Darlene Steelman grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: a misunderstood kid with a crazy mind. Finally, at the age of 38, she decided to put that crazy mind to good use and write. When she’s not stopping her car in the middle of the road to protect crossing ducks, she passes time with an office job, writing on her lunch hour, and singing off-key in the car.
By night she works on her first novel. (She also plays me at Words with Friends.)
• • •
As I push 40, there are many things I have learned over the course of those years. Always say please and thank you; hold the door for old people and be very sure to take the trash outside if it has raw onions in it.
But are any of these really lessons? Maybe the last one. Maybe.
As a kid I (like most kids) did really dumb things. I once roller skated down my grandmother’s driveway straight into the garage knowing I would fall flat onto my face when I didn’t lift my feet over the lip to get into the garage.
I knew this. But I wanted to know what would happen. So I kept my skates on the ground. Those skates stopped propelling forward when they hit that cement lip. I hurled forward, but not onto my face (thankfully!). I landed on both knees. My knees screamed in a bloody fashion as I cried for my grandmother.
My grandmother (who grew up a poor, coal miner’s daughter) called me a horse’s ass and said, “Darlene, get up. Stop crying. You’ll be fine.”
I was an eight year old in shock at that point.
“Get up?” “Stop crying?” Fine?!”
Turns out my grandmother’s refusal to coddle and baby me worked to my advantage as the years passed.
Well, most of the time. I still have that “ooh I wonder what will happen if I do this?” mentality.
When I was somewhere between eight and eleven years old, I was in the bathroom at my parents’ house and brushing my teeth with Crest toothpaste or something. My parents used Pepsodent, which is the equivalent of brushing your teeth with gasoline.
My mind started going as my eyes drifted over to the Pepsodent. Pepsodent. Hmm. This stuff is pretty strong. I wonder what would happen if I put it on my eyelids, like eye shadow?
Yes. That is a thought process I actually had when I was a little girl.
And to keep you from suspense any longer, I did put the toothpaste made with real gasoline on my eyelids. It burned like hell. Yet, there was a cool mentholated feeling.
I really think there was potential there to permanently blind myself.
The next three minutes in the bathroom went something like:
“Owwwww!” as I frantically searched around for a towel or something to wipe the damn gasoline off of my eyes. It was piercing the lids as it seeped into my eyeballs. As I write this I am laughing because I can see myself with flailing arms (much like Jodi Foster in the dark room in Silence of the Lambs) trying to find a wash rag or towel or something in the bathroom to wipe off my eyelids.
Nope. Nothing. Had I prepared I would have remembered there was never a towel in the bathroom at my parents. Never.
“Oh my God, I am gonna go blind!” I whispered to myself as I refused to cry. I could not cry. Only sissies cried. I was no sissy. Gram would not tolerate me crying.
I managed to get myself out of the bathroom and into my bedroom (which thankfully was right next to the bathroom) and get the toothpaste off of my eyelids. I was able to see clearly about an hour later.
The lesson I learned was this: take chances! Unless it involves putting chemicals in a creamy mentholated form on your body, then be sure to read the fine print first.
Calculated chances are important. They build our character and sometimes we learn that the one thing we feared became that thing we loved the most.
When is the last time you really took a chance at something? Did you succeed or fail? Or did you burn your eyelids?