Maybe failure isn’t the only option

If I fail, I ruin everything.

Her hands are damp with warm, easy sweat.  Her legs, numb and heavy and cold, shaking.  There’s a buzzing in her ears that she hadn’t heard before, and she’s acutely aware of her tongue.  She hasn’t looked up.  She won’t until her eyes focus.  They dance around the page, not settling on one word, scrambling them, making them dance and tease and taunt her.  They are cruel, these words, in their very being.  Wanting her to stumble, hoping that she’ll resign, pushing her to surrender.

If I fail, I ruin everything.

This is not her day, both in luck and in ceremony.  She’s uncomfortable in her dress, awkward in her heels, claustrophobic under her makeup.  Breathe, they told her.  Breathe and take your time.  But there is no time in her mind as she stands there, feeling the weight of 100 pairs of eyes push against her.  There is only nothingness.  Not fear, not nervousness, not uncertainty.  There is only nothingness and the powerlessness that comes when logic, gravity and spacial awareness has disappeared.  She stands there, blind, deaf, and dumb, waiting for something to force her to begin.

If I fail, I ruin everything.

The page and its inhabitants slowly settle down into words.  Words she recognizes, that she’s sure she can pronounce.  She remembers to breathe.

Maybe failure isn’t the only option.

She raises her eyes to meet her audience.  There are so many of them and only one of her.  She has the mic, but they have the power.  It’s them vs. her and the battle begins as she parts her lips, daring words to escape. 

I can do this.

And escape they do.  They come with the ease at which they should, given she’s been able to read for more than 25 years.  Smile, they told her, so she smiles.  Look up, they said, so she looks up.  Feel the words, and so she feels them.  She hears their meaning and lets them reign down softly, and with purpose, on those 100 pairs of ears.  She’s speaking to herself, too, absorbing the words and letting them soak into her soul.

She speaks slowly and with purpose.  Her palms have dried.  Her legs have calmed.  Her ear has quieted.  As she finishes her reading, she looks up as she speaks and sees her young daughter in the first row.  The little girl watches her with a smile, her eyes don’t move.  She’s proud of her mother.  Even at her young age, she can see how hard it was for her mom to stand up there and speak. 

The fear was crippling, but she didn’t fail.  She didn’t ruin anything.  She won.  She fought the fear and she won.

I did this.


I am participating in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge. Each week I’ll be tackling a challenge issued by another writer participating in the exercise. This week, Sir gave me this:

He often recalled the long stretches of his life when he’d write the word ‘endure’ backwards in the foggy mirror every morning just to let the person staring back know that there was at least one person in the world pulling for him.  Write about a time when you were your only cheerleader.

I wasn’t my only cheerleader, but standing up there, alone, it sure did feel like it.


34 thoughts on “Maybe failure isn’t the only option

  1. Talk about putting your readers in the moment! I had anxiety just reading this in the beginning and relief by the end. Great take on the weekly challenge you were given.

  2. You were your only hope in that situation, therefore, you had the pom poms. Public speaking tends to constitute a pretty profound ‘mirror’ situation. It’s generally a ‘you vs. you’ circumstance more than ‘you vs. them’. And if we can overcome ourself, there’s nothing to fear from ‘them’.

    This was a truly wonderful answer to the challenge.

  3. Pingback: The Week In Review: May 16-20

  4. If that’s what it’s like to win an award–I’ll let my fear win!! 🙂 (Then my speech teacher would slap her ruler on the table and I’d start talking too!) LOL! Nervousness and fear captured wonderfully!

  5. This was really good. It reminded me of when I was 6, cast as Cinderella, and forgot all the words. All of them. Anyway – a very nice read, thank you for it.

    • You forgot all the words? Oh, my. I was in a couple plays in elementary school and I remember being so terrified about forgetting the words, I’d feel sick to my stomach.

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