Later in high school one night a group of us drove to a baseball park which after the games were over and the little kids and their parents were gone became a place to drink beers. This friend was with us and we stood around a 12-pack perched on the end of the open tailgate of another friend's truck. Pot burned brightly in a pipe bowl crackling in the dark before becoming consumed again by ashes. The quality of night made everything look pixelated.
"Want to try the Test of Manhood?" this friend asked. I felt swimming static in the lowest part of my gut. I only like feats of courage that I choose for myself and past "tests" of this kind had involved heights or had otherwise not turned out well. Heights affect me with a very primitive fear. Even if my mind is OK with it the rest of me starts shaking involuntarily. But if I'm challenged to do something I have to say Yes because I've never given up on feeling I have to make up for something, the unabashed cowardice of my childhood.
Next to this park was a playground and in that playground was a set of monkey bars, not the kind that go straight across suspended between four posts, but bow-shaped, starting at the ground and rising to about six or seven feet before going down again. I'm ashamed to say six feet seems really high to my reptile brain. As he explained, you have to walk from the bottom to the top without using your hands.
"When you get to the top you have to stand up as straight as you can. Visualize in your mind slipping and falling, your legs going through the spaces between the bars so one of them goes directly into your balls. Imagine the agony, the way that kind of pain goes all the way up inside of you. Then walk the rest of the way down."
The bars were gritty with wet sand as I stepped from one to the next and then the feeling of the sloping metal pressing into my feet and the sense of the strength of my own legs pushing transformed the fear and standing at the top confidence rushed into my lungs and my chest and I for that second stood very tall.