Was it when I hurt my arm that I quit the wrestling team to take a paper route in ninth grade? “We were looking at you as our number one in your weight class, Bailey,” Coach said. That surprised me. I saw myself as neither strong nor skilled. I thought I was the worst wrestler among the three or four boys my size.
Not that it mattered, for another powerful idea had taken hold. I ought to face the fact life is acquiring money. That the paper route would teach me little and limit interaction with my peers didn’t seem important. I should set aside childish things and get a job. So I rose at four on Sundays to stuff huge newspapers into smudged canvas bags slung over the front tire of my sturdy green Schwinn. Rode the 93-house route six days a week. Collected every subscription no matter how many evening visits it took to certain dark houses. Turned into a capable drudge at fifteen.
With a similar job seven years later, almost a suicide.
Where does it come from, the urge to separate and suffer? What demon whispers, “Shun pleasure and shrive yourself alone”?
Some might say I benefited by learning to work tired and ailing. Stewarding money not my own, dunning adults in doorways lit and dark. Commerce outweighs grappling with another boy in front of excited teens in a bright and resounding junior high gym.
But no dream accreted my small earnings. Instead they scattered like sparrows scared by a gunshot. Wrestling season over, Coach’s vision, experience and love could no longer help me grow into an expanded sense of my possibilities. Or have more friends.
I didn’t know we discover ourselves in community, not on its fringes. That we thrive when our souls meet their missions, not when we labor for lucre and purgation.
I would learn, but it was a near thing.
From Walla Walla, Washington, USA and currently living in Mexico City, Daniel Bailey is a semi-retired professor of English who’s spent half his life in Europe, Polynesia, Japan and Latin America. Narrative nonfiction, a short story, newspaper features and academic articles of his have appeared respectively in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and the Bulletin of Language Science and Humanities, University of Technology, Nagaoka, Japan.
See more of Daniel's work in 8.2 and 8.2 again