Break Your Neck!

Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

My transition from a mermaid to a scientist wasn’t necessarily my choice, but boy am I glad it happened.

“Five more minutes, dad!” was all you heard, and wrinkled hands waving frantically in the air were all you saw. I remember splashing around and attempting to swim with my legs crossed in mermaid fashion. When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I remember replying “a mermaid.” This childish fantasy lived on until the day of the accident in third grade. One minute I was sliding down a snow hill at recess, and the next I was laying face down with a broken neck. I sat down on that cold examination table in the neurologist’s office and the last thing on my mind was my dream of being a mermaid. Vertebral Compression Fracture was the diagnosis, and three months of bracing with over a year of physical therapy was the order. My childhood fantasy had come to an end, but I now realize that the accident put me on a path to developing an adult ambition.

I spent the next few months (jealously) staring at the fish in my classroom tank while all the other kids were at recess. I became fascinated with them; I would study them and take notes on their behavior while subconsciously longing to be like them. I remember getting annoyed when the other kids would bang on the glass and scare the fish. I would try to tell them, but they just didn’t get it. I felt this need to protect the fish and I had no idea why I was suddenly so drawn to marine life. I assumed it was just my way of coping with my inability to be a mermaid. I developed a new fantasy, one in which I pretended that I was a marine biologist. I remember waking up early to take notes on the behavior of my little red beta fish named Herbie (yes, like Herbie Fully Loaded). I became more and more intrigued by the lessons we learned in science class, and I didn’t mind not being able to participate in recess because I knew that it left me more time to study my fish.

I realized in high school that my fantasy of being a marine biologist wasn’t a fantasy at all; it was just an expression of my passion. I’ll admit that I still take mental notes about the behavior of fish when looking at aquariums, but I’ve started to express my passion for science in more mature ways. I know that I want my career to center around science. A career should be something that excites you, and ever since the accident, science has excited me.

We usually don’t associate injuries with good fortune, but in my case we should. The accident of third grade broke me out of my childhood fantasy and helped me realize my true passion. If it weren’t for the accident, and you asked me what I want to be when I grow up, who knows, I might have very well answered “a mermaid.” Now that I have the maturity needed to reflect on my childhood, I see a key similarity between my mermaid fantasy and science: both have a strange mystery about them. Maybe this mystery is what attracts me, or maybe it’s because they both remind me of my childhood. Either way, I guess you could say that I’m lucky and maybe we should change the saying to “break your neck” and hope for the best.

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