Twenty-five feet to the ceiling of the gym junior high school, P.S. 232 and in one corner two ropes hung trailing their ends just above the floor — rough, hand-burning red-brown ropes, the test of our guts, supposedly — and the teachers told us Climb all the way up or you don’t graduate you stay back until you can do it. I wasn’t the only one who believed them. But no one taught us. Not really. Sure, they showed us once: Pull with your arms like this and wrap the rope around your leg, get a grip between your sneakers. I tried to practice whenever I could get up the courage when no one but my friend Bob was looking — never made it more than ten feet before my 12-year-old skinny-boy arms failed and I hung there, legs thrashing, the rope swinging out of control like some part of my life I couldn’t begin to fathom, making me dizzy. But on the appointed day in June (eight had gone before me and only one had failed) adrenalin pounding, fear doing its powerful work I heard my name called and like a hunted animal smelling the dogs coming I leaped forward and before I could register what was happening the person named Lou Lipsitz went up that rope arms alone pulling him the entire way, which I had thought impossible, far beyond my strength. And then that strange moment at the top, looking down twenty-five feet, elated and dazed, my altered state just beginning to recede, the rope swaying a little between my legs, twenty-five feet to fall, or slide, or descend in triumph; such a long way down and I was even more afraid — all those years in front of me about to unfold, and me not knowing any better how to return to earth than I’d known how to ascend the teacher yelling: You can’t stay up there all day, for chrissake my arms starting to seriously ache the fear of falling starting to take hold, but also a wish to leap into the air and see what happened — it was only life after all and I could see below me the rushing water the rocks and the girl among the burning flowers.