An early “What the Hell?” moment comes from the development in which I grew up and for which I still have many fond memories. Unfortunately, I have more “What the Hell?” memories than fond memories of growing up, but that’s to be expected when you’re the only girl living in the bottom portion of a development and all of the girls living in the top part of the development go to dance class and cheerleading camp and do all of that way-too-girly-stuff for you to want to walk the whole way to the top of the hill to play with them, anyway.
On this particular “What the Hell?” day, I was playing with four of the boys who lived closest to me. Two of them were dangerously older than I, and that should have been my first clue to go home and stay put. I’ve never been one to correctly judge the intentions of older boys who I thought were so cool because they could hit the ball farther and kick the ball higher than anyone else I knew, so I was doomed from the start. One of the four boys decided that playing hide-and-seek would be a dandy way to spend the day, and, seeing as how I was the only girl, I was nominated to be the first seeker. Before I even knew what was happening, the eldest hooligan of the group scooped me up and put me up on top of the washing machine in his garage. He told me to stay there and count to 100 before I could get down and start seeking. I had been counting to 100 forever, so I didn’t think this command was too far-fetched or demanding.
What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that nobody would be around to get me back down from the top of the washing machine. At this point in my life, I was already destined to be the short, round girl, and getting down from a washing machine was a tall order. As the numbers swelled closer and closer to 100, I started to panic. I didn’t know how to get down, and I knew none of the boys would lose his chance at being the winner of hide-and-seek just to come and get me down. I also didn’t want to be the girl who needed help getting down, so I never once thought about calling for an adult to help me. My five-year-old mind wasn’t yet adept at using foul language, so I know the thought wasn’t formulated as a “What the Hell?” But, that’s exactly what I was thinking in whatever language my inner voice was capable of producing.
So, I sat there. He had told me to sit there, and I did. I slowed down the counting, and I whispered the final few numbers so that anyone who had chosen to hide near me would not know that I was getting close to the final number. I always was an obedient girl, and it was more important to me that I follow the instructions of the “big boy” than to get myself out of an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation.
The fact that I still to this day cannot remember how I was saved proves that “What the Hell?” moments are less about the outcome and more about the feeling in the moment. How stupid could I have been to be put into that situation? What kind of a moron lets all of the kids run away and leave her stranded on top of an old appliance in a dirty, smelly garage? More importantly, what kind of a girl does exactly what a boy tells her to do, even when it doesn’t feel quite right?
Reflecting on the events leading up to and the circumstances that put you into the “What the Hell?” moments are where the truths of life and ourselves lie. And having some sort of foresight is the key to not having too many of those moments.
I still bump into those boys every once in a while. Now that we’re all grown up and some of us are married with our own children, I can’t help but wonder if they remember putting me into peril at such a tender age. But I do know this: I will teach my boys how to get down from a washing machine so they don’t have to face the humiliation of appliance-stranding like their mother. I might just teach them not to put a girl on a pedestal if they don’t think she belongs there, too.
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