Filling Space

[media-credit name=”Photo by Megan Harmon (” align=”alignnone” width=”576″][/media-credit]

Simon always felt that he grew up among giants and geniuses, as if he were a reverse-superman sent from a small and mild planet.  His older brothers grew into mountains of muscle, his classmates seemed to effortlessly pass exams and win trophies, and his bullies were so charismatic that Simon often felt it rude to defend himself.  In the hallways of his school you would see poor Simon; his overly serious, small face, his worried eyes, constantly afraid that someone would gasp, point at him, and announce, “Hey!  This guy’s just a waste of space!  What is he even doing here?”  Little brother not only to his family, but also the to the whole world, so he thought; doomed to be left out of everything worth while.

One spring evening, Simon stood in a park.   A warm wind was streaming by, the long grass bent toward him, the street lights painted the low-flying clouds orange.  Simon spoke to the earth itself: “Do you even want me?”

He took this earth’s silence for indifference.

“I’m going to jump off a building,” Simon said, “For every insult I receive in a month I will go up one floor, and at the end of the month I will add up all the insults and jump off that floor.”  A low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.  The deal had been made.

He came to school the next day with a pencil and notepad.  Roger spotted Simon first.  “What’s with the notepad?  What are you? a reporter?”  Simon marked the first tally and walked away from the group.  He heard them trade criticisms as he walked away.  Three more tallies.  In the hallway, a football player sneered at Simon.  Another Tally.  Somehow keeping track of every insult was empowering for Simon, in the same way that putting a number to any phenomenon makes it less frightening.  He continued clutching his pad and pencil, almost eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to make a mark.  His teachers didn’t acknowledge his presence.  Six tallies.  Five people cut in line ahead of him at lunch.  Five tallies  His brothers didn’t invite him to the movies.  His mother scolded him.  A man across the street didn’t wave back to him.  A dog barked at him, his cat didn’t want to be held, there was nothing for him  in the mail, the wind blew sand in his face…

Up and up the tallies went.  So many marks that by the end of the month Simon needed two afternoons and an evening to count them all.  The total came to almost exactly 50,000.  He knew, of course, that no building on earth went as high as 50,000 floors.  However, he had made a deal.  He figured that the average floor was about 10 feet high, and so all he really needed to do was find a point that was 500,000 feet from the ground.

If you’d had seen Simon after this, you would have noticed a subtle change.  His small face continued to be overly serious, but his worry was replaced by determination, his hesitation replaced by contemplation.  School was never effortless as it was for everyone else, but he figured out that all he had to do was work twice as hard, and he seemed perfectly willing to do so.

25 years later, Simon released the airlock hatch.  He hung outside his floating station in the blackness of space, suspended in earth’s orbit, 500,000 feet from the ground.   It was glorious.

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