1. To take a punch in the stomach at age eight or nine, and not tattle about it, or even cry when it happened. To suck in the surrounding air and curl into myself, yet still somehow remain upright, until the pain passed over me. My assailant, another kid, was stunned at my stoic reaction — which allowed me to lord that punch over him for years.
2. To not get into a stranger’s car on 88th Street in Queens one morning in 1981, while walking to school by myself. To look away when the window rolled down and the offer of a ride was given, and hold my chin higher and loudly declare, “No thank you” while I kept walking.
3. To refrain from drinking Yoo-Hoos throughout my childhood. Something never seemed quite right about that chocolate-y drink.
4. To say no to the joint passed to me in a thicket of woods between the Myrtle Avenue playground and the Interboro Parkway when I was twelve. To say yes to another joint several years later.
5. To try out for the play in my freshman year of high school, not get a callback, and try out again for the play in my sophomore year of high school — and get the role.
6. To learn to drive a stick shift.
7. To listen to the ex-boyfriend who chastised me for eating nothing but salad in his presence, and suggest that I have a goddamn burger instead.
8. To let him stay all those nights in my dorm room. To stay in his when he encircled my wrist with his finger and thumb, and asked me to. To let him break my heart, which I knew he would do not long after he kissed me. To have that experience.
9. To apply to a study-abroad program and spend a summer in London during my junior year of college.
10. To not go home with that British guy I met in the club near Trafalgar Square. To let him kiss me softly and expertly for quite a long time in a dark corner, but to not go home with him. To go home instead a few weeks later with the guy who would become my husband.
11. To decide that I loved him as soon as he kissed me for the first time, because we had been friends for more than a year and I knew, but to say nothing about that to him for at least four or five months.
12. To travel through Europe with not much more than a cigarette lighter, a passport, and a few pounds in my pocket.
13. To take the ballroom dancing class in college.
14. To politely rebuff my mother’s offer to live in my parents’ basement after graduation, and instead — live in a windowless closet marketed as a Manhattan apartment. To let my father help me pack the U-Haul, and realize that it was the truest declaration of love that he’d ever given me — to let me go.
15. To accept the fact that I hate to ski, and liberate myself from ever having to ride a chairlift again.
16. To get onstage in a New York basement comedy club, squint at the lights, stick my hands in my pocket so the audience wouldn’t see my hands shake, do my five-minute bit, and fail. And then do it again. And again.
17. To throw away the cigarettes, and choose to run instead. To stop running when my hips hurt, and walk instead.
18. To buy that black leather skirt, and still have it hanging in the closet twenty-five years later.
19. To stop a drunk male co-worker from hitting me in a bar. To have my surge of instinct be stop and defend yourself and no.
20. To live in Manhattan. To move to San Francisco. To be afraid and feel alone on both coasts, and still sign the leases anyway.
21. To gleefully accept his marriage proposal.
22. To stop after the second drink, even though my DNA would strongly suggest otherwise.
23. To give birth twice, and overcome the fear that accompanied it on both occasions. Modern medicine provides machines and syringes and monitors and pills and breathing techniques and positions and oxygen masks and tennis balls and ice chips and stirrups and epidurals and wet cloths and call buttons and clamps and stitches and sutures and suctions and scalpels — but none of that elevates you from childbirth’s primal elements, from the wonder and terror and thrill of life passing through your being. You know the ancients in such moments. You sense the give of fiber and tissue and bone and blood and know that life and death are intertwined in this momentary dance, and that you are nothing more than a conduit for their unadulterated greatness. So you say yes. You let your body go. You let life come through you.
24. To let people love me.
25. To apologize to my husband. To apologize to my children. To forgive myself.
26. To thank my mother for having me.
27. To get in the car on a whim and drive up the New York State Thruway to Levon Helm’s memorial service six years ago. The decision inexplicably changed the course of my life.
28. To tell a great many people how I feel about them — that I admire them, love them, like them, miss them, am angry with them, need them, support them, respect them, desire them. It has never been regrettable.
29. To sign up for a writing class.
30. To attend a Buddhist retreat. To be still.
31. To decide to conquer a long-standing fear and dive into the deep end of the pool. At 44. While naked.
32. To get drum lessons at 45.
33. To wear the heels to dinner, and pack flats in my bag for the long walk home.
34. To speak my truth.
35. To encourage others to do the same.
36. To submit my story.
Kathleen McKitty Harris is a writer, storyteller, and fourth-generation native New Yorker, now living in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. Most of her decisions involve whether or not to order takeout for dinner. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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