I stepped off the ledge and discovered: life is not like a movie.
I had the great privilege of being a child in the ‘80s. This was a time when seatbelts were optional, scrunchies were mandatory, helmets were unheard of, and sugar, artificial coloring and trans fats were celebrated and consumed with pride. I survived entire summers without the internet or an iPad. At this time, the Disney Channel was a premium channel that my family did not get. Therefore, I only received brief glimpses into this magical world at friends’ houses. It was after a partial viewing of the seminal classic Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews that an idea came to me.
I was 6 years old, and I thought if Mary Poppins could do it, then I could too. It was going to be amazing. The neighborhood children would be so jealous that I thought of it. They would be lining up to try it themselves. I thought of involving others, but I had to try it out alone first, and perfect my form, so I could elicit the utmost amount of jealousy. Everyone was going to wonder how on earth I came up with something so fun. I would, of course, take all of the credit. Maybe I would even charge a fee and make a profit on my great idea.
The first order of business was to find the perfect time to try my experiment. As a teacher, my mother had summers off and my father worked from home when he could. That meant it was nearly impossible to find ways to get my parents to leave me alone long enough to really get into trouble.
It wasn’t the perfect day, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. My father was working in his home office. My mother was out shopping. She had seemed surprised when I declined to go. But she was probably relieved that I would not be superintending all of her purchases while complaining about boredom.
My older brother, Cal, was obsessed with war. So, he was digging a trench, 6 feet deep, in the alley behind our house. (Upon reflection, it sounds sketchy. But I assure you, he turned out normal.) Back then, an adolescent boy digging a coffin-sized hole didn’t seem strange at all. And no one cared until a neighbor backed his truck into it. Shortly after the truck was towed out of the trench, my parents made Cal fill it back in. But only after they took several pictures of Cal standing in his masterpiece.
Cal never allowed me anywhere near the trench. In fact, the only time I set foot in it was when he was at a friend’s house, and my neighbor Amy and I got stuck inside of it for a few hours. I recall being far more afraid of Cal finding me in his trench than dying of exposure. Eventually, I figured out how to stand on Amy’s shoulders and crawl out. Poor Amy spent an additional 30 minutes in the hole while I attempted different methods of retrieval.
So anyway, back to my great idea. With my mother out of the house and my brother digging a trench, I only had to worry about my father. All I needed was my magenta umbrella. It was in my room upstairs. That meant I would have to walk by the open door of my father’s office. I couldn’t avoid it. I retrieved the compact umbrella, cradling it in the crook of my arm, and hid it from view with an armload of stuffed animals stacked on top. I galloped by my father’s office door without him so much as glancing up at me. Safe. I got to the bottom of the stairs, ditched my stuffed animals, and made my way to the porch off of the second-floor sunroom.
Again, I daydreamed about what it would feel like to float magically through the air—how the neighborhood children would see my accomplishment as an impressive feat. Maybe I wouldn’t even let others try it at all. I would make them watch as I showed off my phenomenal discovery.
I brought my dog Brett, out onto the porch to watch. I had to share this moment with someone. He found a comfortable spot on a lounge chair and settled in for the show.
I could hear talk radio floating down from the open window of my father’s office directly above me. But I was not terribly worried about him seeing me. He seemed sufficiently busy, and he was not known for poking his head out of windows. My brother, on the other hand, was liable to take a break from his self-induced manual labor at any time. Cal would have been my first choice as an accomplice in this activity, but I feared involving him would ruin my plan. He would most definitely demote me to a position of lookout while he would go first. Heck, he probably wouldn’t let me try it at all. I refused to be second in command for this when it was my time to shine.
Now for the logistics, our house was built on the side of a hill. This meant one side of the porch was one-story high while the other side was closer to one-and-a-half. The steeper side of the porch offered more privacy from my brother and father, but it also involved a partial cement landing. I had enough sense to know that was not appropriate for my maiden flight. Therefore, I decided upon the shorter drop with a grass landing.
With a flick of my wrist and a flash of magenta, I unfurled the umbrella from its tight clasp. The canvas canopy hung limp from the metal stretchers. I climbed over the wrought iron railing that came up to my shoulder. Once on the other side, I pressed the button and the umbrella popped open. I stepped off the ledge and discovered: life is not like a movie.
I don’t even remember catching air, but I do remember pain seizing my tailbone and radiating up my spine. The umbrella landed several yards away with most of the metal rods bent in strange directions. My dog looked on from above with curiosity and pity.
“What are you doing?” said an approaching voice. It was Cal walking toward me with a shovel in hand.
“Nothing!” I said, forgetting my pain. But I still could not stand so I tried to at least sit in a more dignified fashion. Cal looked at the umbrella, then up at the porch where the dog was now standing with his head dangling between the wrought irons bars staring down at the commotion.
“What is the dog doing on the porch? Did you just— ”
“Where’s mom and dad? Do they know— ”
“Don’t you say anything!”
“Kassie, what exactly were you—”
My tush hurt for several days, but it was my pride that suffered the most. This didn’t go as planned. It was back to the drawing board. It was probably a good thing my parents chose not to subscribe to the Disney Channel—I can’t image what would have happened if I had unlimited access. I’ve had many other great opportunities in my life to chase dreams, but most people who know me would agree, I generally opt for the grass-landing.
Kassie Henderson is a local high school teacher. She is married with two children. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, and she’s mildly obsessed with true crime.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.
Our next show is Friday, October 6 at ISU Design West in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Home.” We’ll have live music by Angela Lambrecht and Shawn Blomberg of Ultra Violet at 6:30 p.m., followed by stories at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.