That day, the wind kicking dust around the dirt lot, I stood and watched James stoop to retrieve a scrap of paper. He studied it carefully for a moment then handed it to me and said, “This belongs with you.”
It was a pale blue price tag, its glossy skin scarred but the amount still legible in the upper right corner: twenty dollars had originally been written there in red. A line had been drawn through the zero – someone’s habit of delineation, the way I hoist a bar on the waist of my sevens – but exposure had caused the outer edge of the paper to fade so that it now appeared to declare a price of two cents. And musing over what could cost two cents – and be worthy of a price tag – I turned it over and read these words:
I am not afraid. I was born to do this…
I looked at James. He nodded once, then turned and continued toward the car.
I tucked the little tag into my wallet, pressing it flat behind my driver’s license and thinking that the true expression of gratitude is inadequate in the words Thank You.
A purpose: Who doesn’t want one? The promise of an answer to the question we ask ourselves: Why am I here? Call it Fate, or Destiny – mighty words, accurate when applied retroactively as the reason the universe unfolds as it does. The need for God is a need to know, or perhaps simply have some responsibility lifted from our shoulders. Often we can only hope that we are doing what is right. And so we look for signs. We seek some evidence for our presence that extends beyond the coarse coupling of our parents. We would like to be more than the simple cumulative expression of flowering genes.
To say I was born to do this is a quiet way of saying I had no choice. But to be truly fated it also implies an essential success to which we cling; not only that I am able to do something but that I was destined to accomplish it. Label it “God” or “Providence” or simply the swirl of energy within a singular talented vessel – but please, it cannot be random; don’t leave my legacy in the hands of capricious chance.
There, I said it: in direct contradiction of my rejection of religion, I want some assurance that I’m on the right path.
There is a path, of course. What we desire is a sign that we are right to take it. And so I looked at the little blue price tag in hope that it reflected endorsement.
I am not afraid.
But I was. I had recently informed my boss that I would be stepping back from my management role in order to commit to school full-time in pursuit of my degree in creative writing.
I was afraid. I still am. The terror stems from letting go of an area where I am confident to embark on a journey of uncharted territory. I have done many things: I’ve been a baker, a bartender, and a professional part-time student. I know I can do those things well. But I don’t know if I’m good enough to make a living writing (and frankly the worry remains that teaching is an acceptable form of defeat that will consume the time for writing).
Yeats comes to mind: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
But there is evidence of the prolific superior artist, as well as the meager offerings of the merely pedestrian. Which am I? Or, and more likely, do I simply rise to some watermark in between – not the worst, not the best. I won’t know without exposure, the risk of casting off from this secure dock and sailing for some elusive paradise just beyond the horizon (my Destiny, or foolish optimism?).
That little note couldn’t have come at a better time, at the start of such a precarious journey. But was it serendipity, or meaningless coincidence? It could have been found by anyone, or not at all. It could have dissolved but didn’t. Should I take that as a sign as well? James found and read it but applied it to me – because he already knows what he was born to do, or because he recognizes my lingering doubts?
I was born to do this…
But was I? Or do I just persist, defiant and dumb as any animal pressing forward from the relative safety of the trees to the brutal possibilities of the callous interstate. Like that deer, still trying to run on her ruined legs. She had appeared at the driver’s side headlight on a mean stretch of the Jacksboro highway and we took her down. There was no time to swerve. I saw her eye roll and flash white as she realized we were there and then she was gone. James pulled the van into the breakdown lane and we spent a moment taking stock of each other and my tender dog, alert and looking at me with worried eyes from the back seat.
James said we would have to remove the carcass from the middle of road and turned the van around to light the work. But the headlights revealed the deer wasn’t dead. Her forelegs had been severed yet she beat the remnants against the black road as if she might still bound over the wire fence to the pasture beyond the pavement and disappear into the thicket.
Pathetic animal panic. She was oblivious to her damage and wanted only to flee. Her head was even with the grill of an oncoming car, facing it but blinded in the rushing noise and light. She was still trying to run with her legs gone below the knee joint.
I wonder even now if she was aware of the impact that ended her struggle. Did she comprehend with gratitude that small mercy as I did?
I suppose I worry I will not recognize the worst ways I am maimed and that people I love will be forced to watch as I struggle to stand. I fear that in my efforts, I might compel them to witness my painful failure. I suffer doubt. But I also continue to write. Some instinct a step above breathing leads me to commit this act, this art. There are things that are necessary. Art is a display asking for an opinion. Art needs other people. Like love, to feel it is not enough; it must be expressed. And there is terror in that but also elation.
Art is a conversation that wants a response, another type of sign. But art takes courage.
Who am I to say what the truth is, or what a precursor to it might be: destiny or self-fulfilling prophecy – a self-delusion, like those deranged prophets who predict doom and salvation simultaneously. See the deluded man on the corner, warning of coming destruction. How am I so different if I too believe in little signs rescued from debris?
I am not afraid. I was born to do this…
That little lost tag, fluttering on a dirt floor, formerly attached to something valued at twenty dollars but reduced by the elements to suggest two cents, priceless now to me. Whether providence or coincidence, it will forever be – can only be – what I make of it.
Perhaps all such signs simply advocate some alchemy of hope and action.
– Kellie Salome