The Most Impressive Thing I’ve Ever Done
The question comes swiftly, as if he wants to catch me off guard in the course of the job interview. “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?”
I know this game all too well. This is the question that is supposed to send me into a tailspin, that is supposed to get me racking my brain for an answer, and to question myself once I left the conversation as to whether I said the right thing.
He doesn’t scare me. Not his high-end designer clothing, the fancy gadgets decorating his start-up office or his too-cool-for-school exterior. His ambition can’t hide behind it. I’ve seen this type of guy before, and I know I’ll see his type again — after all, I live in Los Angeles. There is a sense of ego dripping from his lips that I can sense, even in just talking to him for a few minutes of my existence.
And that questions hits. “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?” In 33 years, I’m supposed to answer this? Boil my existence down to one impressive moment?
There was the time where I spoke in front of 3,000 people as a high school graduate with a 2.9 GPA, causing a standing ovation, but I was so young I didn’t know what it meant. Or the time I won a state award for my writing in college, shocking my journalism advisor who had asked me a week before why I couldn’t be more like someone else. I thought about going to Israel, about being forced out of the country and then returning all those years later, laughing and finding my way through a new place with a pink suitcase. But they were trivial at best. What does impressive even mean to someone with fancy gadgets and do-dads?
There were all my beautiful friends and their shining lights. Every one of them is an impressive human being. Every single person who I am honored to call my friend simply blows me away. And I think of my mother… my mother, who I had fought to help, even thought it’s the most difficult task I can think of. In everything she has done in her life, from teaching me to talk to fighting cancer, she is impressive. Yet they are not actions. They are people.
How can you quantify a life, a moment into one impressive act? Does that impressive act make that person impressive? How can you tell anything about that person? Yet, within 15 seconds, I knew the answer. It was mine and mine alone. And I knew it was right one.
“What is the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?” he asked.
“The most impressive thing I’ve ever done in my life?” I replied. “I survived.”
He looked puzzled, confused. How can breathing be impressive? How can just living, or even walking into this room, be anything of note?
He couldn’t see it when he looked at me, whether in my fancy blazer or my red shoes clicking across the concrete floor. No piece of paper, not my resume or anything I had written, could tell him. How, if medical knowledge was the main driving force of this world, I shouldn’t technically be alive. I almost died 12 years before I ever stepped into his office. One blood clot can be enough to kill a person, and I had five. To this day, I still struggle with it, but like with many medical conditions, it’s not something that you would be able to see on the surface. You wouldn’t know about those five.
Five turns into four. How four years ago, I did the craziest thing imaginable: I left. After years of being told I was a “fucking bitch” unable to survive alone, I walked out the door with very few precious items. A menorah, a picture of my grandparents, a prayer book and clothes I needed to survive were stuffed it into a ripped red duffel bag as I ran, breaking the shackles that tied me to an unhappy existence. It’s a challenge that many aren’t up to the task to do. There have been struggles every single day, remembering what had happened to me over the course of the four years previous to that night. Knowing I made the right decision yet the hardest decision. And I never regretted it.
I then think of three. Three different boys, all of who owned a piece of me. One didn’t love me, just sought to possess me, messed with my mind until I broke away with that red duffel bag. To this day, I still feel that grip, how it has shaped me and made it difficult to be in a relationship again. The second one loved me, and I am quite aware that he still does. It was his ego that set our world on fire and sent me fleeing, and that still keeps me away to this day. The third began breaking down my walls, making me feel safe. Yet he didn’t really understand what that meant and still doesn’t. He’s too immature, too flighty. He couldn’t even begin to understand what he could have had.
It’s as if three drifts into two. Two times where I was so broke from lack of work that I marched my ass into the social services office and had to ask for food stamps. How I lost my job and kept hearing no with every job interview I took. I would hide the EBT card as I slid it at the 99 Cents Store, where I had picked through the last of the boxes of lettuce, making sure there were no moldy red peppers in the bag I chose. The day where I had to head to a food pantry in Inglewood, and ate only Cap’n Crunch for about a week. How I took a delivery job to help keep a roof over my head with my freelancing. How I lost my car and the universe put me back where I needed to be. I know what hunger looks like, what desperation appears as. Everything in my core fights against it, keeps rebelling against the no’s and the job rejections I get every day.
Yet at the end, there is only one life in there. One soul, one heart, and it belongs to me. How many days did I want to give up, figure out a way to end it all, yet I never did? I don’t quit, I never surrender. The badness mellows with a funny joke, my eyes tear up a little bit until the hurt starts repairing itself, and then I call a friend who will remind me of the love that surrounds me and everything I have created for myself. How strong I was and am. How brave I have become, for myself and for those I love. Something that the person sitting across from me who asked that question of me couldn’t possibly begin to understand with a simple question as to what made me impressive. The fact that I am who I am is what makes me this way.
As I finished my answer, in a voice that was lowered in tone and serious, the look on his face was one of someone who had been punched in the gut. “Wow,” he said breathlessly. “Good answer.”
Yes it was. Perhaps my finest answer that I have ever given to a singular question, because no one could challenge it. How can you challenge a girl who had fallen all the way down to hell and came out the other side? How can you begin to quantify those numbers I laid out? We have logic and reason, but when it comes to the human spirit, there are no numbers there to quantify. There is no measurement to give to survival of the fittest. Every person comes with a wealth of experiences and trials. The beauty is we get back up. We keep loving, keep working, keep fighting. And we don’t stop. We will never stop.
I walked out of the room, and in that moment I could feel every bit of blood pumping through my veins, every bit of my being that was suddenly reminded that it was vibrant and alive. And no one could take that away from me.