Beneath My Head

November 20, 2008
By Muyun Zhao, Rochester, NY

Air rushed past my head in a dizzying whirl as I ascended the forbidding staircase one hesitant step at a time. The platform loomed before me, an execution stage ripe and ready to pluck off the young and the old alike. It was past the point of no return now; and in my young mind of ten, I held steadfast to the notion that I had no way of turning back. My hands were tied in my decision to proceed and also to the throng of people calling, screaming at me to keep walking. One step passed. Then another. They seemed never ending, slowly bringing me closer and closer to the dreaded point where I was surely going to perish, to writhe in an eternal pit of agony without any means of escape. My breath came out shattered and broken, much as my spirits were at the moment. Willpower was the only factor keeping my frail legs from buckling underneath my small weight. I heaved, my sweaty hands clenched tightly in despair and dread as I tried to keep down my last meal that now seemed so distant. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting in front of that white plate piled high with the disgusting concoction of vegetables and various suspicious ingredients from unknown origins right now. As I approached the final step to my unavoidable doom, I paused briefly and threw my head up, uttering a heartfelt wish to the great heavens; a silent, desperate plea for survival. I was too young to die, and young enough, or perhaps wise enough, to believe that my emotions can create miracles. With a final shaky intake of air, I closed my eyes and stepped up as the world fell away beneath me.

The first thing I heard was the dreadful sound of metal on metal, an unctuous clanking noise that had become unpleasantly familiar to me in the course of this day. This was followed by the sensation of being locked up, of having my movements restrained by the small compartment of a decidedly small box. Immediately, my survival instincts kicked into play as I reached out wildly and blindly for something to grab onto. It was the desperate need for the feel of something real that kept my otherwise paralyzed hands moving, searching for the ever elusive object to hold on to. Finally, my hands came into contact with something hard and cold. Metal, I guessed. The touch and feel of it brought back surging memories of ordeals that I had gone through earlier that day, sending my already uneasy mind teetering towards the edge. It was as if I were being punished for some horrid crime that I did not commit.

Despite my nagging conscience, curiosity—a terrible thing at times—forced my eyes to peel open, revealing the vast expanse of the sky. It was a rather nice sky: blue, calm, and sunny. But something was wrong, as something always is. The sky was pleasant, but altogether void of the outlines of the buildings and trees that naturally dotted the horizons. It was too pure and untainted by manmade objects to be natural. As a small corner of my mind marveled at the sky, my ever curious eyes wandered down. Down, past the highest clouds. Down, past the tallest trees and rooftops. And finally, down to the ground, now abnormally far away.

I froze. Natural instincts told me to close my eyes. However, fear kept them glued open and trained on the pavement beneath me. I was on a slow moving cable car at an amusement park, and it was rising higher and higher as I watched in fright. The only thing keeping me in the air was a seemingly flimsy string of wire. If it were to snap, my life would cease to exist. My raspy breath grew quicker in rhythm and crescendoed into an unsteady staccato. The tempo grew and expanded, one breath building upon another until I finally felt my tenuous grip on my control slip even further. Higher and higher it went, advancing lazily into the brilliant sky, unaffected by the inner turmoil coursing though me. It was an agonizing ascend that seemed to last longer than it was, taking my unwilling body with it. Then, in an amazing display of grace, the cable car rounded the top and began its equally slow descent. Inch by fraction of an inch it lowered, and as every inch passed, my death grip on the sidebars loosened ever so slightly until, finally, my knuckles lost the pale white tone of terror.

When the cable car touched down, the platform no longer looked like a death sentence. It was, instead, a beautiful sight, welcoming me into its warm embrace with open arms. Stepping off, my ebullition soared to great heights, a height that I did not fear this time. Never again would I do something that I knew I would fear.

I learned that sometimes, it is better to refuse to do something then to do it and risk my health and sanity. I could have avoided this ordeal if I had just summoned up enough courage to say no to my friends when they nagged me to go on the ride. Peer pressure is a good thing when it helps a person develop good qualities. However, if it does not have any real benefits, then people should not adhere to what others tell them. I realized that there are times when I should speak up and clearly tell others what I think instead of quietly following orders. What I know myself to be should outweigh what others want me to be.

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