As a kid, like everyone, I learned about limits. I figured out how far would be too far, what I could get away with. Constantly pushed the limits, but never stepped over the line.

That was all the fun, knowing how who would take what from me. Which teachers would try not to smile when I was sassy, which I had to sit still for and I'd still rub the wrong way.

My mom never got it:
'They love you, those teachers. You're such a cheek, you never apply yourself, they tell me. But then they smile!'

I used to grin and try to skip off, before she could start in with the other teachers, (the majority), the ones who minded when I almost flunked their courses. (I never made it: 'Come back here, young lady; I'm not done with you!')

I knew not to actually fail any of my classes, that would never work. I knew to have at least 3 classes I was acing, one or two instructors who thought I was a bright young lady. I managed to sweettalk my way out of a suspension. It would have pushed too many buttons. I couldn't have handled the screaming, recriminations, and worst: the guilt.

In school, with our tangled hierarchy of principalship, there was one who would have done anything to get me expelled, 2 who would fight for me, one who I never figured out either way. I danced on the edge of politics I couldn't figure it out. Flaunting, flirting with a crackdown, I told my friend I'd be the first in school to layer her hair short. She wanted to be; I won. I'm going to be the first one wearing boots, (something forbidden implicitly, not explicitly in our uniform.) I won. She said she'd be the first one with 2 holes in her ear. She won; got suspended for a few days.

I'm not in school anymore, but I still teeter at the edge of some roof. What scares me is that the building keeps getting taller, the stakes bigger. I was supposed to fall years ago. I was supposed to fall when I was a loudmouth in Junior High. I was supposed to fall when I cut off my hair. I was supposed to fall when I met a man twice my age. I was supposed to fall when I moved out. I was supposed to fall a million times.

The limits keep moving, stretching. I stick to the edge, daring someone to stop the expansion. I keep toeing the line, barely, wondering how I got to this boundary; the one I stand on today is one that would have killed me years ago.

I don't get it. I was supposed to fall.

"Next, please."

I rose deliberately and tried to seem confident, but I still had the feeling that all the others in line who could see me were derisive. In retrospect, I realize that this was an impossibility given the overall level of nervousness and tense anticipation, but I've always been paranoid (never liked that).

I pushed the huge oak door, and it swung open easily. He was standing in the middle of the room, nothing else around except for a small round table, on which rested an assortment of small objects. As the door fell shut behind me, drowning out the murmuring from all who still waited, he bade me stand at about ten paces' distance.

I felt him looking me over.

"Ready?" he asked. I'm not sure I was ever ready, but here I was. What if I said no? It wouldn't matter, he's never been wrong about me, ever. And now I found myself in a new layer of doubt -- if I doubted my own response to a simple, inevitable question, how could I possibly be ready for what was to come?

All told, though, there was really no backing out now. Someone would later tell me that indecision is the only true weakness. Acting instinctively, though anachronistically on this fragmentary principle, I swallowed, drew another breath, and spoke, trying to push my reluctance away with the firm ring of sincerity:

"Yes."

He raised an eyebrow for a moment, and then I thought I saw that odd twinkle of understanding flit across his face. No more than a second later, he turned and picked something up from the tiny table.

"Alright. You'll have thirty-four thousand, three hundred and eleven days, give or take a few hundred, and provided you don't do anything overly reckless. Use these very wisely, because each one is completely unique, even though it might not seem so at the time, and you never get another chance. I can't stress that enough. It really is important, and most of you seem to forget." He mused briefly.

At that moment, I felt again the weakness in my knees, but I did not fall. I knew that the time was at hand, and although I really felt I had no idea what I was getting into, at least the hour would be past and, ready or not, I would be on my way.

"Here, take one of these," he said, fanning what looked like some jumbo-sized cards in his enormous hand and holding them towards me.

I selected one.

"Turn it over," he said, motioning with a long finger.

I turned the card over. It was crimson red. Looking more carefully, I could see splotches of blue at depths inside the red. Before I could contemplate the meaning of such an abstract thing, however, he spoke again:

"Red/blue? Interesting. Now take three of these," he said, holding a huge fan of what looked like hundreds of huge cards towards me. I gingerly reached forward and selected three, completely at random, trying not to drop any or otherwise make a fool of myself. I clutched the three I had drawn tightly at my side, as he put the deck back on the table and picked up another.

"Turn them over, face the facts," he said briskly. "Dawdling isn't going to make you feel any better."

I turned the cards over. They read, "Memory", "Music", and "Resource." I was stunned, utterly bewildered. What?

"We're almost done. Take three of these, and then you'll be on your way again."

I reached out again and took three cards, quickly. Knowing that dawdling wouldn't make me feel any better, I flipped them over and read them, my overwhelmed consciousness barely processing the meanings.

{ambition} {grudge} {detachment}

For no apparent reason, tears filled my eyes. As always, I blinked them back. Later, I would beg for tears to stream down my face, wanting so much to let things go and go on, go on...

My torrent of emotion and self-absorption was interrupted by the bright, matter-of-fact voice:

"Go ahead on through that door behind me. Drop the cards in the slot on your way out. I'll see you in 34,311 days, hopefully not sooner. Go," he insisted, willing me onward with a vigorous wave of his hand. I lengthened my stride and crossed the room, trying not to look back. I pushed open the door, stepped across the threshold, and fell.

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