How We Learn to Fly
On the rooftop, I shudder.
Nancy says it’s a stupid idea; I can’t be a super hero if I’m afraid of heights. She says to be a hero you have to scale buildings, leap from rooftop to rooftop, or, in the best case scenario, fly.
“You can’t be a hero if you can’t fly,” she says. “It’s part of the curriculum. I’m sorry, but it is.”
But what Nancy doesn’t know is that I’ve been practicing.
I have been scaling buildings — or, at least, the fire escape outside my window — trying to fly. The rooftops are high up. I can’t seem to find the balance as I trip and stumble up the rickety ladder.
Step by step.
On the rooftop, I shudder. Yet I attribute this to adrenaline. The sheer willingness to overcome fear is, in itself, a massive undertaking that anyone would be quick to judge.
But I know better.
Taking a step back, I shudder. Thinking about it only makes it worse. This is what I tell myself as I begin to run: change the mindset and you can do anything.
Reaching the ledge, I jump. The ground below seems so far away, as if I were a bird atop the clouds, chasing mice through the field, soaring lower and lower…
Until the ground doesn’t seem so far away anymore.
They say I was lucky. That if the clothes lines and the dumpster weren’t there I would’ve died. Nancy says I’m an idiot — that I would’ve died and I’m an idiot — as she wipes away the tears.
I’ve known Nancy since high school. Ever since a kid on the courts beat me to a pulp and she beat him up in place of it. She’s a big one, Nancy. But with a heart of gold.
The kid vows his revenge, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She lifts me onto my feet and brushes away the blood and tears that cake my face. She smiles her toothy grin and I return the favor.
Nancy’s the best; but sometimes the worst.
Sometimes, she watches me as I sleep.
The nurse says she hasn’t left my side. Not once. Later, she helps me put my shirt on over the cast, gently sewing my arm through the sling that supports my dislocated shoulder.
She walks me home. She checks behind the curtains, makes me soup, administers a healthy dose of pain medication and tucks me in. She stays over, sleeping in the armchair by the window.
In the night, I look up to see her checking behind the curtains once more. She looks out onto the street, her eyes catlike, weaving in and out of focus. She sees something, but, oh, wait, it was nothing. Satisfied, she rests her head on the window pane.
I don’t know what I’d do without her.
I like to build things. With my hands, I screw, push, and pull on a lever to make it work. It doesn’t seem to want to budge. Yet I’ll make it budge.
I pull another lever from the box of “junk” that Nancy brought, repeating the same thing she always did at times like these: Another man’s treasure is another man’s junk.
She walks around the room examining my junk. Piled high, in stacks, in disarray. Just how I like it. She smiles as I try to explain my system for things. But then she says, “You’re an idiot, you know that?”
“You’re not going to fly. It’s not possible.”
“Just watch me.”
“Okay,” she says, looking out the window. “I saw him the other day.”
“He says he’s coming for me.”
“You beat him up once, you can do it again.”
“I don’t know. That was years ago.”
“Eh. Don’t pay it any mind.”
The next week, I finish my machine. I call Nancy to tell her the good news — that I’ll be flying in no time — but her mother answers the phone. She asks if I’ve seen Nancy.
I say, “No.”
“Will you tell her to call?”
I say, “Okay.”
On the rooftop, I play with my contraption. The structure and the wingtips are metal, but the rest is cloth and duct tape and rope, some clamps.
Stepping onto the ledge, I settle myself before the leap. I think of Nancy and the times we shared. Where was she now? I could only guess. I hope she’s someplace else.
Someplace I can visit.
Here goes nothing, I say to myself, stepping off the ledge, the ground soaring beneath me. I caught the current and the ground drifted away. At that moment, I knew Nancy was wrong.
I can fly.