Joyland

New York |

How We Rise

by Amanda Stern

Say that I could fly using just my body. Say that based on the rate at which I lift my arms, I could take flight. Say that I could see through atmosphere and gauge ominous weather using just my eyes and what I know to be true of clouds (sometimes there is turbulence). Then, I think, I wouldn’t be afraid to leave the ground and I could move freely from the place I’m in. I could attend my sister’s wedding; see my mother before she dies. I could spend time with my brother whose two children I have never met. Say I had wings. Then maybe, I could get on that plane. These are the things that happened to me: I slipped from the doctor’s hands at birth, dropped to the tiled floor. When I was two, my mother tripped, the tossed water boiled on my head. I was four when I flew through the front windshield of my dad’s car. My head was shaved bald and they picked glass out of my skull with tweezers. I had eight hospital stays before I turned five. “You must be afraid of hospitals,” the doctor said. “I feel at home in hospitals.” “Interesting. People might assume you’d be afraid.” “No, that’s why I’m here,” I tell him, “It’s planes I can’t stand.” It’s not the flying that bothers me; it’s the falling. More precisely, it’s falling while fastened to a metal dress with wings. It’s the inability to leave once on board. It’s that yellow sippy cups drop from the ceiling. That seat cushions purport to save you when you’ve already drowned, that the emergency exit is policed by passengers – Monday through Sunday strangers. Or maybe it’s none of the above and it’s just me; my faulty engine, my frosty propellers. I don’t want to die before I’ve had the chance to matter. Why was my sister adult enough to marry? Why did she live 3,000 miles away? Why did she have to be my sister? I would not get on that plane. How important was Maid of Honor, I asked a friend. The most, was the reply. How awful was it to skip your sister’s wedding? The worst, she said. As a child, I held my funeral instead of my wedding. I read from a double spaced, perforated, three hole-punched, lined piece of paper. How could a person rest in peace if they didn’t know their fate? How would I - dead person - know how I’d died? Sarah Margot Hamer, aged nine and two quarters, died in a freak accident. She died at 6pm on a Tuesday night, November 11th, 1989. It was very sudden and she only felt a little pain. The pain was in her head, which was where she died. She attended the Walden School and had many friends, except for Leslie Davis who is a bitch for bagawk-bawgawking at Sarah like a chicken. The death of Sarah Margot Hamer is very sad and people will cry forever. No one is allowed to forget her. It was a lovely service. My whole family came. When I was little my father pitched me into the pool. When I sank to the bottom he pulled me out, tossed me back. I never took to swimming, but after an hour of toss and retrieve, I finally learned to float. It’s been eighteen years since I dipped my toe into large bodies of water. What if the plane flies over the sea? I dreamt I was a paper airplane. My wings were bulking and massive, but when I rose, when I lifted, they were elegant and smooth. I flew through storms, straight up, 40, 50,000 feet into clear sky and higher still until there was a ceiling, a black rocky mass with glow in the dark stars, strings that turned both sides of the equator, on and off. “I don’t get it,” I said to my dream as I reached out, grabbed a string and pulled. Half of the earth disappeared and when I pulled again, it reappeared as a luminescent curve. “I’m dreaming about you,” I said. “I know,” The sky responded. “What do you mean to say?” I asked. But I couldn’t stay up. My paper wings flapped wildly but I fell backwards and down. Fell from the top of the sky into my bed, where I woke and found I was not made from paper. Say that falling was just the ceiling turning into the floor. Say that it was like floating, instead of sinking. Say I had wings. Say we could shape our own lives. Say I made a bargain. Say I tore this sheet of perforated, double lined sheet out of my notebook. Say I folded it with my own hands, pleated and seamed the paper into a glider. Say this creased fortune lands at my feet. Say it tips up and sails, rising and rising only to return to me, then I’ll get on that plane. Then that plane will not crash. I turned my torso, splayed my feet, cocked my arm, bent my wrist, released my fingers and watched the plane float, tip up, sailing, rising, rising.