It was winter in Illinois, and there was the predictable snow that seemed to blanket our town every time we wanted to believe we would get a break from it. We would wake up some mornings to face 8-12″ of frozen snow on the ground to walk to school in and freeze our toes, as we waited for a bus which was almost always late.
One Saturday morning my mom announced to me that we were going to Sears which was across the Mississippi River in Iowa and I was getting a new pair of boots. I was so excited imaging my new boots and wearing them to school with my jeans tucked in, and I imagined how cool I would be with something new to wear on Monday. Even today I feel cool in new clothes or shoes. “Shopping is still my therapy”, :).
Finally we arrived at the store and after watching my brothers try on Tough Jeans, hats and gloves, it was my turn to get my boots. Of course as a junior high school girl I had no concept of having 3 brothers and what that would mean to the budget for my new boots. I had my eye on the boots I wanted and probably looked right past what my mother had decided what her pocket book could afford. Today I understand it more, but then I just wanted to fit in with my friends.
Being a teenager I believed my mother had the worst taste in fashion and has always been about spending the least amount of money for my clothes. Most of my life we shopped at the Salvation Army or the Nearly New Shop for my clothes. Surely today I was getting something I would love because we were actually shopping at a “store” to buy my clothes. I excitedly showed my mother all the boots that I considered fashionable and acceptable to my liking. However, my mother picked up these boots that were the most horrible plastic imitation of leather I had ever seen. They were so old fashioned and something I could only imagine my grandmother (or my mother) would wear. They were rubber and were lined up the zipper with fur, and around the top with fur. I was horrified. All I could picture was the laughing and pointing that would happen at school when my friends got a look at those boots. I was already embarrassed. I was picturing fitted boots and my mother without compromise insisted on buying me the boxed special of fashion disaster. I am not sure how the conversation went 30+ years ago, but I know we argued and I began to cry. My mother became so angry with me as I blatantly explained that I would never wear those boots. She said I had to take those boots or get nothing at all. I was fine with nothing at all and that must have really pissed her off. I refused the boots, so in her anger she left me at the mall alone.
So I am 12, and I am at least 20 miles from home in another state with no money, and no way home. I really remember telling only one bus driver that I had no money. I had some how made it downtown and all I could think about was the bridge that I needed to cross. As I rounded the corner and the bridge was in sight my plans crashed. I could freely walk across the bridge and not have to pay. I had no money. However, being 12 and afraid of heights I was dying with fear looking at the mass structure cascading towards the sky. I knew my brothers and male cousins had all walked across the bridge many times. But I had never done it and had no desire to ever do it. This bridge was over 30 feet high and the currents of the muddy Mississippi river ran rapidly beneath it. Not to mention the trucks and buses zooming past, rocking and trembling the pavement that would be beneath my 50 pound frame. I imagined the horror of being swept away by the wind into the freezing water to my death. Only a few years earlier a friend had been pushed off the bridge by his father. I was haunted and traumatized. It was cold and getting late.
It would be dark soon, so I ran back to the bus stop and waited.
When the bus pulled up I got on the bus and looked at the driver in the eye. With tears in my eyes I told him my mother had left me and I had no money to get to the other side of the bridge, and I was afraid to walk over it. He just looked at me and said sit down. Today, right here I want to insert this… “thank you Jesus”.
For a very long time after this I was afraid of heights. I would wake up in the middle of the night and dream of falling. In my dreams I would climb up a ladder and realize that I couldn’t go any higher and I couldn’t get down. Finally in the dream I would give up and allow myself to fall to my death. My body would shake and I always sprung awake before I died. This was a recurring dream for me for many years.
Today I have conquered my fear of heights. One day I just got tired of being scared of heights. So every time I found myself in a situation that challenged me I accepted it. Soon I began looking over ledges and I began climbing higher, and higher on ladders. Eventually, I was able to work on the 32nd floor of a high rise in San Francisco many years later. It was my first real job and I loved the view. My desk was next to the window and the sky was my morning cup.
This could be a story of abuse and neglect, but it is a story of survival and faith. It is also proof of God being with you even when you are too young to see it. With childlike faith I did my part and God did the rest.
Oh yes, that winter I walked to school in the snow, wearing shoes. My determination is 50 times stronger today. My mother didn’t give in and neither did I. We are still at odds today for the same reasons.