performance.
I watched while circling around the track, as adolescent after adolescent took their leap. The activity aroused excitement and fear in these unseasoned young adults. In their eyes it provided them an opportunity to prove themselves to their peers, but, inversely, with any little screw up, it could tarnish their reputations and collapse the identity and tower of self esteem they were trying to build.
After I showered off the sweat and stink from my body, I promptly pulled open my laptop to start writing. I glanced to the corner of the screen and noticed the WiFi bar was empty. The free internet my smartphone provides can be unreliable, but I’ve long considered it to be a money saving tactic worth the inconveniences of intermittent dropped connections. I walked over to my window to see one of my neighbors in my building opening up their blinds. I wondered if they would be interested in sharing the cost and use of wireless internet.
Aside from the clomping of my upstairs neighbor, it almost feels like I live alone in my building. Everyone keeps to themselves, are very quiet, and keep different schedules. I rarely see anyone when coming back from work, doing errands, or spending time with friends. This made me skeptical that any neighbor would be interested in my proposal, and nervous to even approach one about it.
I stood outside my neighbor’s door, holding my fist out, ready to knock. After a few moments of hesitation, I finally cracked my knuckles against the wood, one, two, three times. I waited. The light coming from the small peep hole at the upper center of the door faded. My neighbor opened the door. He looked to be my age, perhaps a little older, tall, curly brown hair, with pajama pants on. I introduced myself, relayed to him my dilemma, and pitched my idea. Unfortunately he used a secure connection through his work, but I found that asking him was far more painless than I had imagined it would be. I returned my apartment, feeling more accomplished than dejected, continued writing, and then took a mid-afternoon nap that would give me energy to go out that evening.
A group of high school boys got on the 38 heading downtown at the Fillmore stop. As they stepped up into the crowded bus, they were conversing about their heights. “I’m five eight,” one of them exclaimed. “No you’re not!” cried another. “I know I’m five eight and I’m taller than you. Look.” He turned his back to the other boy so they were facing away from each other and measured himself against his friend. “I’m supposed to get to six foot,” chimed in one more. I got off at Grant and walked over to meet my friend for dinner.
That night we went to a show called Mortified where brave souls, on stage, recite and recall their journals and diaries from high school. As we waited in line to be waived into the show’s venue, we talked about the different friends we had in common, and how as they varied in age, so did their levels of acceptance with their identities. I described to her the event I witnessed on the bus. Those kids were so invested in how they were seen by others and by who they wished themselves to be that they did not accept who they were in that moment. Our older friends were more fearless, more self accepting, and more willing to risk alienation from others to be themselves, we agreed. And that is what made us appreciate and value them as friends all the more.
Inside the DNA Lounge 80s pop music set the mood. We had entered the land of teenage angst. First was a man who had his heart broken by a cheerleader, then a black woman who hated Black History month when she was 16 because she was the only student of color in her school, then a formerly closeted gay man raised as a mormon, then a girl who subscribed to sex and drugs to become a ‘cool kid’, and finally an animator who feared death and physical pain so much that he blamed his parents for trapping him in this world. The common thread that ran through each reading was the creation of identity. All the readers were mortified, at the time they originally penned their private thoughts, from not being accepted. And this is what motivated them to deny, fight for, create, destroy, belittle, and explore their identities both in their journals/diaries and in real life.
It is a leap of faith to be vulnerable, to show what may be your weakest side. But when that does happen, and someone catches you on the other side, the strength you gain from it is so powerful, it’s nearly unmeasurable. If you practice it enough, eventually you’ll learn to catch yourself. In San Francisco, I’ve learned how to leap into the sandpit, ignore what the results may be, who will judge it, and how it will be judged. And from this self acceptance has come the ability to accept and feel the love of those I know are friends.